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The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax: Words, Photographs, and Music Hardcover – December 10, 2012
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In the summer of 1959, folklorist Lomax traveled to the South to collect the music distinctive of the region that contributed greatly to broader American culture. This was ground he’d covered in the 1930s with his father, also a folklore collector, as they lugged around a 300-pound recorder. This time, Lomax was hoping to capture American folklore as embodied in music before it was commercialized beyond recognition. His earlier efforts had made famous such artists as Huddie Ledbetter (Leadbelly) and the Georgia Sea Island Singers. Lomax took his camera along to record the lives as well as the music of those in work camps, prisons, and communities throughout the South. Award-winning Piazza now presents photographs taken during the journey, depicting farm auctions, prison work gangs, church revivals, humble homes, ordinary people, and musicians. Piazza’s accompanying essay chronicles Lomax’s deep roots in the South and his collaborations with Zora Neale Hurston, Jon Work, and others in collecting folk music. An accompanying CD features many of the musicians Lomax recorded, making for a rich celebration of Southern folk music. --Vanessa Bush
About the Author
Alan Lomax (1915–2002) was one of the great ethnomusicologists and field collectors of folk music of the twentieth century, recording thousands of songs throughout the United States and Europe.
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His work has (sometimes) been refuted in "Lost Delta Found", an interesting and informative look at Lomax and his research, which was named "The Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study". It gives a slightly different account of the work these researchers (not just Lomax) did during that period. All armchair followers of Lomax should check into this book.
This book is published by the Library of Congress, through Norton Publishers, hence the high jacket price for such a slim volume. Also included is a 36 minute CD of music Lomax recorded in (mostly) 1959-two tracks are from 1960. There's various genres of music included, plus track by track recording information, and a short, yet informative, background essay on the performers.
This is the first book that shines the spotlight on Lomax's photographs he made while roaming throughout the South. The areas covered include Alabama, Georgia, Virginia, Mississippi, Kentucky, and Tennessee. The straightforward text is a good companion to the photos, but it's the many pictures (a few in color) of performers that Lomax came across in his travels that give this book meaning. And the long, informative captions alongside the images is one of the book's high points. This isn't a strictly photographic record of his travels, but it does shed light on a number of artists he did record.
The photos include both well known and lesser known performers, which gives this book more weight and interest. Also included are photos of day to day life in the region-a farm auction, the town of Saltville, Va., a river Baptism in Mineola, Tx., and great candid portraits-like John Bray-a 6'7" singer, a photo of Wade Ward's wife at home-happily listening to a recording of her husband, and a photo of Lomax and Wade Ward listening to a playback of his music. But I could go on-there's several photos of chain gangs at work (wearing wide striped prison uniforms) that Lomax recorded, an unidentified homestead in Va., a beautiful color portrait of the blind singer Horton Barker, standing on his farm with a bucket in one hand and his cane crooked over his other arm. Or an equally beautiful b&w photograph of Ada Combs, playing her banjo on her front porch, with small children sitting at her feet. She lived in a shack (another photo) several miles from any road in Kentucky. But I think you get the idea of what's here.
Is this where you should start investigating Lomax and his journeys? Possibly not. This book works best in conjunction with some of the titles mentioned above. While it's a stand alone work, the more knowledge you have concerning Lomax, the era, the music and the performers he recorded, the better foundation you'll have for viewing these photographs. It's about time someone has published a book featuring Lomax's many photos (well over 700 on this trip) he took on his discoveries in the Southern region of the U.S.
And this nice little book, with a well written text that puts things in proper perspective, is a good introduction to what Alan Lomax was recording on his travels. Included is a Forward by noted author William Ferris, "Alan Lomax: The Long Journey", and the main text written by Tom Piazza that gives the photographs and the era some foundation. Hopefully, someday soon the balance of Lomax's photographic work will be published. Visually, it's as important as the great music he recorded for posterity. And that's another point-if you're not familiar with the music Lomax recorded-check out some of the albums from this era and the various regions. It's real "American music" from a time long since gone. But thanks to Alan Lomax (and others like him) we have both a photographic/written record, and all this wonderful music.