Famed folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax visited New Orleans in his later years and took this video snapshot of New Orleans circa 1990.
Great survey of the city’s vast musical culture: jazz funerals, Mardi Gras Indians, street parades and a lot more.
More about Alan Lomax
Alan Lomax (January 31, 1915 – July 19, 2002) was an American field collector of folk music of the 20th century. He was also a folklorist, ethnomusicologist, archivist, writer, scholar, political activist, oral historian, and film-maker. Lomax produced recordings, concerts, and radio shows in the US and in England. These played an important role in both the American and British folk revivals of the 1940s, 1950s and early 1960s. During the New Deal, with his father, folklorist and collector John A. Lomax and later alone and with others, Lomax recorded thousands of songs and interviews for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress on aluminum and acetate discs.
A huge treasure trove of songs and interviews recorded by the legendary folklorist Alan Lomax from the 1940s into the 1990s have been digitized and made available online for free listening.
The Association for Cultural Equity, a nonprofit organization founded by Lomax in the 1980s, has posted some 17,000 recordings.
“For the first time,” Cultural Equity Executive Director Don Fleming told NPR’s Joel Rose “everything that we’ve digitized of Alan’s field recording trips are online. It’s every take, all the way through. False takes, interviews, music.”
It’s an amazing resource. For a quick taste, here are a few examples from one of the best-known areas of Lomax’s research, his recordings of traditional African American culture:
- “John Henry” sung by prisoners at the Mississippi State Penitentiary, Parchman Farm, in 1947.
- “Come Up Horsey,” a children’s lullaby sung in 1948 by Vera Hall, whose mother was a slave.
- “In a Shanty in Old Shanty Town” performed by Big Bill Broonzy, 1952.
- “Story of a slave who asked the devil to take his master,” told by Bessie Jones in 1961.
But that’s just scratching the surface of what’s inside the enormous archive. Lomax’s work extended far beyond the Deep South, into other areas and cultures of America, the Caribbean, Europe and Asia. “He believed that all cultures should be looked at on an even playing field,” daughter Anna Lomax Wood told NPR. “Not that they’re all alike. But they should be given the same dignity, or they had the same dignity and worth as any other.”
You can listen to Rose’s piece about the archive on the NPR website, as well as a 1990 interview with Lomax by Terry Gross of Fresh Air. This includes sample recordings from Woody Guthrie, Jelly Roll Morton, Lead Belly and Mississippi Fred McDowell. To dive into the Lomax audio archive, you can search the vast collection by artist, date, genre, country and other categories, or go to the Sound Collections Guide for easy browsing.