Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World

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9780670021994: Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World

The remarkable life and times of the man who popularized American folk music and created the science of song

Folklorist, archivist, anthropologist, singer, political activist, talent scout, ethnomusicologist, filmmaker, concert and record producer, Alan Lomax is best remembered as the man who introduced folk music to the masses. Lomax began his career making field recordings of rural music for the Library of Congress and by the late 1930s brought his discoveries to radio, including Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and Burl Ives. By the 1940s he was producing concerts that brought white and black performers together, and in the 1950s he set out to record the whole world.

Lomax was also a controversial figure. When he worked for the U. S. government he was tracked by the FBI, and when he worked in Britain, MI5 continued the surveillance. In his last years he turned to digital media and developed technology that anticipated today's breakthroughs. Featuring a cast of characters including Eleanor Roosevelt, Leadbelly, Carl Sandburg, Carl Sagan, Jelly Roll Morton, Muddy Waters, and Bob Dylan, Szwed's fascinating biography memorably captures Lomax and provides a definitive account of an era as seen through the life of one extraordinary man.

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About the Author:

John Szwed is the author of So What: The Life of Miles Davis and Space Is the Place: The Life and Times of Sun Ra, among other works. He is a professor of music and jazz studies at Columbia University. He lives in New York City.

From Booklist:

*Starred Review* The scope of Alan Lomax’s protean and profoundly influential life’s work grants him the designations folklorist, musicologist, oral historian, photographer, filmmaker, recording and concert producer, anthropologist, archivist, activist, and author. But even this litany barely covers Lomax’s pioneering documentation of music born of pain and injustice, his crossing racial lines in the segregated South to collect African American songs, and his bringing folk music into the mainstream. Szwed, a biographer of Miles Davis and professor of music and jazz studies at Columbia University, gamely charts Lomax’s itinerant, messianic, world-changing endeavors, beginning with his start as his folk-music-collecting father’s assistant and on to his myriad inventive and demanding ethnomusicology projects, his barely surviving on grants and Library of Congress stipends, his run-ins with the FBI and embroilment in controversies, and his continual self-reinvention. Here are the full stories of Lomax’s pivotal relationships with Zora Neale Hurston, Lead Belly, Jelly Roll Morton, Pete Seeger, and Margaret Mead. Factually tireless and fluently analytical, Szwed gamely corrals a great river of events, efforts, and discoveries into a straight-ahead portrait of an intrepid, culture-defining artist and humanist. Driven by a voracious hunger for life and unshakable faith in art, Lomax forever sought the “flame of beauty.” --Donna Seaman

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