The Alan Lomax Sound Archive Now Online: Features 17,000 Blues & Folk Recordings

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, on our Web site. 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:

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,” his 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, which 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.

h/t Judy Bro­phy and Matthew Barnes

Relat­ed con­tent:

Leg­endary Folk­lorist Alan Lomax: ‘The Land Where the Blues Began’

Pete Seeger: ‘To Hear Your Ban­jo Play’

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