Finding America’s Music – Alan Lomax

This page provides links to the course presentations, bibliography, and other related material.


Tuesdays, 3:00 PM. Zoom link for WISE members:
Karl Hakkarainen

Course Description

Dragging a disc recording machine weighing more than 300 pounds, Alan Lomax and his father, John, went to the plantations and juke joints of the American south, the hobo camps of the west, and the streets of Caribbean islands to collect the music and stories of the previously unknown. They recorded those who would be famous, such as Lead Belly, Muddy Waters, Woody Guthrie, and Jean Ritchie, and others who would stay nameless. The work was physically demanding, legally complex, and emotionally exhausting, and we now have thousands of recordings, showing America to itself.

Week 1

  • Introduction and notes about recording quality
  • About musicology and ethnomusicology
  • John A. Lomax, Sr. – life, publications, speeches, and recordings
    • Bess Brown Lomax
    • Ruby Terrill Lomax
    • John, Jr.
    • Bess
    • Alan
  • Prison recordings
    • Angola (Lead Belly)
    • Parchman Farm
  • Kentucky recordings
  • Louisiana recordings

Week 2

  • Lead Belly
    • Release from prison
    • Travels with John and Alan
    • New York and Wilton recordings
    • Lawrence Gellert
  • Song histories
    • Bonaparte’s Retreat and Aaron Copeland
    • Midnight Special
    • Goin’ Down the Road Feelin’ Bad
  • Zora Neale Hurston
  • Finnish songs
  • Texas Recordings

Week 3

  • Alan in Haiti
  • Jelly Roll Morton and W.C. Handy
  • Pete Seeger
  • Woody Guthrie
  • Son House
  • Muddy Waters

Week 4

  • Almanac Singers
  • Weavers
  • Lead Belly
  • Blues
  • Gospel
  • Lonnie Donegan and British/American folk

Week 5

  • BBC Audio – Southern Journeys:
    The story of American traditional music is dominated by the father and son team John and Alan Lomax who discovered, recorded, and popularised the music of the poor, the dispossessed and voiceless.
  • White researchers and Black culture
  • Lomax, The Songhunter Documentary 2004
  • More music
    • Clips from movies by and about Alan Lomax, Newport shows, and performers in other concert.
  • Conclusions


Links go to PowerPoint files