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Alan Lomax

Born: January 15, 1915, Austin, Texas

Died: July 19, 2002, Sarasota, Florida

Alan Lomax began his long career as a folklorist when he was still a teenager, traveling with his father, John, throughout the South to preserve the area’s music legacy of folk, work songs and spirituals, among other music. During their travels to Southern prisons, the father and son team came upon William Ledbetter, better known as Lead Belly, recorded him for the first time and actually negotiated his release on the basis of the singer/songwriter’s talent. Alan Lomax subsequently returned to the South on his own, where he recorded many Mississippi bluesmen, including Muddy Waters, Son House, and Mississippi Fred McDowell. He also recorded jazz legend Jelly Roll Morton. Lomax’s life was dedicated to preserving the musical legacy of not only the United States, but other parts of the world as well, including Europe and the Caribbean. His blues recordings are classics, and in his award-winning memoir, The Land Where the Blues Began, he not only chronicled the history of the blues as seen through his field experiences, but also captured the bitter racism that was faced by the now-legendary artists he recorded. Lomax left behind an invaluable musical and historical legacy.

Essential listening: “Walking Blues,” “Country Blues,” “Life is Like That” (from The Land Where the Blues Began, 2002, Rounder)