I Hear America Singing: The Roots of American Music
Wood, Allan, American Visions
The Roots of American Music
Alan Lomax was on Beale Street one night, drinking and talking music with a few Memphis musicians, when suddenly he was interrupted by policemen's flashlights and drawn pistols. He was working for the Library of Congress, recording folk and blues songs, but to these Southern lawmen he was just "a white tramp with a couple of nigger vagrants." The unfriendly reception was not unusual for Lomax, who was traveling through the South during the 1940s and '50s. For such offenses as calling a black man "mister" or shaking his hand in public, Lomax was lectured, humiliated, arrested, even shot at.
Lomax learned his trade in the 1930s, while traveling with his father, the pioneering folklorist John A. Lomax, making seminal recordings of Southern musicians, such as Leadbelly, in backwoods and penitentiaries. Alan Lomax spent the summer of 1935 with Zora Neale Hurston, collecting oral histories of Southern blacks, and in 1941, he cut the first discs of McKinley Morganfield before the 26-year-old Mississippi sharecropper took the name Muddy Waters and hopped a train to Chicago.
Lomax has since spent a lifetime writing about and recording the world's folk music, traveling to Spain, Haiti, Scotland, Germany, Ireland and Africa. At age 79, he is one of the world's top musicologists. Music critic and author Stanley Crouch, who is currently writing a biography of Charlie Parker, calls Lomax "a major figure in American culture. Through his work we get a …
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Publication information: Article title: I Hear America Singing: The Roots of American Music. Contributors: Wood, Allan - Author. Magazine title: American Visions. Volume: 9. Issue: 1 Publication date: February-March 1994. Page number: 50+. © 1996 Heritage Information Holdings, Inc. COPYRIGHT 1994 Gale Group.
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