Association for Cultural Equity Launches the Lomax Digital Archive

News from the Field

The Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) is pleased to announce the launch of the Lomax Digital Archive. The archive provides free access to audio/visual collections compiled across seven decades by folklorist Alan Lomax (1915–2002) and his father John A. Lomax (1867–1948), and was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities’ NEH Cares program.

For nearly ten years, ACE has hosted online the entirety of Alan Lomax’s photographs and tape recordings—made throughout the US and the world between 1946 and 1991—as well as transcriptions of his 1940s radio programs, and a selection of clips from his film and video-work of the 1970s and 1980s. The LDA offers all of this material through a totally redesigned user interface, with more intuitive search and browse functions, as well as easy embeddability and instant social-media sharing on the item (recording / photo / video) level.

The LDA also expands the old site exponentially through the inclusion of collections compiled by the Lomaxes under the auspices of the Library of Congress’ Archive of Folk Song between 1933 and 1942. First and foremost, these include the entire 70 hours of their Kentucky recordings and the 39 hours of Mississippi recordings. This latter material includes the first recordings of Muddy Waters, Honeyboy Edwards, and Sid Hemphill. Although this material has been issued in assorted iterations over the years, the LDA makes it possible to listen to them in their entirety in their original recording contexts. As funds become available to digitize and catalog other collections from this period, they will become available here. (These collections include recordings made by several of Alan’s collaborators, among them John W. Work III and Mary Elizabeth Barnicle, and are presented here in partnership with ACE’s colleagues at the LC’s American Folklife Center.)

The catalogs are searchable and browsable by a range of taxonomies (performers, instrument, location, genre, etc.) and every recording and image is described by extensive item-level metadata. Nothing is left out—every microphone check and struck tuning fork is included.

Lastly, a crucial aspect of the LDA is its capacity for exhibits, which will allow for thoughtful, context-rich explorations into specific aspects of the collections: be they instruments, locations, traditions, performers, or themes. The inaugural presentation is Trouble Won’t Last Always, which compiles the several dozen performances that comprised ACE’s daily song series of the same name, launched in the early days of the pandemic. Trouble consists of recordings from across the Lomax collections that speak to themes of loneliness, isolation, optimism, endurance, transcendence, selected and annotated by LDA curator Nathan Salsburg, and with an introduction by Dom Flemons, the American Songster.

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