A live recording of Calypso At Midnight, a concert held at Town Hall, New York City, on December 21, 1946. Learning that Town Hall could be rented cheaply after regular theater hours, Alan Lomax produced a late-night concert series called The Midnight Special, which was thematically organized as Blues At Midnight, Ballads At Midnight, etc., and sponsored by the People’s Songs Collective. The calypso concert recordings, made at Lomax’s request and later found by chance in a closet by Bess Lomax Hawes, may be the only extant record of this series. “This concert is a fascinating document of an American presentation of Trinidadian calypso at a time when interest in the genre was spreading from New York City into the mainstream of popular music in the United States” (Donald R. Hill and John H. Cowley, Calypso At Midnight [Rounder 1840]).
Texas, Hobart, and Preston Smith in Virginia, 1959. Photo by Alan Lomax.
In 1946 Alan Lomax invited the prolific ballad singer Texas Gladden, of Saltville, Virginia, and her brother, multi-instrumentalist Hobart Smith, to perform with Andrew Rowan Summers and Jean Ritchie at Columbia University’s MacMillan Theater as part of a festival held by the university. The concert recordings of the two are included here. Lomax interviewed Gladden and Smith extensively during their stay in New York and also introduced them to Moses Asch, who issued an album of four of their recordings on his Disc label (later Folkways), with cover art by painter Ben Shahn. Gladden returned home to Saltville with the news that she had met Lead Belly. “Within a few years,” noted John Cohen, “Smith’s guitar picking style was heard in New York’s Washington Square folk music scene, where ‘Railroad Bill’ was especially imitated.”
Alan's original session notes from Blues in
MS Night recording session at Decca Studios.
In 1947 Alan Lomax recorded bluesmen Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim, and Sonny Boy Williamson on a Presto disc recording machine at Decca Studios in New York City after they had given concert at Town Hall. In a session of candid oral history and song, the three artists, Southern born but with established careers in Chicago, explained the origin and nature of the blues. “They began with blues as a record of the problems of love and women in the Delta world,” Lomax wrote. “They explored the cause of this in the stringent poverty of black rural life. They recalled life in the Mississippi work camps, where the penitentiary stood at the end of the road, waiting to receive the rebellious. Finally, they came to the enormities of the lynch system that threatened anyone who defied its rules.” The interviews were issued in a fictionalized form in the magazine Common Ground (1948) under the title “I Got the Blues,” but they were deemed so controversial that their audio release was delayed for ten years. When United Artists finally issued them in 1959 on LP as Blues in the Mississippi Night, Alan used pseudonyms at the artists’ request to shield their identities and protect family members who still lived in the South against possible reprisals — such was the reach of the prohibition against public commentary on Southern racial and labor conditions.
Parchman Farm Penitentiary, Parchman,
Mississippi, 1959. Photo by Alan Lomax.
The Lomaxes and other collectors of their time (and also decades later) found some of the most powerful vernacular music of the American South in the region’s oppressive and violent prison system. The songs they found there, John and Alan Lomax wrote, “or songs like them were formerly sung all over the South. With the coming of the machines, however, the work gangs were broken up. The songs then followed group labor into its last retreat — the road gang and the penitentiary” (Our Singing Country, 1941). Bruce Jackson, writing about prison song in the 1960s, explains, “Southern agricultural penitentiaries were in many respects replicas of nineteenth-century plantations, where groups of slaves did arduous work by hand, supervised by white men with guns and constant threat of awful physical punishment. It is hardly surprising that the music of plantation culture — the work songs — went to the prisons as well.” The tie-tamping and wood-cutting chants, field hollers, and the occasional blues recorded by Alan Lomax on paper-backed tape at Mississippi’s Parchman Penitentiary in 1947 and 1948 remain among the most vivid documents of this genre of African American song.
Landscape picture of house and plane,
Mississippi, 1959. Photo by Alan Lomax.
In early February 1948, a few days after the death of his father, John A. Lomax, Alan Lomax visited three Southern Black Baptist churches — the True Light Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas; the Rose Hill Baptist Church in Greenville, Mississippi; and the Friendly Will Baptist Church in Austin, Texas — where he recorded sermons, hymns, and spirituals. Of these, only one hymn has been released commercially.
Vera Ward Hall, Livingston, Alabama 1959.
Photo by Alan Lomax.
These recordings of oral history, play songs, blues, spirituals, and stories were made in 1948 when Alan Lomax invited Vera Hall to come from her home in Livingston, Alabama, to New York City for a concert. Vera Hall’s mother had been a slave, and Vera’s date of birth was not recorded. Her artistry and repertoire had been brought to John A. Lomax’s attention in 1937 by Ruby Pickens Tartt, a painter and folklorist from Livingston who had introduced him to Vera and her cousin, Dock Reed. The elder Lomax recorded her again in 1940, describing her as having “the loveliest voice I had ever recorded.” Alan Lomax used the oral histories of Vera Hall and Dock Reed as the basis of The Rainbow Sign (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1959), a study of African-American spirituality. After her death in 1964, Alan Lomax said: “It is from singers like Vera Hall that all of us who love folk music in America have everything to learn. Her performances were all graced with dignity and with love. Her sense of timing and beat were perfection itself…. But all this is analysis. The mystery of Vera Hall and her art, while hinted at in the recordings we will always treasure, lies buried in the state where once the stars fell.” In 2005 Vera Hall was inducted into the Alabama Women’s Hall of Fame. More information in our Friends & Colleagues section.
In April 1949, as part of his research for a biography of Jelly Roll Morton, Alan Lomax gathered first-hand recollections of early New Orleans jazz and Creole music from Albert Glenny, Johnny St. Cyr, Alphonse Picou, Dr. Leonard Bechet (brother of Sidney Bechet), and Paul Dominguez, Jr. These elderly ambassadors of jazz were recorded at home, with the sounds of roosters crowing, radios playing, dogs barking, cars passing, and horns blaring in the background.
Jean Ritchie at the Alan Lomax Tribute
Conference, NYC, 2003. Photo by
Jean Ritchie was born and raised in Viper, Kentucky, the youngest of fourteen children in a family rich in oral tradition. From this background Jean emerged as a singer of incomparable voice and repertoire, as well as an instrumentalist, songwriter, author, and a collector in her own right. Her autobiography, Singing Family of the Cumberlands, is a classic account of Appalachian life and folklore. In 1946, after graduating from the University of Kentucky, she found a job at the Henry Street Settlement School in New York City. There she met Alan Lomax, who recorded her songs for the Library of Congress and became her advocate and lifelong friend. In 1949 and 1950, Jean Ritchie recorded several hours of songs, stories, and oral history for Alan Lomax in New York City. For more on Jean Ritchie, visit www.jeanritchie.com.
Harry Cox, Sutton, England, 1953.
Photo by Alan Lomax.
“The vigor and charm of these living English folk songs may surprise most listeners, perhaps most of all the British,” wrote Alan Lomax in 1955. Many of these recordings were made with Peter Kennedy and / or with the cooperation of the English Folk Dance and Song Society and the Recorded Programs Library of the British Broadcasting Corporation. The earliest publication of this material in Columbia Records’ World Library of Folk and Primitive Music also included recordings made by Maurice Brown, Douglas Cleverdon, Brian George, Jack Dillon, E. J. Moeran, Geoffrey Bridson, and Olive Shapeley. The collection comprises ballads, sea chanteys, children’s songs, mummers’ plays and Christmas rituals; instrumentals for concertina, band, and Northumbrian smallpipes; and features Isla Cameron, Jim and Bob Copper, A. L. Lloyd, Ewan MacColl, Stanley Slade, Phil Tanner, and many others.
Agnes Whyte, Ireland, 1953.
Photo by Michael Macioce.
This first anthology of Irish traditional music to be assembled on an LP record (as distinct from LPs consisting of reissues of 78s and Irish popular music) was drawn from these field recordings made by Alan Lomax, Robin Roberts, and Seamus Ennis, primarily in Cork, Kerry, Donegal, and Galway; and by Brian George and Maurice Brown for the BBC. Included are a young girl singing a death lament; performances by the traveling tinsmith and fiddle player Mickey Doherty; radical author Brendan Behan; and Seamus Ennis himself. The field recordings in Ireland were made with the cooperation of the Irish Folklore Commission, the BBC, and Radió Éireann; others were made later in various locations in London.
Alan Lomax (holding microphone) with
Hamish Henderson (holding box), Edinburgh,
Scotland, 1958. Photographer unknown.
With guidance from Hamish Henderson, the MacLeans of Raasay, and William Montgomerie, Alan Lomax recorded dozens of hours of ancient ballads, Gaelic work songs, children’s songs, and contemporary folk songs from all over Scotland. The performers included Jeannie Robertson, John Burgess, John Strachan, Jimmy MacBeath, Flora MacNeil, Isla Cameron, Ewan MacColl, and Hamish Henderson, recorded in Edinburgh, Aberdeen, Elgin, and the Hebrides, and in London. The field recordings in Scotland were made with the cooperation of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Program for Big Bill Broonzy benefit concert,
London Coliseum, 1952.
Blues artist Big Bill Broonzy (1893–1958) was active in 1930s and ‘40s Chicago — composing, performing, and recording — and in Europe in the early 1950s. Alan Lomax, who, like many of his colleagues, held Broonzy in high esteem, spent time with him in Chicago, and recorded him at the Decca studios in New York in 1946 and in 1947 after his appearance in the Blues at Midnight Town Hall concert. They met again in Paris in 1952, at which time Bill recorded two hours of songs and talk on such subjects as pride, race, and black culture in America.
Born in Scott County, Mississippi, on the banks of the Mississippi River, William Lee Conley Broonzy learned the violin on a homemade instrument and was playing for social functions by the age of ten. He was briefly a traveling preacher and did a stint in the Army, after which he moved to Chicago and began playing guitar. His recording career, begun with Paramount in 1927, spanned three full decades, taking him from the heart of the Chicago blues scene to the folk revival of the 1950s. He died of throat cancer in 1958.
Psaltery and flute player, Yebra
de Basa (province of Huesca),
Aragon, Spain, December, 1952.
Photo by Alan Lomax.
Alan Lomax’s Spanish field recordings, made in 1952 during the Franco regime, bear witness to a time in Spanish cultural history which remains relatively obscure. Made in cooperation with the BBC, the collection was recorded with the assistance of Jeannette “Pip” Bell and with the collaboration of Eduardo Torner, Juan Uria Riu, Julio Caro Baroja, Antonio Mari, Walter Starkie, and Radio Nacional. It samples the folk music of Andalusia, Aragon, Asturias, Castile, Catalonia, Extremadura, Galicia, Mallorca and Ibiza, Murcia, Navarro, the Pais Vasco, and Santander, and includes vaqueiradas, albaes, desafios, and pig castrators’ panpipe melodies.
Fishermen rowing, Calabria, Italy,
August 3, 1954. Photo by Alan Lomax.
In 1959 and 1960, Alan Lomax revisited the American South after 10 years abroad to record the still-living stream of traditional music in newly developed stereo sound. The collection features some of the region’s most representative musicians and styles: Delta blues guitarists, fife-and-drum ensembles, Sacred Harp singers, Ozark and Appalachian ballad singers, and prison work gangs. Performers include Sidney Carter, Vera Ward Hall, Sid and Rose Hemphill, Bessie Jones and the Georgia Sea Island Singers, Wade Ward, Willie Jones, J. E. Mainer, Neal Morris, E. C. Ball, Almeda Riddle, Hobart Smith, Ed Young, and Mississippi Fred McDowell (his first recordings). English folksinger Shirley Collins assisted Alan Lomax on the 1959 trip, and his daughter, Anna, accompanied him on the 1960 trip. The endeavor resulted in two influential LP series on Atlantic (1960) and Prestige Records (1962).
Picture of Hally Wood from a town hall concert
with Pete Seeger, ca. New York City 1960.
In the spring of 1960, on a brief vacation to Puerto Rico, Alan Lomax paid a visit to Texas folksinger and longtime friend, Hally Wood, who was living in Rio Piedras with her then husband, Professor R. C. Stevenson. In one day they recorded 29 songs, most of them performed by Hally Wood, several by Alan and Hally together, and a few with Bernice Prentice who played the quills.
Harriet Elizabeth “Hally” Wood was born in 1922 in Washington, D.C., and grew up in a musical family, studying classical piano and singing. She became interested in folk music while attending the University of Texas in the early ’40s where she met and married John Henry Faulk. She went on to become a gifted transcriber and annotator much sought after in the folk music field. She collaborated with Alan Lomax, Mike Seeger, Sing Out, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, and Jean Ritchie, among many others. She died of cancer in Houston, Texas, in 1988, leaving one daughter, Cynthia Tannehill Faulk Ryland, with whom she collaborated on her last record, Songs To Live By.
Bessie Jones, Williamsburg, Virginia, 1960.
Photo by Alan Lomax.
Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle made recordings in the Georgia Sea Islands in 1935. When Lomax returned to St. Simons Island in 1959, he met Bessie Jones, whom he recognized as a major artist. Bessie Jones was born in 1902 in North Georgia, where she learned the songs and stories of her grandfather, a former slave who was part Native American. As a very young girl she married into St. Simons Island and eventually became a leading tradition-bearer in the community of Frederica. In the 1960s, with the assistance of Alan Lomax, Bessie Jones, together with John Davis, Peter Davis, Mable Hillery, Emma Ramsey, and Henry Morrison, formed the Georgia Sea Island Singers and traveled to colleges and folk music venues throughout the country. During this period, Bess Lomax Hawes collaborated with Bessie on the book, Step It Down, a study of African-American children’s game songs, which remains a classic in its field. Bessie died in 1984 in Brunswick, Georgia.
In 1961, Bessie traveled to New York City and asked Alan Lomax to record her biography and repertoire, which he did with his then wife, Antoinette Marchand. The interviews lasted over a period of three months and resulted in the fifty hours of recordings in this collection. The grace and power of Bessie Jones’ singing and the breadth of her repertoire can be heard on two albums in the Southern Journey series on Rounder Records. More information in our Friends & Colleaguessection.
La Resource, Carriacou, 1962.
Photo by Alan Lomax.
In 1962, the British West Indies were on the verge of independence. With funding from the Rockefeller Foundation and sponsorship from the University of the West Indies in Jamaica, Alan Lomax arranged to record the music of the Lesser Antilles, the chain of islands that form the south-eastern edge of the Caribbean archipelago. His idea was to document the region’s musical and cultural commonalities in order to support the Trinidadian and Jamaican plan for post-colonial Caribbean unity, which it was hoped would be realized through a West Indian Federation. He also wished to continue and expand the Caribbean research he had begun in the Bahamas (1935) and Haiti (1937).
This collection samples the rich linguistic and stylistic variety of then still-living and growing folk traditions in the Caribbean, rooted in West and Central Africa, Britain, France, Spain, Central America, and the Bhojpuri-speaking regions of India. Work songs of numerous types, lullabies, pass-play songs, antique French ballads, chant-fables, beguines, Shango, Nation dances, chaupai, steel band music, funerary music, Doption, anthems, string band (a-cling a-ling), tamboo-bamboo, parang, and calypso were recorded on portable stereo equipment. Folklorist J. D. Elder, Minister of Culture for Trinidad under Eric Williams, worked with Alan Lomax on the project; other collaborators included Dan Crowley, Roger Abrahams (Nevis and St. Kitts), and Derek Walcott (St. Lucia). Antoinette Marchand and Anna Lomax assisted in the field.
One of the many commercial albums
Alan brought back from Romania.
These few recordings were made in the village of Dragus in Transylvania, where, in 1929, the Romanian ethnomusicologist Constantin Brailoiu had made a study of funeral laments. Evidently guided by the advice of Mihai Pop at the Institutul de Etnografie si Folclor in Bucharest, Alan Lomax visited Dragus after his August 1964 trip to the Soviet Union. He recorded children and a few older women singing dance songs, love songs, and lullabies.
Pamphlet Alan obtained in Moscow in 1965
when he was recording Soviet musicians.
Alan's notes are on the front in blue pen.
Recordings made in Central Asia, Siberia, and Russia, collected in 1964.
In 1964 Alan Lomax visited the Soviet Union to attend the International Anthropological and Ethnological Congress in Moscow and to gather recordings for his comparative research on folk song style. Ethnomusicologist Anna Rudneva guided Lomax through ethnomusicology archives in Leningrad and Moscow, where he made copies of recordings from former Soviet nationalities and ethnic groups, including Tatar (c. 1956); Chukot, Ket, and Koryak (collected by Boris Mikhailovich Dobrovol’skiǐ, c. 1956); Chukchee (collected by the Moscow Conservatory, c. 1939 and Eduard Yefimovich Alekseyev, c. 1960); Ostiak (collected by Beryozov and Salekhard, c. 1952); Uzbek; Kazakh; Kirghiz; Buryat; Chuvash (c. 1958); Georgian (presented by the Georgian Union of Composers, edited by Grigol Z. Ckhikvadze, A. Georgeashvili, and Vladimir V. Akhobadze); Bashkir (c. 1958); Tajik; Turkmen; Kalmyk; Tuvin; Russian; Mansi; Samoyede; and others held in the Rudneva Collection, the Moscow State Conservatory Collection, the Georgian Conservatory of Music, Radio Moscow, the Recording Archives of the Russian Institute of Literature and other repositories. Alan Lomax was also presented with materials by the collectors themselves, including Ossetian recordings (from Madam Kseniya G. Tskhurbaeva, collected in Ossetia region, U.S.S.R., c. 1960); Mordva recordings (given to Lomax by Georgii Ivanovich Suraev-Korolev); Yukaghir, Yakut, and Even recordings (from Eduard Yefimovich Alekseyev). Lomax himself recorded and interviewed artists from Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Russia. There are approximately ten hours of material altogether.
ACE has preserved and made high quality digitized copies of this superb collection. While only a small portion of it was recorded by Alan Lomax, this is a rare opportunity to make these materials available. The documentation was sparse, but thanks to Eduard Yefimovich Alekseyev and Ted Levin, most of the songs and collectors have been identified.
This Newport Folk Festival Preview Concert at New York City’s Central Park was held at the height of the Civil Rights era, in the summer of 1965. Alan Lomax, who produced and emceed the concert, evidently wanted to bring New York audiences closer to the black South and what was happening there through this event. The concert featured Reverend Gary Davis, Bessie Jones, Mable Hillery, John Davis, Peter Davis, Emma Ramsay, Ed Young, Lonnie Young, and Lonnie Young, Jr. The performers give commentary on their material. Joan Halifax assisted and made notes on the tape boxes; little else is known about the surrounding circumstances.
Cover of Newport Folk Festival
promotional brochure, Newport,
Rhode Island, 1965.
In 1966, Alan Lomax persuaded the Newport Folk Festival Board to allow him to film that year’s festival, for which many renowned folk musicians, some in their retirement, had been sought out and invited. The filming was of stage performances and of part of a simulated juke-joint — an informal, intimate performance space improvised by Lomax, where artists could feel at ease and the music could flow more naturally. Portions of this footage were edited into videos. These recordings constitute the complete soundtrack. They feature music and interviews by Son House, Howling Wolf, Skip James, Bukka White, Canray Fontenot, Bois Sec Ardoin, Clark Kessinger, Liam Clancy, Joe Heaney, Growling Tiger, Dixie Hummingbirds, Swan Silvertones, Gospel Harmonettes, Bessie Jones, Janie Hunter, Jimmy Driftwood, Dock Boggs, Kilby Snow, and others.
Page from Alan Lomax's field notes on the
In 1967, while on vacation in the Dominican Republic and Saint Eustatius, Alan Lomax, assisted by Joan Halifax, made an hour and a quarter of recordings of work songs, carols, sea shanties, whaling songs, calypso, ballads, and an excerpt from a roving theater group doing a play about David and Goliath to a musical background of drumming. Documentation on these recordings is scanty.
Picture from cover of Moroccan tourist
map found in Alan's collection, 1967.
While preserving the sound recordings at the Alan Lomax Archive, we came across various recordings Alan made throughout his career that do not fit into specific collections. We decided to group them in a collection of miscellaneous recordings because they are interesting in their sheer variety. Included here are taped interviews and song sessions with Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Shirley Collins, Robin Roberts, The Ramblers, Douglas Kennedy and Margaret Barry, Wanda Sana, poet Robert Graves, the Reverend Michael Peebles, Bengali nationalist poet Jasimuddin, and many others, including a Czechoslovakian concentration camp survivor and a United Nations diplomat singing Afghanistan caravan songs in Pashtu.