Folk hero Alan Lomax’s archive digitised

Ethnomusicologist and pioneering folk-music recorder's vast archive available to stream online.

01.02.12

Words by: Charlie Jones

Alan Lomax’s vast archive of 20th century folk music from America and around the world will be opened to the internet at the end of February.

Lomax, born into a folklorist family in the early years of the 20th century, dedicated his 87 years on this planet to archiving the music of the people. His first post was as assistant in charge of the Archive of Folk Song at the Library of Congress, and from this job, which he left in 1945, he spurred the folk revival of the 1950s and 60s, with countless albums, broadcasts and concerts. He wrote of a “global jukebox”, a collection of the music of the people that was vanishing before his eyes – the songs of Mississipi sharecroppers and the chain gang, the Flamenco of rural Spain and the Calypso of the Caribbean. Thankfully, Lomax’s vision can now be realised, as his archive of 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts is to be thrown open, the New York Times reported. It will be available through the website Cultural Equity, and a series of CDs are expected under the name Global Jukebox.

“This project has evolved as the technology has evolved,” said Lomax’s daughter and president of the Association for Cultural Equity Anna Lomax Wood to the New York Times. “My father always felt that part of his job was to give something back to the people whose culture it was,” Ms. Wood said. “It’s a way of saying, ‘What you do is worth something,’ and what we do is an extension of that.”