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Alan Lomax’s Centennial Year

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A group of friends gathered at a party in New York City, about 1940.  Left to right, the men are Henry Cowell, Alan Lomax, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee.  The woman with her back to the camera is Toshi Seeger.  Bess Lomax Hawes Collection (AFC 2014/008).
A group of friends gathered at a party in New York City, about 1940. Left to right, the men are Henry Cowell, Alan Lomax, Sonny Terry, and Brownie McGhee. According to a handwritten caption on Bess Lomax Hawes’s copy of the photo, the woman with her back to the camera is Toshi Seeger. Bess Lomax Hawes Collection (AFC 2014/008).

Back in our 100th blog post, I mentioned some of our upcoming ideas for celebrating the 100th birthday of Alan Lomax (1915-2002).  The birthday will take place on January 31, but our plans last all year! These plans are developing and firming up, so I’ll take this opportunity to fill you in.

Bess Lomax Hawes and Alan Lomax sitting, laughing
Bess Lomax Hawes and Alan Lomax, New York City, 1975. From the Alan Lomax Collection (AFC2004/004) at the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress. Used courtesy of the Association for Cultural Equity. Photographer: Ralph Rinzler.

First, though, I’ll mention two other birthdays that happened this week, those of Lead Belly and Bess Lomax Hawes. Both were brilliant, successful people who helped Alan Lomax in his life’s work of collecting and promoting traditional culture, and both were in turn helped by him. I won’t go into great detail here; just follow the links on each name for more information and a little-known photo from Library of Congress collections.

AFC will begin its year of Lomax celebrations on Monday, February 2, with the opening of a display of 21 items from the Library’s Lomax collections, including photographs, manuscripts and notebooks. The display will be located in the South Gallery of the Great Hall in the Thomas Jefferson Building through March February 28.  That’s the same building where you’ll find the Folklife Reading Room, so if you come for the exhibit, stop by to hear Lomax’s recordings and see other related items–or come to us with a more detailed research question involving folklife.  We love to help!

After that, we’ll take our Lomax knowledge on the road.  On February 21, at the 27th annual Folk Alliance Conference in Kansas City, we’ve organized a “Lomax Challenge” stage, where we’re asking conference attendees to perform songs Lomax collected.  We’re providing resources, including links to our Lomax Iconic Song List, our online Lomax collections (Such as the 1938 Michigan collection and the Pearl Nye collection), and outside sites such as Lomax’s 1934 Louisiana collections and Lomax’s own organization, the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), which has placed much of Lomax’s post-war fieldwork online.  And of course, there are the Lomaxes’ books, such as American Ballads and Folk Songs, Our Singing Country, and Folk Songs of North America.  I’ll be there, along with the stage’s organizer, AFC Folklife Specialist Jennifer Cutting.

On March 17-21, 2015 in Austin, Texas, AFC director Betsy Peterson and Lomax curator Todd Harvey will be part of a panel at the always-exciting SXSW Festival.  They’ll be sharing the panel with Nathan Salsburg and Don Fleming, our friends and colleagues from ACE. The panel is Alan Lomax at 100: A Centennial Retrospective; complete information is at the link.

On April 16-18, at the Library and in College Park, Maryland, we’ll be co-sponsoring the symposium Re-Imaging and Re-Imagining Choreometrics with the Department of Graduate Studies in Dance at the University of Maryland.  This three-day symposium explores Alan Lomax’s contributions to dance research and theory. On April 16, we’ll host an interview with pioneer choreometrics scholars at the Library of Congress, and on April 17-18 we’ll hold the symposium at the University of Maryland, College Park. More information is at the link!

Rounding out our first quarter of Lomax activities, on April 19, 2015 in Brooklyn, New York, we’ll be helping folk artists, including Eli Smith and the Down Hill Strugglers, John Cohen, and Jerron “Blind Boy” Paxton, present Treasures from the Archive Roadshow: Celebrating Alan Lomax & The Folk Music Collections at the Library Of Congress at the Brooklyn Folk Festival.  Several AFC staff members, including Folklife Specialist Nancy Groce, will be there.

Of course, Folklife Today will feature a steady stream of blog posts relating to Lomax and his work throughout the year.  And as always, you can visit our Lomax Centennial web page for the latest updates.  We hope to see you at one or more of these exciting events!

Comments (3)

  1. What a great line-up of events!

  2. Many thanks for the photographs in particular. They sent me into research on the Lomaxes and Seegers which has been fulfilling. Best wishes with the events surrounding Alan Lomax’s centennial.

  3. I salute Mr. Lomax on his birthday and think of him often. Thanks to him, my family discovered 13 recordings of my grandfather and family. They are a part of the Voices from the Dustbowl collection. My father was 8 years old at the time of the recordings.
    There are many cherished memories of hearing Grandpa King sing so many of those songs.
    Thank you to Mr. Lomax and to the Library of Congress for such wonderful gifts. We treasure them all.

    Kindest regards,

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