As NPR’s show “The Record” reported last year, a massive collection of important American folk music recordings is now available on the Internet for anyone to enjoy:
Folklorist Alan Lomax spent his career documenting folk music traditions from around the world. Now thousands of the songs and interviews he recorded are available for free online, many for the first time. It’s part of what Lomax envisioned for the collection—long before the age of the Internet.
Lomax recorded a staggering amount of folk music. He worked from the 1930s to the ‘90s, and traveled from the Deep South to the mountains of West Virginia, all the way to Europe, the Caribbean and Asia. When it came time to bring all of those hours of sound into the digital era, the people in charge of the Lomax archive weren’t quite sure how to tackle the problem.
“We err on the side of doing the maximum amount possible,” says Don Fleming, executive director of the Association for Cultural Equity, the nonprofit organization Lomax founded in New York in the ‘80s. Fleming and a small staff made up mostly of volunteers have digitized and posted some 17,000 sound recordings.
“For the first time, everything that we’ve digitized of Alan’s field recording trips are online, on our website,” says Fleming. “It’s every take, all the way through. False takes, interviews, music.”
Most of the archive consists of audio recordings, and they’ll keep any music ethnographer busy for quite some time. Starting in the late 1970s, however, Lomax incorporated video recordings into his researches, and they’re available too.
Below are two remarkable videos from the collection.
Dennis McGee, “Vous M’avez Donne Vôtre Parole (You Gave Me Your Word),” (Eunice, Louisiana, 1983):
Belton Sutherland, improvised blues (Canton, Mississippi, September 3, 1978):