Alan Lomax  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

Alan Lomax (January 31, 1915July 19, 2002) was an important American folklorist and musicologist. He was one of the great field collectors of folk music of the 20th century, recording thousands of songs in the United States, Great Britain, the West Indies, Italy, and Spain.



Lomax was the son of pioneering musicologist and folklorist John Lomax, with whom he started his career by recording songs sung by prisoners in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi. He attended The Choate School in Wallingford, Connecticut and then went on to earn a degree in philosophy from the University of Texas at Austin. He later worked on the oral history project for the Library of Congress. To some, he is best known for his theory of cantometrics.

Lomax worked with his father on the Archive of Folk Culture, a collection of more than ten thousand recordings for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress.

Lomax assembled a highly regarded treasure trove of American and international culture, spending a lifetime collecting folk music from around the world, particularly from the American South. He recorded substantial interviews with many musicians, including Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly, Muddy Waters, Jelly Roll Morton, and Jeannie Robertson, and he produced radio shows, had a regular television series, and played an important role in both the American folk music revival and British folk revival of the 1950s.

He recorded Irish traditional musicians including some of the songs in English and Irish of Elizabeth Cronin in 1951.

His survey of Italian folk music with Diego Carpitella, conducted in 1953 and 1954, helped capture a snapshot of a multitude of important traditional folk styles shortly before they disappeared. The pair amassed one of the most representative folk song collections of any culture. From Lomax's Spanish and Italian recordings emerged one of the first theories explaining the types of folk singing that emerge in particular areas, a theory that incorporates work style, the environment, and the degrees of social and sexual freedom.

In 1944 Alan Lomax took part in a Ballad opera called "The Martins and the Coys". It was recorded by the BBC and CBS and features contributions by Burl Ives, Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger. It was released on Rounder Records in 2000.


Lomax won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award in 1993 for his book The Land Where the Blues Began, the story of the origins of Blues music. Lomax also received a posthumous Grammy Trustees Award for his lifetime achievements in 2003.


  • A character named Alan Lomax was featured in the book Ishmael by Daniel Quinn.
  • Lomax's works and collected songs are heavily sampled on Moby's breakthrough album, Play.
  • In 2006 the scholar and jazz pianist Ted Gioia uncovered and published extracts from Alan Lomax's FBI files. Lomax was repeatedly investigated by the FBI but never found guilty of anything.[1]


His books include

  • Selected Writings 1934-1997 (2003) (This includes a chapter defining all the categories of cantometrics.)
  • The Land Where The Blues Began (1993)
  • Mister Jelly Roll: The Fortunes of Jelly Roll Morton, New Orleans Creole and "Inventor of Jazz" (1973)
  • Our Singing Country: Folk Songs and Ballads (edited with John Lomax, re-printed 2000)
  • Penguin Book of American Folk Songs (1968)


  • "Lomax, Alan" obituary in Current Biography, 2002.
  • Alan Lomax: Mirades Miradas Glances Photos by Alan Lomax, ed. by Antoni Pizà (Barcelona: Lunwerg / Fundacio Sa Nostra, 2006) ISBN 84-9785-271-0

See also

Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Alan Lomax" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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