Renowned field recordist/musicologist Alan Lomax passed away in July at the age of 87. Lomax enjoyed a 60-year career documenting the folk music of the American South and around the world. His recordings, most of which were made for the Library of Congress, have received renewed attention recently through Rounder Records' ambitious remastering of The Alan Lomax Collection, which, when complete, will comprise more than 100 CDs. In addition, one of Lomax's prison recordings opens the multi-Platinum, Grammy-winning O Brother, Where Art Thou? film soundtrack.
Lomax, who began recording with his father, John Avery Lomax, in the early '30s, assisted in the first recordings of blues legend Leadbelly. In the 1940s, he traveled throughout the South interviewing and recording blues and folk artists, including Muddy Waters, Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim and the first Sonny Boy Williamson. Lomax's overwhelming body of work came to include music from Europe and the Caribbean, as well as regional folk music from the United States.
In 1997, Mix's feature on the remastering of Lomax's work for Rounder included an interview with the recordist's daughter, Anna Lomax Chairetakis, who had become the caretaker of Lomax's archives after his second stroke at the age of 82. “I watched him many times,” Chairetakis said. “He would lean in toward people with his microphone, put his microphone right up into their face, and just radiate a lot of warmth and geniality and ask them what often seemed like very low-key kinds of questions, like, ‘How did you all get started?’ and ‘Where did you learn this song?’ But the point about him was that he really knew what he was doing. He knew the cultural terrain, and he made people very secure.”
Alan Lomax will be remembered through the magnificent music he captured and the important lessons he taught Americans about their own culture. The Lomax family suggests that contributions be made to The Blues Music Foundation for the Willie Moore Fund, c/o Experience Music Project, 2901 3rd Ave., Seattle, WA 98121.
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