Friday, March 26, 2004
Washington The Library of Congress has assembled the world's greatest array of American folk music, dance and stories by acquiring the collection of Alan Lomax, adding it to recordings made by his father, John Lomax, beginning more than 70 years ago.
Alan Lomax died in 2002 at 87. He began working with his father when he was 18.
"If there'd been no Alan Lomax, there'd be no Paul Simon, no Carlos Santana, no Grateful Dead," said Mickey Hart, longtime Grateful Dead drummer. He is also a collector of folk music and a member of the board of the American Folklife Center, the library office in charge of the collection.
Hart believes strongly that all music has a basis in tunes loved by ordinary people of each culture and is to be understood in relation to that culture.
When Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart wrote a set of variations to the tune of "Twinkle, twinkle, little star" he was working from a French song that has nothing to do with stars. It's about a child complaining that his father wants him to think like a grown-up instead of just eating candy.
John Lomax took the initiative of recording such musicians as Huddie Ledbetter, better known as Leadbelly," McKinley "Muddy Waters" Morganfield and David "Honeyboy" Edwards. He recorded hours of Woody Guthrie's songs and stories.
"Throughout the world," said singer Pete Seeger, "folk song collectors tend to dig up old bones from one graveyard and put them into another graveyard -- their filing cabinets. But Alan Lomax and his father John wanted the American people to once again sing the wonderful old songs of this country which they never heard on the radio."
There are 400,000 feet of movie film in the Alan Lomax collection, more than 5,000 hours of sounds, 2,450 videotapes, 2,000 books and academic journals and 40 yards of letters, scripts, notes, manuscripts.