Over the course of 70 years, Alan Lomax was one of America’s finest treasures as an honored music archivist who collected tens of thousands of songs from all over the globe. PledgeMusic is proud to partner with the Alan Lomax Archive for a proper celebration of Alan’s 100th birthday with a definitive Centennial box set that includes 100 songs on six LPs. We recently asked Nathan Salsburg, Curator of the Association for Cultural Equity, which Lomax founded, for further perspective on his legacy, his favorite pieces to listen to and the scope of the new box set.
Those who pre-order through PledgeMusic get behind-the-scenes access to the production of the box set. Fans get access to rare exclusives including a 78-rpm record from Lomax’s own collection, a copy of the Grammy-winning set of Lomax’s 1938 Library of Congress recordings with Jelly Roll Morton, a series of fan-curated 7″ singles, and the opportunity to vote on which songs are included in the 7″ series, and the exclusive Alan Lomax Centennial T-shirt. For more information, head to the Alan Lomax PledgeMusic page here http://www.pledgemusic.com/alanlomax
Alan’s passion for music knew no bounds. Do you know if he had personal favorite artists, songs or even genres?
Lomax did have his favorites. Among singers, he was especially fond of Vera Ward Hall, a black washerwoman and nursemaid from Livingston, Alabama, and the Scots traveler balladeer Jeannie Robertson. I think it’s safe to say he found the work songs and hollers of the Southern penitentiary system — the songs he first recorded with his father in 1933, and returned to document again on three other trips over 25 years — among the most powerful (“noble” was an adjective he used) of America’s vernacular musics. But he was no purist. He later expressed much appreciation for Prince and Michael Jackson.
The scope of this project is what might be most impressive. What was the process like to distill down this collection into 100 songs?
It was no easy task. Lomax recorded over 3000 hours of music, and while one of our primary intentions is to adequately present the depth and breadth of his collections, we also want to make sure it’s fun to listen to. There are songs that have had profound cultural and musical influence and absolutely must be included in any consideration of Lomax’s legacy. At the same time, there are totally obscure performances from remote locations that are deeply and wonderfully idiosyncratic representations of the artists who sang them and the communities they sang them in. Striking that balance was both very difficult and very rewarding.
Alan earned a significant number of accolades both in his lifetime and posthumously. Do you still feel like there’s at least some aspect of his life or work that remains overlooked?
Alan’s progressivism is crucial to understanding his life’s work. His notion that preserving, promoting, and nurturing traditional and vernacular music isn’t antiquarianism but activism is one that we’d do well to remember and honor today. He once said that the felt the right of cultural equity should take its place among all the other fundamental rights of man.