"Global Jukebox" envisioned by folklorist, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax comes to life

(Alan Lomax, via Wikipedia)

American folklorist, ethnomusicologist, and traditional music collector Alan Lomax envisioned a “global jukebox” with which to share and analyze recordings he gathered over decades of fieldwork. This week, that dream comes to life. From an article in today's New York Times:

A decade after his death technology has finally caught up to Lomax’s imagination. Just as he dreamed, his vast archive — some 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts, much of it tucked away in forgotten or inaccessible corners — is being digitized so that the collection can be accessed online. About 17,000 music tracks will be available for free streaming by the end of February, and later some of that music may be for sale as CDs or digital downloads.

On Tuesday, to commemorate what would have been Lomax’s 97th birthday, the Global Jukebox label is releasing “The Alan Lomax Collection From the American Folklife Center,” a digital download sampler of 16 field recordings from different locales and stages of Lomax’s career.

“As an archivist you kind of think like Johnny Appleseed,” said Don Fleming, a musician and record producer who is executive director of the Association for Cultural Equity and involved in the project. “You ask yourself, ‘How do I get digital copies of this everywhere?’ ”

The archive will be made available at the Global Jukebox portion of The Association For Cultural Equity website. Anna Lomax Wood, daughter of Alan Lomax, is the organization's president. They do all sorts of amazing work!


  1. I can hardly wait.

    I remember when I discovered Mississippi John Hurt and Mississippi Fred McDowell back in the late sixties. Sent shivers down my spine.

    Who knows what gems I’ll discover in those archives?

  2. I don’t think it’s so much that technology has “finally” caught up with his dream, but that they’ve decided to start work on it, which is great news.

  3. Another ethnomusicologist emailed me back after I sent him a link:
    “I met him a few times.  We even got into an argument over performers’ rights on his many many recordings.”

  4. Lomax did important work, but he sometimes seemed to hold his subjects in contempt. He didn’t like the slickness and innovation of gospel, for example, preferring to keep his “peasants under glass” singing field songs so he could make a record of them.

    1. Seeing as how most modern music sounds like it was generated from a template and performed by robots and is slicker than goose poop, I’d say he might have had a point.

  5. This is the best news I’ve heard for months!

    There have been ways to hear parts of the collection, but all of it in one place will be stupendous.

  6. I traveled to Haiti w/ Anna Lomax Wood to bring his box set of lost Haitian music to Haiti after the earthquake: you can watch the piece I did for PBS here: http://www.invisiblehandmedia.net/2010/08/haitis-lost-music-pbs-need-to-know/

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