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Alan Lomax photo
Alan Lomax at the Library of Congress, April 24, 2000 for a concert on the grounds of the U.S. Capitol in celebration of the Library's bicentennial. His daughter, Anna Chairetakis, is on the left. As part of the program, Lomax was named a "Living Legend" by the Librarian of Congress, one of eighty persons selected by the Library's curators and subject specialists who have "advanced and embodied the quintessentially American ideal of individual creativity, conviction, dedication, and exuberance." Photo by James Hardin.

Alan Lomax, 1915-2002

by James B. Hardin

Alan Lomax, the legendary folklorist whose name is inextricably connected with the Library of Congress and the Archive of American Folk Song, died on July 19, 2002, in Sarasota, Florida, at the age of eighty-seven.

Alan Lomax was still a teenager when he began making field expeditions with his folksong-collecting father, John A. Lomax. Together they published American Ballads and Folk Songs (1934) and Our Singing Country (1941), and Alan, on his own, published The Folk Songs of North America (1960) and many other books. They lectured and produced concerts, notably by the great Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, for example. Alan hosted and produced a series of CBS radio broadcasts in New York for "Columbia's School of the Air," on which he sang himself and presented performers such as Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and the Golden Gate Quartet.

In 1933, the Lomaxes began a mutually beneficial ten-year association with the Library of Congress. In 1928, in its Music Division, the Library had established an Archive of American Folk Song, under the direction of Robert W. Gordon, and in its Annual Report for that year acknowledged the "pressing need for the formation of a great centralized collection of American folk-songs." John A. Lomax was named honorary curator in 1933, and Alan became the Archive's first federally funded staff member (1936), serving as "assistant in charge" (1937-42). He made collecting expeditions for the Library; produced a seminal series of documentary folk music albums entitled Folk Music of the United States; conducted interviews with performers, such as Jelly Roll Morton; and, over the years, introduced Washington audiences to an array of folk musicians

After leaving the Library of Congress, Alan Lomax continued his career as a musicologist, author, radio broadcaster, filmmaker, concert and record producer, and television host. He traveled in this country and abroad, making documentary recordings, began a database of thousands of songs and dances he dubbed the "Global Jukebox," and founded the Association for Cultural Equity at Hunter College in New York City. In 1986 he received the National Medal of Arts from the National Endowment for the Arts, and in 1993 he received the National Book Critics Circle award for nonfiction for his book The Land Where the Blues Began. Like Walt Whitman, Alan Lomax heard America singing. Through his life-long efforts he ensured that people everywhere could share that priceless heritage of music and song.

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   April 4, 2014
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