Alan Lomax and Ethnomusicology

Alan Lomax is a pioneer in the field of ethnomusicology. Rounder Records is in the process of releasing some of his early field recordings.

Alan Lomax may not have known back in the early part of this century, that his immersion into other cultures like Africa, the Caribbean, and Italy was going to lead to an entire new scholarly field: ethnomusicology. A relatively new academic area, ethnomusicology has been around since approximately 1950 and is basically the study of other cultures through an in-depth analysis of the music indigenous to a certain geographic area or culture.

Lomax, armed only with his tape recorder, would travel to the corners of the earth and record the sounds of the people. This technique, which is carried out by ethnomuscologists to this day, is called "field work." One not only listens to the music and records it, but observes how music is incorporated into the culture, what it says about that particular society, and, in turn, how it compares with other musical cultures of the world.

Alan Lomax was born in 1915, in Austin, Texas, and began is career in the 1930's assisting his father, John Lomax, in collecting recordings for the Library of Congress. He then began making recordings on his own, capturing the sounds of America: prison songs, African-American folk songs, blues, and cowboy songs. Lomax immortalized a time period and went on location.

By the 1950's, Lomax began travelling to other parts of the world and recorded what he found there. In the United Kingdom he captured the traditional music of England, Scotland, and Ireland. Next, came Spain and Columbia. In the 1960's, Lomax travelled to the West Indies and did some recording over there.

In between trips outside of the country, Lomax would continue to capture American folk music, sometimes in collaboration with the likes of Pete Seeger.

Next page The Alan Lomax Collection >Page 1, 2