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Lomax Kentucky Recordings Go Online

Note: this blog post makes liberal use of a press release devised jointly by the organizations involved in this project, and especially of the announcement made by Berea College.

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Alan Lomax in a Duell & Sloan publicity photograph for his book Mr. Jelly Roll, 1950. (Alan Lomax Collection AFC 2004/004)

As part of AFC’s year-long celebration of Alan Lomax (1915-2002) during his centennial year, the American Folklife Center is thrilled to announce that The Lomax Kentucky Recordings, a complete presentation of the audio recordings Lomax made of traditional folk music in Kentucky between 1933 and 1942, has been placed online at this link.  The recordings, which total over 70 hours, were made by Alan Lomax with his father John, his wife Elizabeth, and other collectors on several field trips throughout this period, primarily in Eastern Kentucky.

Featuring full, free streaming audio of every performance, interview, and narrative segment — some 1300 discrete pieces — along with searchable recording details (performer name, location, date, instrument, etc.), The Lomax Kentucky Recordings presents a breathtakingly diverse spectrum of Appalachian traditional culture and a point of entry into the lives of the farmers, laborers, coal miners, preachers, housewives, public officials, soldiers, children, grandparents, and itinerant musicians who nurtured and were nurtured by it.

There are ballads and lyric songs, play-party ditties and comic pieces, topical and protest material, fiddle and banjo tunes, hymns and sacred songs, children’s games and lullabies, and a variety of spoken lore — religious testimonies, occupational reminiscences, tall tales, jokes, and personal narratives.

Particularly notable is a version of “The House of the Rising Sun” sung by 16-year-old Georgia Turner of Middlesboro, Kentucky, which became the basis for versions by Bob Dylan, Dave Van Ronk, and Eric Burdon and the Animals.  W.H. Stepp’s unusual rendition of “Bonaparte’s Retreat,” adapted by Aaron Copland for his ballet Rodeo and later reconfigured and broadcast to the nation in the “Beef, It’s What’s For Dinner” ad campaign, as I detailed in this earlier post.

The presentation has been created in collaboration with Berea College Special Collections & Archives, the University of Kentucky Libraries Special Collections Research Center, and the Association for Cultural Equity.

Alan Lomax felt that a chief result of his and his father’s efforts for the Library of Congress was that “for the first time America could hear itself.” Thus their intentions were not merely archival. Alan in fact cautioned against the strictly preservationist impulse, remarking that “folksongs should not be buried in libraries as they are in Washington and in universities over the country.” This online effort, launched in 2015 — the centennial of Alan’s birth — seeks to realize his vision by providing free and complete access to these historic collections.

The Lomax Kentucky Recordings are only a small fraction of the Lomax materials you can find online.  You can also access Alan Lomax’s 1938 Michigan and Wisconsin recordings, John and Alan’s 1934 Louisiana recordings, John and Ruby Lomax’s 1939 recordings, Lomax’s recordings of “Man on the Street Interviews” and of canal boat captain Pearl Nye, and the first installment of the massive Lomax manuscript collection.  The vast body of materials Lomax recorded after leaving the Library of Congress is online at the Association for Cultural Equity.

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