Tag Archives: Alan Lomax

The global jukebox

The global jukebox is the culmination of a lifetime of groundbreaking work by Alan Lomax, whose efforts to record and compile song and dance from around the world led to this collaborative project—an interactive portal for the world’s music, dance, and speaking traditions from almost every corner of the earth, recorded by hundreds of pioneering ethnographers.

This open-access resource is divided into three broad areas of inquiry: cantometrics, an analysis of the elements of song within and across cultures, and choreometrics and parlametrics, which similarly evaluate dancing and speaking.

Users can search by genre or culture and experience thousands of songs and videos that come from a myriad of traditions; seek their ancestry through song and dance; uncover the roots and connections of their favorite musical genres; take a guided tour through the vibrant musical culture of a single region or style; look at clusters of any tradition’s song styles; or search for their own answers with the site’s analytical tools.

Below, Lomax discusses the background of the project.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Resources, World music

Alan Lomax and multiculturalism

lomax radio 1940

When Alan Lomax accepted a position as the Assistant in Charge of the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress in 1936 he became a gatekeeper to the largest repository of recorded traditional music in the country.

He subsequently worked to infuse traditional music into mainstream culture and, in so doing, to publicize his interpretation of American culture and society—an interpretation that placed the American people, a category that included racial and ethnic minorities as well as the economically dispossessed and politically disenfranchised, at the center of the nation’s identity.

During the 1930s and 1940s he pursued this goal by developing radio programs that highlighted the music of American traditional communities. These included shows designed for children, including Folk Music of America, which aired weekly on CBS radio’s American School of the Air.

Lomax used this program as a forum to teach children about American cultural and political democracy by highlighting the music of socially, economically, and racially marginalized communities, often including guests from these groups to sing and explain musical traditions on the air.

An examination of the principles that motivated Folk Music of America, along with the artists, songs, and commentary that Lomax included, reveals a strong connection between the ideas of cultural pluralism that emerged during the World War I era and popular constructs of Americanism that developed during the later decades of the 20th century. Ultimately, Lomax’s radio work helped to lay the foundation for the multicultural movement that developed during the early 1970s.

This according to “Broadcasting diversity: Alan Lomax and multiculturalism” by Rachel C. Donaldson (Journal of popular culture XLVI/1 [February 2013] pp. 59–78).

Today would have been Lomax’s 100th birthday! Below, an example of his move to PBS in 1990.

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Filed under Ethnomusicology, Mass media, North America

Honeyboy recognized

honeyboy

On a log sheet typed in the 1940s, Alan Lomax identified a man in a 50-second segment of silent color footage shot in Mississippi as “Charles Edwards” (above).

Mystified folklorists have been unable to find further references to Charles Edwards in Lomax’s materials or anyone else’s; but recently two American Folklife Center staff members noticed that he closely resembled a young David “Honeyboy” Edwards, and even played his guitar in the same way; perhaps Lomax had made a simple error.

To verify their theory, they sent screen captures to Honeyboy’s former agent, who shared them with Honeyboy’s stepdaughter. Her verdict: “That’s my daddy!”

This according to “‘That’s my daddy!’: American Folklife Center staff members identify early color film of David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards” by Stephen Winick (Folklife Center news XXXIII/3–4 [summer/fall 2011] pp. 8–9).

Below, Honeyboy performs and speaks in the 2004 film Lightning in a bottle.

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Filed under Jazz and blues

Globalization of the Rising Sun

Most people know the The House of the Rising Sun as a 1964 hit by The Animals about a place in New Orleans—a whorehouse or a prison or a gambling joint that has been the ruin of many poor girls or boys—but few songs have traveled such an intricate journey.

The launch of the song’s world travels can be traced to Georgia Turner (above), a poor 16-year-old daughter of a miner living in Middlesboro, Kentucky, when the young folk music collector Alan Lomax captured her voice singing The Rising Sun blues in 1937. Lomax deposited the song in the Library of Congress and included it in the 1941 collection Our singing country.

In short order, Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Lead Belly, and Josh White learned the song and each recorded it. From there it began to move to the planet’s farthest corners. Today, hundreds of artists have recorded House of the Rising Sun, and it can be heard in the most diverse of places—Chinese karaoke bars, Gatorade ads, and as a ring tone on cell phones. The song’s journey is a case study of how a cultural artifact moves through the modern world, propelled by technology, globalization, and recorded sound.

This according to Chasing the Rising Sun: The journey of an American song by Ted Anthony (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2007). Below, Lomax’s original recording of Georgia Turner.

BONUS: Skitzo offers an alternative rendition.

Related article: Kumbaya: A song’s evolution

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Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Popular music

Association for Cultural Equity

Founded by Alan Lomax in 1983, The Association for Cultural Equity‘s mission—“to facilitate cultural equity, the right of every culture to express and develop its distinctive heritage”—is realized through several projects that use and expand upon Lomax’s research, including the digitization and dissemination of his field collections.

As a part of this service, ACE supports a free online research center that includes an archive of Lomax’s collections; the sound recordings are indexed by place in ACE’s Lomax Geo-Archive, which provides excerpts from the recordings along with the full details of each recording session. Through cooperation with ACE, the American Folklife Center houses Lomax’s physical collection.

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Filed under Black studies, Ethnomusicology, Resources, World music