Choate Rosemary Hall
guggenheim fellowship for humanities us canada - 1946
National Book Critics Circle Award for General Nonfiction - 1993
Alan Lomax is famous to this day for being one of the pioneering figures in the field of folk music. A student of Philosophy from the ‘Texas A&M University’, he showed an innate passion for curating music, considered by many to be the influence of his father, also a well-known collector. As a young boy, he started out accompanying his father on field trips, and eventually went along with other folklorists. As a member of the 'Library of Congress', he recorded several albums and interviews with famous folk music singers and musicians. The musicologist has also helped organize various shows and concerts for America and Britain, in a bid to help folk music survive in the two nations. Apart from music, his interests lay in politics, writing and human rights. He was champion for the cause of minorities in particular African Americans. He has also presented various popular radio shows in his prime time. Alan has collected music from places like America, Ireland, Spain, Italy, and Britain. He has founded ‘The Association for Cultural Equity’, aiming at preserving the dying art form of folk music, and spreading awareness about its beauty. He has written various books, and has won several awards, including a few post-death honours.
- Alan was born to author John Lomax and his wife Bess Brown, on January 31, 1915, in Austin, America. John was an English teacher at the Texas A&M University, and a famous writer who wrote about folklore and cowboy songs of the city. He was the youngest amongst four siblings.The young boy received his primary education at home since he suffered from medical ailments like asthma and ear infections. He later pursued his education from the 'Terrill School for Boys', Dallas and then completed eighth grade in 1930 from the 'Choate School' in Connecticut.He got his matriculation degree from the 'University of Texas', where he became interested in philosophy and the works of Greek scholar Friedrich Nietzsche. Lomax also wrote for 'The Daily Texan', the university paper, but left it when they rejected his editorial piece on birth control measures.During this time he developed the hobby of collecting phonograph records meant for African American audiences. At the age of sixteen he started studying philosophy and physics at the 'Harvard University' on a scholarship and was also taught the works of Plato and Pre-Socratic thinkers, by Professor Albert P. Brogan.While studying in college, his scores decreased drastically due to his interest in radical politics and a bout of pneumonia. Alan dropped out of 'Harvard' and accompanied his father in collecting folk songs for the 'Library of Congress'.Career
- In 1934, he helped his father write a book titled 'American Ballads and Folk Songs'. The next year he went on a field trip collecting folk songs, accompanied by folklorists Zora Neale Hurston and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle.In 1936, he co-wrote 'Negro Folk Songs as Sung by Lead Belly' with his father. The same year he earned his degree in Philosophy from the 'University of Texas'.Alan was appointed as the 'Assistant in Charge of the Archive of Folk Song' by the 'Library of Congress', in 1937. Two years later, he hosted two episodes called 'American Folk Song' and 'Wellsprings of Music', on the show 'American School of the Air', which were broadcast by America's 'CBS' television network.In 1940, Lomax helped the 'Radio Corporation of America' ('RCA') release two folk music albums titled 'Dust Bowl Ballads' by singer Woody Guthrie and 'Midnight Special and Other Southern Prison Songs', by musician Lead Belly.The same year along with American filmmaker Nicholas Ray, he produced 'Back Where I Came From', a program that was telecast by the 'CBS' network thrice a week. The show included American musicians like Lead Belly, Brownie McGhee and Josh White.In 1941-42 Alan was accompanied by music collectors John Wesley Work III and Lewis Jones on a trip to Mississippi. During this time, he also interviewed the American citizens, through means of telegrams, on their opinions about the Pearl Harbour bombing.The American folklorist was interrogated by the 'Federal Bureau of Investigation' ('FBI') for his presumptuous association with Communists, on many occasions since 1942.Later that decade he released several folk music recordings and arranged concerts that featured different kinds of music. In 1948, during the Presidential elections, he arranged music for candidate Henry A. Wallace's campaign. The music advocated human rights for minorities in the nation, like the African Americans and the Jews.In 1949, the passionate musicologist presented 'Your Ballad Man', which was a radio programme aired by 'Mutual Radio Network', including music from all around the nation.Italian music professor Diego Carpitella and the American music enthusiast conducted a survey of conventional Italian folk songs that were on the verge of extinction. The survey, carried out with the help of news giant 'BBC' and Rome's 'Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia' in 1953-54, was meant for the 'Columbia World Library'.Theatre director Joan Littlewood showcased Alan's 'Big Rock Candy Mountain', a ballad performance by singer Ramblin' Jack Elliot, in her theatre workshop, in 1955.In 1962, 'Freedom in the Air: Albany Georgia', an album by Lomax and social activist Guy Carawan, was released under the banner of 'Vanguard Records'. The compilation was targeted at the 'Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee', one of the most important student bodies during the 'American Civil Rights Movement'.In the next two decades, the famous folklorist helped an association of museums named 'Smithsonian Institution' to make a sequence of movies about folk songs. The series, titled 'American Patchwork' was meant for the ' Folklife Festival', which aims at giving due recognition to the nation's rich cultural history.The brilliant folklorist established 'The Association for Cultural Equity' ('ACE') was established in 1983 at New York City's 'Hunter College'. Twelve years later he finished a book on the history of blues music, titled 'The Land Where the Blues Began'.Major Works
- One of the most famous works by this eminent folklorist and archivist is 'The Land Where the Blues Began', which is a non-fictional account of the origins of the African American blues music. The memoir states that the origin of the blues is deeply connected to the history of racism and slavery in America.Awards & Achievements
- President Ronald Reagan felicitated Alan with the 'National Medal of Arts' in 1986. The honour is the most prestigious in the nation aimed at commemorating esteemed contributors in the field of cultural arts.In 2000, the celebrated folklorist was honoured with the 'Library of Congress Living Legend Award' for his contribution to American life.The 'Tulane University of Louisiana' presented him with an 'Honorary Doctorate in Philosophy' in 2001.In 1993, his celebrated memoir 'The Land Where the Blues Began' fetched him the 'Ralph J. Gleason Music Book Award' and the 'National Book Critics Circle Award'.Lomax was posthumously felicitated with the 'Grammy Trustees Award' in 2003, honouring all his achievements. Three years later, his music compilation, 'Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax' won two 'Grammy Awards'.Personal Life & Legacy
- In February 1937, Lomax got married to Elizabeth Harold Goodman, who often accompanied him on his field trips; the couple had a daughter Anne. Elizabeth and the popular folklorist got divorced after twelve years.The musicologist fell in love with Shirley Collins, a folk singer from England, in the 1950s. However, after their last journey together towards the end of the decade, Collins got married to record producer Austin John Marshal.On August 2, 1967, he got married to Antoinette Marchand, but the relationship lasted only a year.This famous music collector passed away at the age of 87 on July 19, 2002, in Florida, United States.'American Folklife Center', of the 'Library of Congress', collaborated with Lomax's 'Association for Cultural Equity' in 2012, to release more than 17,000 tracks from the folklorist's collection in digital forms.Trivia
- This American ethnomusicologist is famous for having developed his own effective method of evaluating anthropological information using statistics, known as 'Canometrics'.
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