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I cut him with my Barlow, I kicked him in the side, I stood there laughing over him, while he wallowed 'round and died - Bessie Smith, Send Me To The 'Lectric Chair

Author Topic: The Lomax Legacy  (Read 5362 times)

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Offline Pan

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The Lomax Legacy
« on: February 06, 2008, 06:08:32 PM »
Hi all.

I was just yesterday very fortunate to spot a small add on a local Helsinki newspaper, and thus hurriedly attend to a 1,5 hour lecture by Ph.D. Anna Lomax Wood and Ph.D. Todd Harvey, staged by the American Resources Center, the Finnish National Library, and the U.S. Embassy. The title of this lecture was Seeking the roots ? the Lomax Legacy.

Anna Lomax Wood is the daughter of Alan Lomax, Ph.D, Director, Association for Cultural Equity (ACE), Hunter College, New York City.

Todd Harvey is a Ph.D., Folklife Specialist and Curator of the Alan Lomax, The Center for American Folklife of the Library of Congress.

The event took place in a small auditorium in the Helsinki University's National Library. Among yours truly, some half a dozen scholars or blues enthusiasts were present. This event surely could have been promoted better!

The presentation was very good with ample sound, photograph, and video samples played on a small screen.

There were a great many samples of recordings done by both John and Alan Lomax, beginning from 1935 prison songs like ?Go Down, Old Hannah?, up to R.L. Burnside. I need not to go into detail on this forum, to cite all the artists the Lomax?s have documented. Apart from the American Continent, they collected songs worldwide, and presented the ideas of universal ?folk song families? and ?dance music families? to the ethnomusicologists.

The music samples alone were very good, and the presentation was very sympathetic. I know that the Lomax family has a mixed reputation among scholars, but I for one, am very pleased to have met the daughter of Alan Lomax, she was a very sweet person, and seemed to be genuinely interested in artists copyrights, among other things. The family?s? contribution in collecting American folk music is invaluable anyway.

To make this post worthwhile to others, here are the latest internet links I could gather:

The American Folkife Center: http://www.loc.gov/folklife/

The Association for Cultural Equity: http://www.culturalequity.org/index.html

Alan Lomax Collection: http://www.loc.gov/folklife/lomax/alan/alanlomax.html

Pan

Edit: specifying the links, typos
« Last Edit: February 07, 2008, 05:41:50 AM by Pan »

Offline CF

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #1 on: February 06, 2008, 06:48:33 PM »
John brought us the music of Leadbelly & Alan recorded Son House in 1941 & 1942. For that I am grateful.
« Last Edit: October 07, 2015, 04:05:12 PM by CF »
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline Kokomo O

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #2 on: February 06, 2008, 07:57:03 PM »
Thomas Jefferson didn't own slave?

Offline Parlor Picker

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #3 on: February 07, 2008, 01:22:04 AM »
Also check out:

http://www.shirleycollins.com/aotw.htm

English folksinger, Shirley Collins, gives an excellent multi-media talk about her travels with Alan Lomax in the late 1950s which I have seen twice.  The description of discovering Mississippi Fred McDowell really fires the imagination.  Apparently at the time, Lomax wrote one word in his notebook: "Perfect!".

There is also a book entitled "America Over The Water" which I don't doubt is also available over the water in North America.
"I ain't good looking, teeth don't shine like pearls,
So glad good looks don't take you through this world."
Barbecue Bob

Offline Rivers

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #4 on: February 08, 2008, 10:36:36 PM »
The Leadbelly bio clarified it for me. To get a bit 'deep' for a second, we are all victims of our own time, some of us push the limits. John did his best to advance the cause as he saw it, and so did Alan. Everything has to be viewed through the perspective of that particular time in human history. The value we feel for what we've inherited in the present day, and our knowledge of the history, is all we need to be able to pass judgment. Thank God for the Lomaxes, is what I say.

Offline Mr.OMuck

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #5 on: February 08, 2008, 11:19:11 PM »
Just read a section of Elijah Wald's wonderful Josh White Bio  dealing with Lomax, and I have to concur.
My loathings are simple: stupidity, oppression, crime, cruelty, soft music.
Vladimir Nabokov (1899 - 1977)

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Offline Prof Scratchy

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #6 on: February 09, 2008, 04:03:24 AM »
Just echo what Parlor Picker just said: if you get a chance to the Shirley Collins presentation of her travels with Alan Lomax, don't miss it. Wonderful photographs, sounds, acting, and above all great and vivid memories from a comfortably mature and grounded lady recalling the long summer days of a youthful love affair. See it!

Offline Chris A

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #7 on: February 06, 2009, 09:50:45 AM »
I understand the admiration and appreciation given the Lomaxes, but I think both legacies should be borne in mind. When deeds are good by default, how good are they?

Offline oddenda

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #8 on: February 06, 2009, 05:47:17 PM »
One may disagree with John or Alan Lomax's methods, but who else is/was there doing that s**t at those points in time. They did the best they knew how with the tools at hand. They also should not be lumped together quite so readily, being two vastly different generations apart... maybe more! I will make mention here that I worked for/with Alan one year of my life at the LofC and found him a monomaniacal polymath who often irritated others, but who accomplished an incredible body of work around the world in his six decades of "work". He may have been difficult and opinionated, but could be bent to other possibilities if a strong enough case could be presented. This I know from personal experience; we parted as friends and remained so until his death.

Love them or hate them, our world would be much more barren without either's contributions to our knowledge of "folk" music; in Alan's case, around the world. The fact that John A. Lomax took interest in African American folkways was something tremendously daring for one of his generation. His son took the ball and ran even further with it. Both could not help reflect the racial attitudes of each other's time; Alan, in his way, tried to go against them. I know it's hard not to judge them by the mores of today or the recent past, but it does them a dis-service to do so.

yrs,
     Peter B.

p.s. - Read Nolan Porterfield's bio of JAL; John F. Szwed is working on one on Alan.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #9 on: February 07, 2009, 01:50:27 AM »
p.s. - Read Nolan Porterfield's bio of JAL; John F. Szwed is working on one on Alan.
Click the John Lomax tag at the foot of this thread for a link to read a review of The Last Cavalier.
« Last Edit: February 07, 2009, 01:51:53 AM by Bunker Hill »

Offline CF

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #10 on: February 07, 2009, 06:32:24 AM »
I will say this, it was very confusing to me when I started buying Leadbelly CDs & I saw the name Lomax in the song credits. Whether this was a just action on their part it does seem to have been a standard way for producers to make money off of their efforts back in the day . . . & they did have to make some money. Otherwise, nothing or very little may have been achieved. Of course I don't know all the details so I'll step back from a definite judgement.
Stand By If You Wanna Hear It Again . . .

Offline Chris A

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #11 on: February 07, 2009, 09:29:04 AM »
I also recall a RCA Leadbelly album that credited Lomax. No acceptable explanation?these are not mistakes, just plain theft and exploitation. Louis' second wife, Lil Hardin Armstrong, received a cheque for $500 when her tune, "Just For the Thrill" was revived by Ray Charles and picked up by a number of well-known artists. She caught the first thing smoking and went to New York (from Chicago), the people at Southern Music (I think that's who they were) realized that they were not dealing with a dummy, made up some excuse about there not having been tim to tabulate, and gave her a far more realistic cheque.

There was now also a second name in the credits (Don Raye), a guy who actually existed (some didn't) and was getting half of her royalties for adding a verse that nobody used. This sort of thing is who many artists started setting up their own publishing company.

I think the accomplishments of the Lomaxes?while they are certainly important?are seriously eroded by their shameless exploitation and downright racism. Has anyone here sen the March of Time film in which Leadbelly and Lomax portray themselves? If you have any doubt about John Lomax's racism, it and the outtakes from it will revise your thinking.

Offline Bunker Hill

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #12 on: February 07, 2009, 09:39:56 AM »
There was now also a second name in the credits (Don Raye), a guy who actually existed (some didn't) and was getting half of her royalties for adding a verse that nobody used.
Sidetracking somewhat, wasn't Raye's main claim to fame the fact that he wrote "Down The Road A Piece" which I have by Harry 'The Hipster' Gibson, Amos Milburn and Chuck Berry?

Offline dj

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #13 on: February 07, 2009, 10:14:17 AM »
Quote
If you have any doubt about John Lomax's racism...

I don't.  But then, I don't expect that any white person who was born in Mississippi in 1867 and raised in Texas would be free of racism.  If he had been born and raised in the same places 120 years later, his racial outlook would have been much different.  This is not to excuse his racism, just to put it in the context of his time and place.  We can certainly appreciate the music that Lomax preserved for posterity without that approval signifying every corner of Lomax's personality.   

As for

Quote
getting half of her royalties for adding a verse that nobody used...

Again, that's coming from a time and a place where values, and concepts of authorship, were very different from ours, and whose circumstances are lost to history.  It could have been some greedy publisher adding a composer credit to dip his hand into the till, but it could just as easily have been the publishing company feeling they needed an extra verse or two for the sheet music and going to someone easily at hand to get that material.  We'll never know.  I prefer to just note the facts and refrain from passing judgment.   

I learned to cut historical figures a bit of slack while reading Barry Lopez's Arctic Dreams years ago.  He described the captain of a whaling ship in the arctic shooting a mother polar bear's twin cubs, then laughing at the mother's distress for a while before finally shooting the mother.  I was outraged, then realized that, given the year under discussion, there was about a 1 in 5 chance that the despicable captain was my great grandfather.  In fact, given the fact that my great grandfather's log books are the most complete set of journals to survive from the last days of arctic whaling, the chances are probably considerably better than that.  This made me sit down and think long and hard about how we need to place the actions of historical figures within the context of their cultures, not ours. 

In the end, judgment is up to each individual.  But, absent any indication of actual evil, I prefer to think "If he/she had been born today, his/her actions and attitudes would have been different" and leave it at that.     

Offline Chris A

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Re: The Lomax Legacy
« Reply #14 on: February 07, 2009, 12:05:16 PM »
dj: "Again, that's coming from a time and a place where values, and concepts of authorship, were very different from ours, and whose circumstances are lost to history.  It could have been some greedy publisher adding a composer credit to dip his hand into the till, but it could just as easily have been the publishing company feeling they needed an extra verse or two for the sheet music and going to someone easily at hand to get that material.  We'll never know.  I prefer to just note the facts and refrain from passing judgment."

We are talking about New York in the 1960's, hardly a time and place where values and concepts of authorship were any different than they are today. Theft is theft and the time element does not alter that. Equally unrealistic is the notion that "it could just as easily have been the publishing company feeling they needed an extra verse or two for the sheet music and going to someone easily at hand to get that material." Lil recorded "Just For the Thrill" for Decca in 1936 and all subsequent recordings use the same lyrics, with no additional verse. In fact, Lil was never able to find that mysterious verse?it was probably on a music sheet tucked away in the publisher's files.

So, this is not a matter of "passing judgement" as much as it is stating the facts. Ergo, we do know. Yes, we can look the other way and join the exploiters in saying to hell with the creative people. That just does not work for me?I have known too many creative people who were the victims of unscrupulous people on the business side of music, and, to be fair, that includes some who themselves were artists/composers.

It is very generous to give these publishing companies the benefit of one's doubt, but I'm afraid that reality speaks louder.

 


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