From Writer’s Almanac this morning:
It’s the birthday of one of the most important folklorists in American history, Alan Lomax, born in Austin, Texas (1915). (Some sources give his birthday as January 15.) His father, John Lomax, was one of the first people ever to travel around the American South to write down the lyrics of folk songs sung by ordinary people in saloons and on back porches. It was John Lomax who discovered a folksong that became known as “Home on the Range.” By the time Alan Lomax was born, his father had taken a banking job to support the family. But he lost that job during the Great Depression, and in 1933, he applied for a grant to start collecting folk songs for the Library of Congress. Alan was 18 years old and the time, and he went along as an assistant.
Alan’s father would go on to become the first curator of the Archive of American Folk Song in the Library of Congress, but it was Alan would do most of the collecting. He traveled all over, recording everything from church singers to voodoo ceremonies. Unlike other musicologists, Lomax always tried to get the best recording equipment available. And even though he was recording on the fly in the field, he was careful about microphone placement and did everything he could to capture a high-quality sound.
Today, the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) continues Alan’s work. ACE operates out of the Fine Arts Campus of New York City’s Hunter College. ACE was chartered by the State of New York in 1983 to preserve, study, and disseminate folk performance traditions from around the world, and to oversee Alan Lomax’s collected works and recordings. ACE serves audiences through a virtual archive of media holdings on the internet; a large catalog of publications; and through assistance to researchers, media projects, and members of the public. They “actively reach out to other archives and libraries, and to artists and their communities.”