Category: John and Alan Lomax

  • The Blues Mode and 12-Bar Form (examples)

    A collection of some of the musical examples referred to by Peter van der Merwe in your reading. As you listen, think about the similarities in these musics from across cultures. What makes them blues or blues-like? Charley Patton, “Tom Rushen Blues”. You’ll be reading more about Charley Patton later. For the moment, pay attention […]

  • Gullah/Geechee Resources

    The coast of South Carolina was the port of entry for more than two-thirds of the Africans brought to America as slaves. The wealth of the state, and of its capitol city, Charleston, was built on slavery. Charleston was known as the “Cradle of the Confederacy,” and the first shots in the Civil War were […]

  • X, UnNaming, and the Cowboy Blues

    You all know this song. When Lil Nas X became a household name, I started thinking about that name. “Lil” like Lil Wayne, or like so many other rap artists? “Nas” like . . . Nas? “X” like DMX? Or even Malcolm X? Apparently not. But words and names mean things. Here, Malcolm X — […]

  • Love and Theft, redux: “That’s Why Darkies Were Born”

    Content warning: racist language/imagery. In 2019, the Yankees cancelled their tradition of playing Kate Smith’s stentorian recording of “God Bless America” during the seventh-inning stretch. Taking their cue from New York, the NHL team the Philadelphia Flyers not only cancelled Kate Smith, but also covered (and later removed) a statue of her outside of the […]

  • Roll and Tumble

    White Tears begins with an epigraph: I rolled and I tumbledCried the whole night longWoke up this morningI didn’t know right from wrong The earliest recorded version of these lyrics are from Hambone Willie Newbern’s “Roll and Tumble Blues,” on a 1929 Okeh Records 78. Alan Lomax recorded Delta blueswoman Rosa Lee Hill singing a […]

  • Authenticity, part V: Tribute or Appropriation?

    As John Lomax was the first to record Lead Belly, so Alan Lomax was the first to record Muddy Waters. Muddy Waters (1915-1983) was born McKinley Morganfield, the son of sharecroppers, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, also the homeplace of blues greats Son House and Robert Johnson. He moved to Chicago as part of the Great Migration in […]

  • Sylvie

    The Lomaxes say: [Leadbelly’s] uncle Bob Ledbetter had a wife named Silvy. In the middle of the morning, when Uncle Bob was plowing down at the lower end of the filed and the sun was hot, he would holler at Sylvy to bring him some water. After so long a time this holler developed into a little […]

  • Green Corn

    (Poster for Gordon Parks’s 1976 film Leadbelly.) In their 1936 book Negro Folk Songs As Sung by Lead Belly, “King of the Twelve-String Guitar Players of the World,” Long-Time Convict in the Penitentiaries of Texas and Louisiana, John Lomax and his son Alan published their transcriptions of many of the songs Leadbelly played. Of the song “Green […]

  • North and South: The Great Migration and the Lomaxes’ Southern Journey

    The early twentieth-century white folklorist Dorothy Scarborough once interviewed composer and bandleader W.C. Handy (1873- 1958), known as the Father of the Blues, about the origin of the blues. Handy, of course, was not the inventor of the blues, but he was the first musician to notate the folk music that he heard while traveling […]

  • Booker T. vs. W.E.B.

    (W.E.B. Du Bois and Booker T. Washington) I subscribe to the Poem-A-Day email offered for free by the Academy of American Poets. It’s nice to wake up to a poem before you start dealing with your to-do lists and putting out the various fires of everyday life. During the week, the Academy sends out a […]