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Lomax Birthday Challenge!

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This guest post from Todd Harvey, AFC reference staff member and Alan Lomax collection curator, is part of a short series related to the Library’s crowdsource platform and the campaign we helped launch in September 2019 focused on the extensive holdings AFC has of Lomax manuscript materials.

Scanned manuscript page featuring typed transcription of interview Alan Lomax conducted with Jelly Roll Morton in 1938.
Page from interview with Jelly Roll Morton. Alan Lomax Collection, Manuscripts, Washington, DC, 1938 May-Dec. American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, AFC2004/004.

The American Folklife Center wishes a happy birthday to Alan Lomax, born January 31, 1915! Help celebrate Lomax’s legacy this year by jumping into By the People’s January Review Challenge.

When we celebrated what would have been Alan’s Centennial five years ago, it was with a suite of lectures, concerts and symposia, authored blog posts, and podcasts. We participated in the Brooklyn Folk Festival, South by Southwest, and the Folk Alliance conference.

The Center also launched a digital collection of 300,000 pages of manuscripts from the Lomax papers, a project that continues this year with those of Alan’s sister, Bess Lomax Hawes. As a result, during the past five years we have enjoyed a steady stream of researchers working with the Lomax collections. The output has been generous: many more of the musicians and traditions have been brought to public attention through writings, performances, and recordings, and we’ve gained a better understanding of the Lomax legacy.

For sheer public engagement, however, none of these activities quite rivals our interaction with the Library’s By the People crowdsourcing project. Since September 2019, more than 600 individuals from around the globe have transcribed 9,000 pages of field notes and other manuscripts related to Alan’s fieldwork, from the 1930s through the 1980s. Those hundreds of people have invested their talents to look at and type out the text of a scan, for example, of Alan’s typed transcription from his 1938 recorded interview with jazz great Jelly Roll Morton. On disc AFS 1640, Mr. Jelly Roll recounts:

We always had some kind of a musical instruments in the house – including guitar, drums, piano, trombone, and so forth and so on, harmonicas and Jews harp. We had lots of them. And everybody always played for their pleasure, whatever the ones that desired to play.

This page has had a beautiful first pass of transcription by a volunteer, but we need your help to review and approve the transcription. By the People is now in the final days of a challenge to volunteers to review and complete 3,000 Lomax collection pages. Completed transcriptions will appear alongside the digitized pages in the Lomax digital collection on the Library’s main website, There, transcriptions make the documents keyword searchable and accessible, including to people with low or no vision who use screen readers. Review is the final crucial step to complete transcriptions before so can move them to the Library’s online collection. Here are instructions about reviewing transcriptions in the platform.

We are within sight of the goal. So for all our sakes, check in on Jelly Roll, or Bessie Jones, or any of the other hundreds of characters in the Lomax corpus and lend a hand.

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