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“All

 Power  to  the  Periphery”:    The  Public  Folklore  Thought  of  Alan  Lomax  

Robert  Baron  

Originally  published  in  Journal  of  Folklore  Research  49  (2012):  275-­‐317  and  in  JSTOR,  

http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/jfolkrese.49.3.275  

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ABSTRACT  

Alan  Lomax  developed  a  global  vision  for  the  protection  of  traditional  cultures  at  a  time  when  

threats  to  cultural  difference  were  accelerating  –  a  problem  he  ascribed  to  centralized  media  

and  entertainment  industries,  as  well  as  government  policies.    His  public  folklore  thought  and  

practice  was  informed  by  a  cultural  critique  that  viewed  folklore  as  an  alternative  to  the  

alienation  engendered  by  modern  life.      Lomax’s  view  of  folklore  can  be  characterized  as  

counterhegemonic,  and  he  saw  folklore  as  resistance  effected  both  by  explicit  expressions  of  

protest  and  the  existence  of  folklore  itself.      Anticipating  –  and  shaping  –  contemporary  public  

folklore  practice,  Lomax  created  a  repertoire  of  strategies  for  safeguarding  traditions.    These  

included  appropriating  the  technologies  threatening  small-­‐scale  cultures  in  order  to  maintain  

and  disseminate  traditions,  proposing  government  folk  culture  policies,  developing  modes  of  

presentation  for  new  audiences,  and  creating  conditions  for  traditions  to  be  perpetuated  

locally.    

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Deep  in  folklore  graduate  student  despair  about  making  a  living  in  the  field  I  loved,  I  

sought  out  Alan  Lomax.      It  was  the  mid-­‐1970s,  and  the  notion  of  public  folklore  as  a  career  was  

only  beginning  to  be  imagined.      I  had  produced  a  folk  festival,  interned  as  a  museum  educator,  

and  presented  occupational  folklore  at  the  Smithsonian  Festival  of  American  Folklife.    These  

experiences  were  at  least  as  meaningful  and  fulfilling  to  me  as  purely  academic  pursuits,  

providing  opportunities  to  collaborate  with  practitioners  of  traditions  to  present  their  cultures  

outside  of  their  immediate  communities,  engage  in  public  education  for  new  audiences,  and  

apply  folklore  scholarship  to  new  realms.    However,  I  saw  little  prospect  of  working  in  an  

ongoing  way  as  a  folklorist  unless  I  became  a  college  teacher.    While  several  of  my  professors  at  

the  University  of  Pennsylvania  were  experienced  in  public  folklore  practice  and  acted  as  

advisors  for  the  development  of  federal  folklife  programs,  I  felt  a  sharp  disjunction  between  

what  I  was  learning  in  graduate  school  and  the  practice  of  folklore  outside  of  the  university.    

Intimidated  as  I  was  about  meeting  the  legendary  Lomax,  he  was  an  exemplar  for  the  practice  

of  folklore  in  the  public  arena,  and  I  was  eager  to  meet  him.      

My  graduate  advisor  John  Szwed,  who  was  a  friend  and  colleague  of  Alan’s,  encouraged  

a  visit  and  contacted  him  for  me.    So  I  summoned  up  the  courage  to  phone  Lomax,  and  he  

invited  me  to  visit  him  in  his  studio  –  an  apartment  on  Manhattan’s  Upper  West  Side  stacked  

floor  to  ceiling  with  shelves  of  field  recordings,  films  and  books.    Walking  through  the  rooms  felt  

like  a  cinematic  experience,  and  I  was  awed  knowing  that  they  contained  a  patrimony  of  

humankind  unavailable  anywhere  else.    Alan  had  an  imposing  physical  presence  compounded  

by  the  force  of  his  personality  and  restlessness.    He  was  welcoming  and  seemed  interested  in  

my  interests,  but  almost  breathless  in  offering  his  opinions  about  applied  folklore  (as  it  was  
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called  then).    In  his  typical  interactive  style,  Alan  would  raise  his  voice  from  time  to  time  with  

strongly  held  opinions,  but  might  quickly  switch  his  tone  and  mood  after  making  a  point,  

becoming  gentler  and  more  accommodating  his  interlocutor  (who  might  still  struggle  to  get  a  

word  in  edgewise).        I  immediately  saw  that  I  needed  to  subsume  my  personality  to  his  and  

accommodate  his  sudden  fluctuations  in  mood,  but  I  really  didn’t  mind  all  that  much.    Alan  

convinced  me  that  serving  traditional  folk  artists  and  working  to  sustain  folk  culture  was  a  noble  

calling,  the  most  important  thing  I  could  do  with  my  life.      Over  the  years,  I  came  to  be  

saddened  that  many  colleagues  would  avoid  him  because  he  could  be  ‘difficult,’  and  I  felt  that  

personalization  of  opinions  about  Alan  occluded  recognition  of  the  significance  of  his  ideas  and  

the  magnitude  of  his  achievements.        

My  first  visit  to  the  studio  ended  with  an  offer  of  a  glass  of  bourbon,  proffered  in  a  

characteristically  expansive  Lomaxian  manner.      He  asked  me  if  I  wanted  my  bourbon  with  

“branch  water,”  which  I  discovered  meant  spring  water  from  the  water  cooler.      I  kept  up  a  

relationship  with  him  during  the  early  years  of  my  career,  asking  him  for  advice  on  a  number  of  

projects.        After  some  coaxing,  I  managed  to  persuade  him  to  speak  to  a  group  of  Haitian  

interns  working  with  me  to  develop  education  programs  for  a  1978  Haitian  art  exhibition  at  The  

Brooklyn  Museum,  participate  in  its  symposium  on  the  Haitian  Impact  on  the  Caribbean  World,  

speak  on  a  panel  on  the  place  of  folklore  in  the  public  sector  at  the  1979  Conference  on  

Folklore  in  New  York  City,  and  serve  on  a  folk  arts  advisory  group  at  the  New  York  State  Council  

on  the  Arts  in  the  early  1980s.      Knowing  that  Alan  generally  structured  his  schedule  on  his  own  

terms  and  was  always  consumed  by  multiple  simultaneous  projects,  I  was  deeply  grateful  for  

his  participation  in  these  events,  and  I  remember  with  great  warmth  his  support  for  me  as  a  
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young  professional.    I  was  touched  when  Alan,  who  boasted  that  he’d  done  applied  folklore  

since  I  was  “knee  high  to  a  bullfrog”,      called  me  “born  again”  as  an  applied  folklorist,  and  I  felt  

guilty  when  I  heard  he  regretted  that  I  hadn’t  continued  field  research  in  the  Caribbean  after  I’d  

pursued  an  administrative  course  for  my  career.            

Alan  rarely  gave  me  any  specific  career  advice;  instead,  he  offered  aphorisms  now  and  

then  that  revealed  his  views  about  how  to  safeguard  folk  culture  and  enable  folk  artists  to  carry  

on  their  traditions.      He  told  me  that  we  need  to  make  folk  artists  know  that  they  should  “feel  

good  about  themselves”  by  recognizing  the  beauty  and  value  of  their  artistry  and  their  personal  

worth.    Alan  spoke  of  acting  strategically  to  safeguard  folk  culture,  which  meant  finding  the  

places  where  we  could  intervene  effectively,  and  then  “hit.”      And  he  also  spoke  of  the  “return”:  

traditions  collected  by  folklorists,  he  believed,  needed  to  be  returned  to  the  communities  from  

which  they  originated  so  that  they  could  flourish  there  anew.    With  the  exceptions  of  his  “Saga  

of  a  Folksong  Hunter”  ([1960]  2003)  and  the  highly  programmatic    “Appeal  for  Cultural  Equity”    

([1972]  2003),  Lomax’s  ideas  about  public  folklore  were  expressed  only  diffusely  in  his  

publications.    Thus,  it  is  necessary  to  consider  a  myriad  of  scholarly  and  popular  publications,  

conference  proceedings,  correspondence,  program  booklets,  notes  for  recordings,  speeches,  

consultations  and  conversations  like  the  ones  he  had  with  me  in  order  to  weave  together  the  

strands  of  his  public  folklore  thought.      

           While  the  term  public  folklore  did  not  emerge  until  the  1980s,  Lomax’s  wide-­‐ranging  

writings  and  activities  prefigured  much  of  contemporary  public  folklore  thought  and  practice.        

Supplanting  an  older,  unidirectional  ‘applied  folklore’  paradigm  in  which  folklorists  disseminate  

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folkloristic  knowledge  beyond  the  academy,  furthering    social  and  political  agendas  while  acting  

in  the  presumed  interest  of  communities,  today’s  public  folklore  stresses  mutual  engagement  

with  communities  in  developing  representations  of  traditions  (see  Baron  2010,  71,88;    Baron  

and  Spitzer  2007,  viii,  xv).      As  cultural  brokers,  folklorists  facilitate  access  to  domains  that  

tradition  bearers  might  not  be  able  to  access  on  their  own,  such  as  government,  the  media,  

funding  sources,  educational  systems  and  new  audiences  (Graves  2005:150).      Public  folklorists  

work  in  federal  and  state  government  agencies  as  well  as  in  non-­‐profit  organizations,  and  in  all  

of  these  venues  they  shape  and  implement  policies  relating  to  folk  culture.      Following  from  

David  Whisnant’s  view  that  their  work  is  “unavoidably  interventionist”  (1988:233),  public  

folklorists  are  reflexive  about  the  inevitable  impact  of  their  field  research  and  programming  

upon  traditions  and  communities,  and  about  the  ethical  responsibilities  associated  with  their  

interventions.  Contemporary  public  folklorists  have  developed  multiple  modes  of  presentation    

designed  to  safeguard  traditions  within  communities  and  represent  them  to  new  audiences.    

These  modes  of  presentation  are  often  grounded  in  customary  community  presentational  

contexts.    Public  folklorists  also  develop  approaches  for  enabling  communities  to  present  their  

traditions  on  their  own  terms  while  diminishing  the  folklorist’s  mediative  role  (Baron  2010).      

 In  this  essay,  I  will  begin  by  considering  Lomax’s  critique  of  the  forces  marginalizing  and  

destroying  folklore  and  local  cultures  while  generating  alienation;  this  critique  both  shaped  his    

cultural  policy  ideas  and  motivated  his  practice.    His  views  about  policy  and  advocacy  were  

developed  within  a  global  framework  in  which  he  argued  that  practicing  and  sustaining  

traditional  culture  was  a  fundamental  human  right.      I  will  also  consider  Lomax’s  view  of  folklore  

as  resistance,  protest  and  resilience  –  as  counterhegemony,  with  communities  maintaining  


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their  traditions  through  their  own  agency  and  resources.      Finally,  I  shall  examine  Lomax’s  

strategies  for  intervening  on  behalf  of,  and  in  association  with,  communities  in  order  to  

safeguard  their  traditional  culture  through  public  presentation,  broadcasting  and  new  

technologies.    

Cultural  Critique,  Advocacy,  and  Folk  Cultural  Policy  

During  the  postwar  period  Lomax  developed  a  global  vision  for  protecting  small-­‐scale  cultures  

in  the  face  of  the  ravages  of  centralized  corporate  power  and  greedy  media  and  entertainment  

monoliths.    Recognizing  the  forces  of  globalization  long  before  others,  he  saw  the  destruction  of  

local  aesthetic  systems  and  the  creation  of  alienated,  passive  consumers  of  culture.      Schools  

failed  to  enculturate  children  to  their  local  heritage,  and  the  media  and  entertainment  

industries  purveyed  a  mass  popular  culture  that  largely  neglected  local  folk  culture  of  great  

beauty  and  value.      Lomax  felt  that  folklorists  should  be  on  the  front  lines  of  protecting  

traditional  cultures,  and  he  was  critical  of  dispassionate  folklorists  who  disdained  an  advocacy  

role.      He  contended  that  folklorists  should  be  actively  engaged  in  revitalizing  traditions,  

proposed  government  policies  to  safeguard  folklore,  and  argued  that  everyone  had  a  basic  

human  right  to  maintain  their  local  traditions.    

At  a  session  on  “Making  Folklore  Available”  at  the  Midcentury  International  Folklore  

Conference  held  at  Indiana  University  in  1950,  Lomax  sounded  themes  of  cultural  criticism  he  

had  expressed  over  the  course  of  his  career.      He  decried  a  number  of  cultural  changes,  

including  the  advent  of  a    


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profit-­‐motivated  society  smashing  and  devouring  and  destroying  complex  cultural  systems  
which  have  taken  almost  the  entire  effort  of  mankind  over  many  thousands  of  years  to  create.    
We  have  watched  the  disappearance  of  languages,  musical  languages,  the  sign  languages,  and  
we’ve  watched  whole  ways  of  thinking  and  feeling  in  relating  to  nature  and  relating  to  other  
people  disappear.    We’ve  watched  systems  of  cookery  …  disappear  from  the  face  of  the  earth,  
and  I  think  we  have  all  been  revolted  by  this  spectacle  and  in  one  way  or  another  have  taken  up  
our  cudgels  in  the  defense  of  the  weaker  parties.  ([1953]  2003,  115)  

Folklorists,  he  asserted,  “have  become  the  champions  of  the  ordinary  people  of  the  world  who  

aren’t  backed  up  by  printing  presses,  radio  chains  and  B29’s.”        Speaking  of  both  the  global  and  

fundamentally  local  character  of  folklore,  he  said  that  it  “is  international  in  its  main  implications  

rather  than  regional  or  national.    On  the  other  hand,  we  see  that  culture  produced  and  

consumed  in  a  neighborhood  or  village  situation  seems  to  be  a  very  healthy  way  for  culture  to  

grow”  (115).      

Lomax  engaged  in  spirited  colloquy  during  this  international  gathering  with  participants  

who  questioned  whether  folklorists  should  act  as  advocates  and  intervene  within  communities  

to  revive  and  revitalize  their  traditions.        Citing  Malinowski’s  position  that  “the  role  of  the  

ethnologist  is  that  of  the  advocate  of  primitive  man,”  Lomax  asserted  “that  the  role  of  the  

folklorist  is  that  of  the  advocate  of  the  folk”  ([1953]  2003),  115).    In  response,  some  folklorists  

at  the  conference  argued  against  folklorists  intervening  in  ongoing  cultural  processes  to  

safeguard  traditions.    Åke  Campbell,  for  instance,  claimed  that  the  proper  role  of  the  folklorist    

was  to  be  an  objective  scholar  engaged  in  interpretation  and  scholarship;  he  contended  that  

the  “scholar  must  be  the  interpreter  rather  than  the  active  propagator  of  the  beauty  that  

comes  from  the  past.”      Stith  Thompson  felt  that  folklorists  should  not  be  cultural  arbiters  and  

should  not  intervene  in  cultures  to  revive  traditions  no  longer  practiced  (Thompson  1953:229,  

221-­‐2,  244;  see  Baron  [1992]  2007,  312-­‐19).      

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Advocacy  has  periodically  resurfaced  as  a  matter  of  contention  among  folklorists  since    
 
the  Midcentury  International  Folklore  Conference.        While  there  was  widespread  support    
 
among  folklorists  for  the  establishment  of  a  national  American  Folklife  Center  in  Washington,  
 
DC,    Indiana  University  professor  Richard  Dorson  testified  against  it  at  a    hearing  in  Congress.  
 
Dorson  believed,  as  Archie  Green  put  it,  “that  folklorists  working  in  public  agencies  would  

debase  the  coin  of  scholarship”  (Green  [1992]  2007,  55)  –  that  a  folklorist  could  not  be  an  

advocate  and  a  disinterested  scholar  at  the  same  time.        At  an  applied  folklore  conference  in  

1971,  for  instance,    Dorson  argued  “that  it  is  no  businesses  of  the  folklorist  to  engage  in  social  

reform,  that  he  is  unequipped  to  reshape  institutions,  and  that  he  will  become  the  poorer  

scholar  and  folklorist  if  he  turns  activist”    (Dorson  1971,  40).    Yet,  Dorson’s  own  

disinterestedness  has  been  questioned.    Green  suggests  that  Dorson’s  attacks  on  applied  

folklore  were  associated  with  his  own  ideological  interests  in  “American-­‐Century  policy”  and  

“state  ideology”  (Green  [1992]  2007,  55);  indeed,  Dorson  justified  folklore  studies  as  an  

instrument  of  “national  defense”  in  his  own  advocacy  for  reinstituting  National  Defense  

Education  Act  funding  for  folklorists  (1962).        In  her  influential  essay,  “Mistaken  Dichotomies”,  

Barbara  Kirshenblatt-­‐Gimblett  also  questioned  advocacy  by  folklorists,  stating  that  “advocacy  

can  distort  inquiry”  in  public  folklore,  while  acknowledging  that  the  “the  folkloristic  enterprise  

is  not  and  cannot  be  beyond  ideology,  national  political  interests  and  economic  concerns”  

([1992]  2007,  32).    Indeed,  if  we  accept  a  widespread  view  dating  to  Karl  Mannheim  (1936)  that  

ideology  is  socially  constructed  thought,  any  activity  by  folklorists  (or  anybody  else)  in  

scholarship  or  in  the  public  sphere  can  be  viewed  as  shaped  by  ideology.      

 
Echoing  Lomax’s  views  at  the  Midcentury  International  Folklore  Conference,  folklorists    
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have  continued  to  see  advocacy  as  a  fundamental  professional  responsibility  that  entails  the  

representation  of  tradition  bearers  and  communities  on  their  own  terms.    The  Statement  of  

Ethics  of  the  American  Folklore  Society,  for  instance,  indicates  that  the  primary  responsibility  of  

folklorists  is  “to  those  they  study,”  it  further  stipulates  that  when  “there  is  a  conflict  of  interest,  

these  individuals  come  first”  (AFS  1988).      In  2004,  an  entire  issue  of  the  Journal  of  Folklore  

Research  (41:2/3)  was  devoted  to  advocacy,  with  several  authors  arguing  that  folklorists  are  

obligated  to  advocate  for  the  tradition  bearers  and  communities  they  study.    Carl  Lindahl  

asserted  that  it  is  the  “goal  of  the  folklorist  …    to  discover,  understand,  and  represent  people  on  

their  own  terms,”  which  necessarily  means  that  “the  work  of  the  folklorist  is  by  definition  a  

work  of  advocacy”  that  “requires  us  to  attempt  to  put  another’s  truth  before  our  own,  to  try  to  

make  that  truth  as  credible  and  palpable  to  our  readers  and  ourselves  as  our  own  subjective  

truths  are  to  us  (2004,  175-­‐76).    Elliot  Oring  argued  in  response  that  advocacy  should  not  be  

“the  mission  of  the  profession  as  a  whole”;  it  should  not  define  “the  work  that  folklorists  do  

and  must  do”  (2004,  266).      He  claimed  that  folklorists  should  not  be  expected  to  advocate  for  

traditions  morally  reprehensible  to  them,  and  he  asserted  that  there  are  situations  where  

advocacy  for  one  community  may  conflict  with  advocacy  for  another.      Nick  Spitzer  and  I  have  

characterized  Oring’s  objections  as  overdrawn,  since  advocacy    may  consist  of  appropriate  

representation  of  a  community’s  interests  rather  than  explicit  political  advocacy  and  need  not  

only  involve  representing  a  community  as  it  sees  itself.    Advocacy  can  also  involve  a  kind  of  

conflict  resolution  when  folklorists  work  with  multiple  communities  with  competing  interests  

(Baron  and  Spitzer  2007,  x).  

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Long  before  this  twenty-­‐first  century  debate,  however,  Lomax  believed  that  it  was  an  

ethical  imperative  for  folklorists,  as  advocates,  to  protect  communities  from  culturally  

oppressive  forces.    At  the  1950  Midcentury  International  Folklore  Conference,  he  stated    “[W]e  

who  speak  for  the  folk  in  the  market  place  …  have  obligations  to  the  people  whom  we  

represent.”    Suggesting  the  significance  of  class  divides  and  suspicions  of  the  “folk”  towards  the  

folklorist  –  while  calling  explicitly  for  intervention  by  folklorists  on  behalf  of  the  practitioners  of  

traditions    –  he  said,  

[If]  our  obligation  is  solely  to  enrich  a  city,  urban,  middle-­‐class  culture,  the  suspicion  that  some  
of  the  folk  have  of  us  might  actually  be  justified,  that  we  are  folklorists  basically  because  we  are  
enriching  ourselves,  either  with  prestige  or  actual  money  ….    We  have  to  defend  them,  to  
interpret  to  them  what  is  going  on  in  the  world  which  they  do  not  make,  but  which  begins  to  
move  in  upon  them  and  crush  their  culture”.  ([1953]  2003),  116-­‐19).      

Turning  from  the  need  to  act  on  behalf  of  communities  to  consideration  of  how  communities  

might  be  equipped  to  present  their  traditions  on  their  own  terms,  Lomax  anticipated  

contemporary  public  folklore’s  emphasis  on  enabling  community  cultural  self-­‐determination  

(see  Baron  2010).    In  1950  he  critically  discussed  the  use  of  folk  festivals,  schools  and  radio  as  

means  of  presenting  local  traditions  both  within  communities  and  for  broader  audiences.          

Lomax  contended  that  folk  festivals  can  be  “dynamic”  if  local  communities  choose  what  will  be  

presented.    He  stated  that  folklorists  should  not  “split”  the  folk  festival  “up  into  little  pieces”  in  

order  to  make  their  “own  potpourri  in  the  city”  or  assert  an  “interfering”  role  with  “country  

people”  who  are  told  that  they  “can’t  play  a  guitar  because  the  tunes  are  modal”  

([1953]2003,119).  

   Anticipating  a  premise  of  contemporary  folklore-­‐in-­‐education  programs,  Lomax  

suggested  that  schools  should  allow  for  the  expression  of  local  traditions  rather  than  having  
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“every  child  in  the  nation  sing  “Skip-­‐to-­‐my-­‐Lou”.  Teachers,  he  declared,  need  to  know  that  

“children  and  their  families  are  carriers  of  important  literature  and  music  and  ways  of  living.”    

During  the  Midcentury  conference,  he  discussed  his  experiences  in  producing  radio  programs  

on  national  networks,  noting  failed  attempts  to  use  folk  music  in  symphonic  works.    He  felt  that  

the  presentation  by  others  of  local  traditions  on  commercial  stations  had  been  a  “mixed  

blessing,”  due  to  manipulation  of  the  programs  by  the  stations  to  determine  what  was  to  be  

sung.    Lomax  contended  that  the  ideal  for  radio  is  for  “people  to  talk  back.”      He  called  for  “two-­‐

way  bridges”  and  the  formation  of  “two-­‐way  inter-­‐communication  systems”  for  traditions  

presented  in  any  medium  (Lomax:  [1953]  2003),  119,117,116).    

Today,  the  Internet  and  social  media  have  made  it  possible  for  local  communities  to  see  

and  hear  their  own  traditions,  both  within  and  outside  of  their  own  communities,  in  ways  that  

were  practically  unimaginable  at  a  time  when  just  a  few  radio  networks  dominated  the  

airwaves.    Local  communities  worldwide  easily  upload  moving  images  of  their  traditions  to  

YouTube;  Spotify,  iTunes,  and  Pandora  address  a  wide  variety  of  cultural  preferences  by  making  

recordings  of  traditional  music  far  more  accessible;  and  Facebook  is  widely  used  by  community-­‐

based  traditional  artists  and  performing  groups.    Towards  the  end  of  his  career,  Lomax  

conceptualized  the  vision  of  broad  access  to  community  based  traditional  arts  that  he  had  

articulated  at  the  Midcentury  conference:  his  development  of  the  Global  Jukebox,  as  John  

Szwed  notes,  would  provide  for  computer  users  “the  musical,  dance,  and  speech  styles  of  single  

performances,  whole  cultures  or  regions  of  the  world,”  along  with  maps  and  descriptions  of  

cultural  styles  from  Lomax’s  cantometrics,  choreometrics,  parlametrics,  and  phonotactics  

projects  (2010,384).    Developed  in  the  early  1990s,  the  Jukebox  drew  support  from  Apple,  Inc.  
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and  from  Paul  Allen’s  Interval  Research  Corporation,  but  it  never  went  beyond  the  prototype  

phase.    However,  the  Global  Jukebox  is  being  reborn  through  online  streaming:  the  Association  

for  Cultural  Equity’s  website  offers  growing  numbers  of  digital  recordings,  films,  videos,  

photographs,  and  manuscripts  from  the  Alan  Lomas  Collection  (Association  for  Cultural  Equity  

2012;  Rohter  2012).  1    

The  realization  of  this  vision  of  a  “two-­‐way  inter-­‐communication  system”  took  more  

than  sixty  years;  in  the  meantime,  Lomax’s  experience  at  the  Midcentury  International  Folklore  

Conference  contributed  to  his  alienation  from  folklore  as  a  discipline.      I  asked  Lomax  about  the  

conference  after  forty  years  had  passed,  but  he  was  reluctant  to  speak  about  it,  indicating  that  

he  had  come  to  feel  a  lack  of  shared  interest  and  commonality  with  folklorists  of  that  

generation.    During  the  1950s  he  was  among  an  increasingly  marginalized  group  of  folklorists  

who  were  applied  folklorists  and  advocates.          Writing  in  1960,  he  recalled  that  he  proposed  to  

“my  technically  innocent  colleagues”  the  establishment  of  a  committee  to  create  “a  series  of  

LP’s  that  would  map  the  whole  world  of  folk  music,”  drawing  from  “the  best  of  our  folk  song  

findings,”  ([1960]  2003,  179)  –    but  only  one  of  the  participants  at  the  Midcentury  conference,  

Charles  Seeger,  voted  in  favor  of  his  proposal.    “They  made  me  so  mad”,  Lomax  recalled,  “I  

decided  to  do  it  myself”    (Hentoff  1969,  73,  quoted  in  Szwed  2010,  248).      Subsequently,  he  

remarked  that  the  “myopia  of  the  academics  became  a  favorite  topic  of  mine,”    and  the  World  

Library  of  Folk  Music  was  produced  as  a  result  of  a  chance  coffee-­‐shop  encounter  with  Goddard  

Lieberson,  the  president  of  Columbia  Records  in  a  Broadway  coffee  shop,  who  agreed  “on  the  

spot”  to  the  project  ([1960]  2003,  179).    Nevertheless,  Lomax  was  deeply  engaged  with  

academics  at  a  number  of  stages  of  his  career.    He  was  enrolled  as  an  anthropology  graduate  
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student  at  Columbia  University  for  a  brief  period,  studied  with  Ray  Birdwhistell  at  Temple  

University,  and  attended  a  number  of  meetings  of  academic  professional  societies  (including  

the  American  Folklore  Society).      In  addition,  he  was  the  lead  researcher  for  projects  involving  

scholars  from  various  social  science  disciplines,  projects  that  were  funded  by  the  National  

Science  Foundation,  the  National  Institute  of  Mental  Health,  and  the  National  Endowment  for  

the  Humanities.    

Throughout  his  career,  Lomax  remained  critical  of  folklorists  who  lacked  passion  about  

the  traditions  they  studied  and  were  not  committed  to  maintaining  cultural  diversity  through  

safeguarding  folklore  and  local  culture.        He  viewed  folklore  as  exceptional  among  the  

humanities  in  requiring  passionate  devotion,  asserting  in  Sing  Out  in  1961  “that  in  folklore,  

more  than  in  any  of  the  arts,  the  performer  or  student  must  have  a  devotion  to  the  material  

that  is  akin  to  love,  and  a  very  selfless  love  at  that.”        Lomax  felt  that  scholars  for  “whom  folk  

song  has  largely  been  a  source  for  publication  and  thus  academic  advancement  have  gradually  

fallen  out  of  tune  with  a  field  which,  in  truth,  presents  perhaps  the  most  difficult  and  subtle  

problems  of  any  branch  of  the  humanities”    ([1961]  2003,  211,  212).    

Folklorists,  in  Lomax’s  view,  are  obliged  to  take  action  to  assist  folk  artists  and  foster  the  

preservation  of  traditions,  underscoring  that  folklorists  should  do  more  than  publish  their  

scholarship  and  amass  archives.    In  a  letter  to  Burt  Feintuch  in  1980,  he  noted  that  “our  folklore  

tradition,  stemming  from  German  scholarship,  has  piled  up  everything  in  archives  and  libraries  

–  and  our  magnificent  and  varied  tradition  is  dying”  (Lomax  1980).    Writing  to  Aziz  H.  Isa  of  the  

Heritage  Conservation  and  Recreation  Service  two  years  earlier,  he  said  that  “as  a  folklorist,  I  

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have  never  been  to  a  neighborhood,  no  matter  how  nondescript,  nor  worked  with  an  

individual,  no  matter  how  unlettered  or  misfortunate,  who  did  not  have  something  original  to  

offer  in  the  shape  of  song,  story,  dance,  craft  or  game.    Our  task  is  to  bring  up  this  wealth  of  

orally  transmitted,  neighborhood-­‐located  material  and  give  it  scope  and  place  for  

development”  (Lomax  1978).  

While  critical  of  colleagues  who  did  not  share  this  vision,  Lomax  repeatedly  spoke  up  for  

the  importance  of  integrally  and  substantively  involving  folklore  in  the  work  of  federal  cultural  

agencies.    His  influence  upon  the  Smithsonian  Festival  of  American  Folklife  has  not  been  widely  

recognized,  but  he  was  an  important  shaping  force  there,  as  he  was  for  the  development  of  the  

Folk  Arts  Program  of  the  National  Endowment  for  the  Arts,  where  he  frequently  advised  his  

sister,  Bess  Lomax  Hawes,  who  was  founding  director  of  the  program  (Hawes  2008,  134,  151).  

During  the  formative  years  of  the  Smithsonian  Festival  of  American  Folklife,  2    and  in  proposals  

to  federal  cultural  agencies  for  new  folklife  initiatives,  he  called  for  the  central  involvement  of  

folklorists  with  expertise  and  field  research  experience.        When  insisting  to  James  Morris  (head  

of  performing  arts  at  the  Smithsonian,  with  oversight  of  the  Folklife  Festival)  that  resources  be  

directed  to  qualified  field  researchers,  Lomax  asserted  that  it  is  the  “fieldworkers  and  artists  

who  count,  and  not  the  administrators.    Here  you  are  suffering  from  the  usual  disease  of  

Washington,  and  you  ought  to  correct  it.”    In  no  uncertain  terms  –    Lomax  never  lacked  for  

certitude  –    he  chastised:  

You  haven’t  really  got  a  proper  field  work  structure  yet.    You  are  not  yet  working  with  the  
people  who  know  the  singers,  the  traditions,  or  how  to  find  them  in  an  expert  way.    Folklore,  
because  all  humans  have  it,  is  thought  to  be  everybody’s  business.    The  truth  is  just  the  
opposite.    Only  very  self-­‐sacrificing  and  highly  sensitized  people  can  really  do  the  professional  
folklorist’s  job.    It  takes  years  of  learning  how,  and  now  that  I  have  been  asked  to  look  at  your  
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festival,  I  don’t  know  why,  from  the  beginning,  you  didn’t  bring  in  for  wisdom  and  for  practical  
work  the  guys  who  know  their  particular  subjects  and  their  people,  and  have  contacts.  (1975a).    

Lomax’s  call  for  folklorists  to  be  employed  at  the  Smithsonian  in  order  to  ensure  

appropriate  professional  direction  was  paralleled  in  advocacy  to  other  federal  officials.    Writing  

to  National  Endowment  for  the  Humanities  Chairman  Joseph  Duffy  with  a  plan  for  a  “Grassroots  

Cultural  Program,”  Lomax  stated  that  it  would  require  “a  sizeable  body  of  the  culturologists  (i.e.  

the  anthropologists,  folklorists  and  ethnomusicologists)  who  are  trained  to  deal  with  cultures  as  

wholes  and  with  oral  and  non-­‐verbal  traditions,”  and  he  felt  that  their  work  would  result  in  

“enormous  profit  for  the  human  future”  (  1979).    

In  the  1970s,  Lomax  witnessed  the  gestation  of  public  folklore  as  a  distinct  field  of  the  

discipline,  and  in  his  1975  letter  to  Morris  he  called  it  “a  new  profession,  this  folklorist  work  

with  cultures,”  which  “can’t  be  carried  out  with  show  biz  standards.”      He  felt  that  folklorists  

could  play  a  central  role  in  stemming  the  tide  of  the  loss  of  traditions  and  local  culture,  and  at  

the  Smithsonian  Festival,  “the  opportunity  you  have  during  those  weeks  is  to  strengthen  the  

carriers  of  all  kinds  of  cultures  for  the  bitter  hard  struggles  they  have  at  home,  faced  with  T.V.  

and  indifference  pretty  largely”  (1975a).      

During  the  four  decades  following  the  1950  Midcentury  International  Folklore  

Conference,  Lomax  elaborated  upon  his  views  about  a  constellation  of  forces  conspiring  to  

threaten  and  eradicate  folklore  and  local  culture.    He  was  especially  critical  of  mass  

entertainment  and  broadcasting  industries,  calling  for  the  decentralization  of  mass  media  and  

broader  access  to  national  broadcasting  outlets,  which  would  guarantee  opportunities  for  the  

presentation  of  local  cultures  on  the  media.3          Public  broadcasting  was  severely  criticized  for  

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its  elitism  and  neglect  of  American  local  and  regional  cultures.    John  Szwed  notes  that  Lomax  

felt  that  while  the  Public  Broadcasting  System  (PBS)  had  been  “designed”  to  “decentralize  and  

diversify  American  media,”    it  had  succeeded  at  “bringing  high  culture  and  information  to  the  

hinterlands,  but  had  failed  at  …  celebrating  the  regional  and  cultural  resources  of  the  country”  

(2010,  369).        Lomax  used  many  of  his  most  vivid  and  toughest  metaphors  to  characterize  how  

mass  media  and  entertainment  induces  passivity,  alienation  and  diminished  consciousness  of  

local  culture.    He  contended  that  many  millions  in  the  world,  with  “no  access  to  the  main  

channels  of  communication  [,]  …  are  being  shouted  into  silence  by  our  commercially  bought-­‐

and-­‐paid  for  loudspeakers”  ([1960]  2003,174).    In  proposing  a  number  of  ideas  for  PBS  

programming,  he  proclaimed:  

Away  with  the  PBS  that  acts  as  a  pipeline  for  Megalopolis  and  the  mainstream  and              cultural  
mafias  into  the  Hinterland.    Up  with  the  PBS  that  courageously  and  imaginatively      takes  
advantage  of  the  great  reservoirs  of  images,  talents,  ideas  and  traditions  in  the            American  land  
and  projects  them  across  the  country  and  out  to  the  world  ([197-­‐?  a],1)  .  

               “All  power  to  the  periphery,”  Lomax  asserted,  and  he  viewed  the  struggle  against  

centralized  control  of  culture  as  an  issue  of  center  vs.  periphery,  where  the  center  meant  

Eurocentric,  fine-­‐arts-­‐oriented  elites  and  dominant,  profit-­‐obsessed  culture  industries  (1979).    

The  notion  that  the  relationship  between  center  and  periphery  must  be  realigned  informed  all  

of  Lomax’s  work,  encapsulating  his  views  about  culture  and  power.    While  the  advent  of  social  

media  and  the  Internet  has  contributed  to  the  shifting  and  blurring  of  center  and  periphery,  

and  while  today’s  PBS  is  less  elitist  because  it  broadcasts  more  folk  and  popular  cultural  

programming,  in  the  1970s  Lomax’s  characterization  of  PBS  as  paradigmatic  of  a  centralized,  

Eurocentric,  fine-­‐arts  domination  of  culture  was  well  placed.    And  even  today  the  overwhelming  

majority  of  private  and  public  cultural  funding  remains  devoted  to  the  ‘fine  arts.’    The  
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continuing  centralizing  biases  of  the  commercial  music  and  broadcasting  industries  are  evident  

in  the  scarcity  of  vernacular  music  on  the  radio  and  the  recent  elimination  of  Grammy  awards  

for  a  number  of  vernacular  ethnic  music  genres.      

           In  the  United  States,  Lomax  contended,  the  “urban-­‐based  amusement  industry,  our  

civilization-­‐oriented  educational  tradition,  our  European-­‐oriented  fine  arts  tradition  have  all  

conspired  to  conceal  America  from  itself  ”    ([197-­‐?],  2).    In  a  letter  to  President  Nixon  in  1969,        

Lomax  expressed  alarm  about  the  alienating  effects  of  centralized  communication  systems,  

which  he  saw  as  engendering  a  variety  of  social  ills:    

As  communication  has  become  centralized  in  terms  of  television,  the  wire  services,  the          big  
movie  chains,  the  national  sports  leagues,  etc.,  etc.,  the  American  people  have  been  awed  into  
silence  and  passivity.    They  are  unaccustomed  to  having  opinions  and  to  expressing  them  
because  the  more  impressive  voices  from  the  screen  and  the  loudspeaker  shout  them  down.    
This  has  produced  in  every  part  of  our  country  –  except  in  a  few  metropolitan  centers  –  a  spirit  
of  apathy  and  anger  which  increases  with  every  year  the  feeling  of  powerlessness  which  leads,  I  
think,  to  the  need  for  stimulants,  for  drugs,  for  violence,  for  escape,  and  in  some  for  crime.    
(1969).    

                         Alan  Lomax  always  emphasized  that  folklore  must  live  and  thrive  in  local  contexts.      As  

he  stated  flatly,  “Nations  do  not  generate  music.    They  only  consume  it”  ([1972]  2003,  291).    

While  he  scoffed  at  the  notion  of  a  ‘national’  folklore  and  condemned  manipulation  of  folklore  

by  extreme  nationalists,  Lomax  felt  that  safeguarding  local  traditions  is  of  great  importance  as  a  

matter  of  national  policy  and  purpose.4        Advising  Smithsonian  Folklife  Festival  director  Ralph  

Rinzler  about  the  Festival’s  direction  the  year  after  its  major  two-­‐month-­‐long  Bicentennial  

program,  Lomax  remarked  that  “folklore  really  is  a  local,  regional,  traditional  creature  with  little  

or  nothing  to  do  with  modern  nation  states.”      Future  festivals,  he  believed,  should  work  to  

bring  about  “network  acceptance”  so  that      “whatever  it  is  that  you  achieve  ideologically  and  as  

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a  presentation  can  be  shared  with  the  country.    Otherwise,  you  are  …  aggrandizing  Washington.    

The  festival’s  focus  should  be  on  “support  of  the  periphery,  revivification  of  the  locality”  (1977).  

Lomax’s  concerns  about  the  nation-­‐state’s  domination  of  representations  of  local  

folklore  are  echoed  today  in  critical  writing  about  implementation  of  the  2003  UNESCO  

Convention  for  the  Protection  of  Intangible  Cultural  Heritage.    Richard  Kurin  contends  that  ‘in  

many  countries,  minority  communities  do  not  see  governments  as  representing  their  interests  –    

particularly  when  it  comes  to  their  living  cultural  traditions.    Historically,  government  efforts  

have  often  been  aimed  at  eliminating  cultural  practices  –    a  native  religion,  a  minority  language,  

particular  rites,  certain  instruments,  and  so  on”  (2007,13).    Michelle  Stefano  indicates  that  since  

national  governments  have  the  authority  to  implement  the  UNESCO  convention,  “little  

decision-­‐making  is  taking  place  at  the  local  level,”  no  matter  the  group  or  community  whose  

traditions  are  affected  (personal  communication,  March  26,  2012).  

Revivifying  local  folk  culture  was  viewed  by  Lomax  as  the  responsibility  of  a  broad  range  

of  social  institutions,  including  schools,  health  care  institutions  and  parks,  as  well  as  cultural  

agencies.      In  a  proposal  to  the  Carter  Administration  for  a  Presidential  Commission  on  Grass  

Roots  Culture,  he  advocated  that  a  national  folk  cultural  policy  be  implemented  by  agencies  

from  a  variety  of  sectors  whose  actions  shape  culture  in  its  broadest  sense.      He  recognized  that  

cultural  policy,  as  Caron  Atlas  indicates,  is  “embedded  in  decisions  about  other  issues  in  which  

culture  is  inextricable,  such  as  education,  health,  environment,  community  building  or  

economic  development”  (Atlas  2001,  66).    For  Lomax,  Eurocentric  elitist  curricula  was  “another  

sad  story  of  good  intentions”:    

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[T]eachers  who  focused  their  poor-­‐white-­‐chicano-­‐black-­‐immigrant  classes  on  the  art  and  
literature  of  Northwestern  Europe,  certainly  did  not  see  that  their  curriculum  was  culturally  
biased.    They  did  not  realize  that  they  were,  in  a  sense,  estranging  some  children  from  parents  
who  simply  had  a  different  kind  of  culture  from  the  one  in  the  school  books”  ([197-­‐?  b],  2).    

As  he  had  put  it  in  his  “Appeal  for  Cultural  Equity,”  the  “educational  system  …  is  a  system  of  

indoctrination  in  the  cultural  achievements  and  techniques  of  Europe  and  the  United  States”  

([1972]  2003,  288).        And  in  his  proposal  to  the  Carter  administration,  he  called  for  the  

Department  of  Health,  Education  and  Welfare  to  make,  in  effect,  folk  cultural  competence  and  

literacy  a  curricular  requirement,  where  “every  public  school  and  high  school  graduate  should  

be  knowledgeable  in  the  history  of  his  own  family,  his  locality  and  his  region;  he  should  know  its  

songs,  crafts,  oral  and  written  literature,  and  should  be  prepared  if  so  inclined  to  carry  on  these  

traditions”  ([197-­‐?  b],  5).      

 Lomax  also  made  recommendations  to  The  National  Institute  of  Mental  Health  in  which  

he  discussed  the  value  of  folk  belief  systems  and  the  importance  of  countering  deracination.        

He  noted  that  successful  instances  of  “native  healers”  working  in  “collaboration  with  doctors”  

represented  the  “beginnings  of  a  movement  to  sensitize  mental  health  workers  and  physicians  

to  the  widely  divergent  views,  beliefs,  and  behaviors  of  different  cultures  relative  to  healthy  

norms  and  illness.”    In  recognizing  the  “cultural  connections  of  mental  and  emotional  troubles,”  

health  care  workers  would  see  that  “the  root  of  many  such  problems  is  loss  of  identity  –  and  

this  is  in  good  part  due  to  the  loss  of  or  shame  over  cultural  roots”  ([197-­‐?  b],  6).        

         Looking  at  the  longue  durée  of  history,  Lomax  saw  the  erosion  of  cultural  diversity  as  a  

consequence  of  ubiquitous  standardization  damaging  both  the  natural  and  cultural  

environments.      Writing  to  Joseph  Duffy,  Lomax  viewed  the  “shrinking  of  cultural  diversity  

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under  the  pressure  of  an  over-­‐centralized  and  over-­‐standardized  scheme  of  communication”  as  

“one  of  the  most  serious  problems  of  the  age.”    He  remarked  that  “our  19th  century  ancestors  

imagined  that  because  standardization  was  good  for  the  development  of  engineering  and  

industry,  that  it  was  a  universal  process.”    However,  he  noted,    

If  it  has  turned  out  to  be  a  threat  to  the  biological  environment,  it  is  a  disaster  for  culture,  that  
greatest  of  all  human  inventions….  Now  because  standardization  is  applied  to  education  in  all  
subjects,  including  unfortunately  the  expressive  and  communicative  arts,  now  because  a  mono-­‐
directional,  mainstream  communication  system  has  replaced  all  the  separate  and  smaller  
communication  systems  that  once  existed,  the  variety  of  culture  is  swiftly  declining  and  our  
planet  is  headed  for  cultural  greyout”    (1979).5  

                       In  “issue  papers”  included  in  a  letter  to  Aziz  H.  Issa  of  the  Heritage  Conservation  and  

Recreation  Service,  Lomax  discussed  how  standardization  has  affected  play  and  recreation.    

Once  again  the  loss  of  local  culture  went  hand  in  hand  with  the  development  of  social  

pathologies.      He  saw  the  “history  of  recreation  in  this  country”  as  entailing  “standardizing  

activity  and  playing  down  local  and  ethnic  traditions  so  that  we  now  have  national  pastimes,  

sports,  amusements  and  arts.”    Violence  at  “mass  sporting  events”  was  viewed  as  a  “symptom  

of  a  severe  problem  arising  from  the  loss  of  local  and  family  initiative  and  personal  fantasy  

involved  in  sports  and  recreation.”      He  observed  that  national,  state  and  local  park  policies  

involved  the  removal  of  “all  human  residents,”  who  are  replaced  by  “personnel  with  

standardized  training,  clothing,  and  information,”  which  “vastly  reduced”  the  “cultural  color  of  

the  parks.”    The  parks  provide  “standardized  food,”  and  maintain  “too  many  rules”  in  effect  

continuing  “19th  century  Puritanism  and  regimentation  and  mak[ing]  the  areas  boring  for  most  

adults.”      Lomax  called  for  an  initiative,  to  be  supervised  by  qualified  folklorists,  that  would  

introduce  to  parks  “the  actual  carriers  of  local  traditions  –  the  story  tellers,  craftsmen,  cooks,  

musicians,  and  custom  leaders,”  who  would  “inhabit  and  give  zest  and  the  precisely  correct  
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cultural  color”  through  “the  aroma  of  folk  cookery,  the  tang  of  local  drinks,  the  sound  of  

regional  accents  and  songs  and  the  fantasies  of  local  yarn  spinners”  (1978).    

Though  most  folklorists  associate  Lomax  exclusively  with  music  and  dance,  he  clearly  

concerned  himself  with  the  totality  of  folk  culture.      The  critiques  and  programmatic  proposals  

he  offered  to  federal  officials  and  agencies  encompassed  a  wide  range  of  genres,  including  folk  

belief  systems,  customary  practices,  foodways,  material  culture  and  oral  literature  as  well  as  

performing  folk  arts.        Lomax’s  visionary  and  far-­‐ranging  proposals  were  not  taken  up  by  

federal  agencies,  although  he  did  succeed  in  producing  the  “American  Patchwork”  series  of    

cultural  programs  on  PBS.      His  proposals  still  feel  fresh  and  exciting  today,  suggesting  an  

agenda  for  an  inter-­‐agency,  cross-­‐sectoral,  comprehensive  national  folk  cultural  policy  which  

remains  relevant,  even  though  its  implementation  is  increasingly  unlikely  at  a  time  of  

contraction  by  the  US  federal  government.    

Analogies  between  damage  to  the  biosphere  and  the  effacement  of  cultural  diversity  

were  central  to  Alan  Lomax’s  “Appeal  for  Cultural  Equity,”    first  published  in  1972.    Gage  Averill  

has  indicated  that  Lomax  “thoroughly  embraced  the  rhetoric  of  the  environmental  movement  

in  calling  attention  to  the  state  of  cultural  diversity  in  the  world”  (2003:241).      However,  

Lomax’s  comparisons  involved  much  more  than  just  environmentalist  rhetoric.    Writing  at  a  

time  when  environmentalism  had  emerged  as  a  major  social  movement  and  thrust  for  public  

policy,  Lomax  equated  the  need  to  maintain  biodiversity  with  the  protection  of  cultural  

diversity  and  suggested  that  the  loss  of  cultural  diversity  might  be  “an  even  more  serious  

problem”  than  the  “pollution  of  the  biosphere  “(Lomax  [1972]  2003,  285).        

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 Comparing  the  biological  and  cultural  spheres,  Lomax  attacked  a  “false  Darwinism  

applied  to  culture,”  which  assumes  that  the  “weak  and  unfit  among  cultures  are  eliminated,”  as  

he  believed  we  have  become  “so  accustomed  to  the  dismal  view  of  the  carcasses  of  dead  or  

dying  cultures  on  the  human  landscape,  that  we  have  learned  to  dismiss  this  pollution  of  the  

human  environment  as  inevitable.”          Incorporating  cultural  carcasses,  polluted  human  

environments,  “extinction”  and  a  “grey-­‐out”  which  if  “unchecked  [,]  …  will  fill  our  skies  with  the  

smog  of  the  phoney,”  the  essay  “Appeal  for  Cultural  Equity”  is  replete  with    metaphors  from  

biology  and  environmentalism  that  powerfully  buttress  its  arguments    ([1972]  2003:  286,  285).      

Lomax  apparently  recognized  that  the  growing,  broad-­‐based  support  for  environmentalism  and  

the  abundant  empirical  evidence  for  diminished  diversity  in  the  biosphere  justified  the  use  of  

familiar  terms  from  a  semantic  domain  associated  with  a  growing  international  movement.    

Today,  scholarship,  activism  and  advocacy  for  “cultural  sustainability”  embody  analogies  

between  environmental  and  cultural  conservation  like  those  articulated  by  Lomax,  and  the  

term  recognized  their  shared  imperatives.    Rory  Turner  sees  cultural  sustainability  as  “an  

emerging  movement  that  asserts  a  vital  alignment  of  human  action  with  a  healthy  biological  

and  social  world”  and  flows  from  a  spirit  of  ecological  stewardship”  (2010).      In  2008,  Turner  

founded  the  Master’s  Program  in  Cultural  Sustainability  at  Goucher  College,  which  has  a  strong  

folklore  focus  and  trains  students  for  local  activism  and  careers  in  cultural  sustainability  

(Goucher  College  2012).        

     “Appeal  for  Cultural  Equity”  also  served  as  a  manifesto  about  national  cultural  policies,  

viewed  on  a  global  scale.        It  urged  government  policy  to  halt  its  indifference  to  the  destruction  

of  local  musics  and  its  misguided  support  of  “national”  musics  that  “generally  stifled  musical  
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creativity”;  instead,  Lomax  argued,  government  policies  should  support  endangered,  and  far  

more  diverse,  local  traditions.      He  lamented  the  favoring  of  “state-­‐supported  national  musics”  

rather  than  “the  far  more  varied  music-­‐making  of  regional  localities”    ([1972]  2003,    290)  .  

For  Lomax,  “cultural  equity”  meant  that  rights  to  traditional  cultural  expressions  should  

be  on  a  par  with  other  rights  protected  by  governments.    He  believed  that  human  rights  

included  cultural  rights,  a  notion  that  had  been  incorporated  in  international  covenants  since    

the  1948  United  Nations  Universal  Declaration  of  Human  Rights,  which  affirmed  a  universal  

right  of  individuals  to  participate  in  cultural  life,    and  in  two  subsequent  covenants  in  1966,  

both  of  which  focused  on  collective  cultural  rights  as  human  rights  (Weintraub  2009,  2,  5).    In  

his  proposal  for  a  Presidential  Commission  on  Grass  Roots  Culture,  Lomax  would  state  that  the  

“dimension  of  cultural  equity”  needs  to  be  added  to  the”  humane  continuum  of  liberty,  of  

freedom  of  speech  and  religion  and  of  social  justice”  (Lomax  [197-­‐?  a],  2).      And  his  “Appeal  for  

Cultural  Equity”  suggested  that  Thomas  Jefferson  “was  certainly  thinking  of  cultural  equity”  in  

the  Declaration  of  Independence;  Lomax  also  referred  to  laws  instituted  by  Lenin  to  protect  the  

“autonomy  of  minority  cultures”  in  the  constitution  of  the  Soviet  Union.        Nonetheless,  he  

hastened  to  add,  “the  reduction  in  the  world’s  total  of  musical  languages  and  dialects”  has  

accelerated,  and  their  “eventual  disappearance  is  accepted  as  inevitable”  ([1972]  2003,  286-­‐

87).  

Rejecting  the  notion  that  the  disappearance  of  traditional  culture  is  inevitable,  Lomax  

discussed  the  resilience  of  several  societies  of  the  past  in  maintaining  their  traditions.  

Emphasizing  that  cultures  “do  not  and  have  not  flourished  in  isolation,”  he  listed  cultures  that  

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developed  “at  the  crossroads  of  human  migration,  or  else  at  their  terminal  points,”  and  were  

able  to  maintain  independence,  while  permitting  “unforced  acceptance  of  external  influences.”    

These  cultures  included  ancient  Athens,  the  Central  Valley  of  Mexico  in  pre-­‐conquest  times  and  

the  Indus  Valley.      Inclusion  of  these  examples  demonstrates,  as  do  other  writings,  that  Lomax  

did  not  hold  the  absolutist  view  of  folk  purity  that  some  have  ascribed  to  him.    He  did,  however,  

advance  the  view  that  the  “total  destruction  of  culture  is  largely  a  modern  phenomenon.”    

Reiterating  concerns  about  the  impact  of  cultural  imperialism  and  unchecked  capitalism  he  had  

first  voiced  two  decades  earlier  at  the  Midcentury  International  Folklore  Conference,  he  said  

that  cultures  are  being  destroyed  as  a  “consequence  of  laissez-­‐faire  mercantilism,  insatiably  

seeking  to  market  all  its  products,  to  blanket  the  world  not  only  with  its  manufacture,  but  with  

its  religion,  its  literature  and  music,  its  educational  and  communication  systems.”    Again  

analogizing  environmental  and  cultural  destruction,  he  insisted  that  we  “must  reject  this  

cannibalistic  view  of  civilization,  just  as  we  must  now  find  ways  of  curbing  a  runaway  industrial  

system  which  is  polluting  the  whole  planet”  ([1972]  2003,  287-­‐88).  

As  Gage  Averill  has  noted,  Lomax  was  “one  of  the  first  to  introduce  the  concept  of  multi-­‐

culturalism”  (  2003,  241).      He  viewed  the  creation  of  a  “multi-­‐culture,  a  world  in  which  many  

civilizations,  each  with  its  own  supporting  systems  of  education  and  communication  can  live,”  

as  an  overarching  objective  of  cultural  equity  (Lomax:  [1972]  2003,  288).      As  multiculturalism  

emerged  as  a  cultural  movement  in  the  1990s,  the  term  cultural  equity  would  resonate  with  

cultural  activists  advocating  for  equitable  support  of  and  respect  for  the  culture  of  communities  

of  color,  even  though  many  may  not  have  been  aware  of  Lomax’s  authorship  of  the  term.      

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    Although  Lomax  framed  “Appeal  for  Cultural  Equity”  with  a  dire  scenario  of  the  

destruction  of  cultural  diversity,  he  also  acknowledged  success  stories  of  traditions  revitalized  

and  made  viable  through  private-­‐  and  public-­‐  sector  interventions.        In  the  United  States,  two  

important  traditions  found  new  audiences  and  thrived  through  commercial  outlets.      “The  

flowering  of  black  orchestral  music  in  New  Orleans”  occurred  because  the  “musicians  found  

good,  prestigious  employment”    in  the  local  “amusement  district,”  enabling  them  to  record  

music  that  would  be  distributed  the  world  over,  and  American  country  music  “got  equal  time  

on  the  air”  because  of  the  receptivity  of  local  and  regional  radio  stations  (Lomax:  [1972]  2003,  

289).      Lomax  pointed  to  enlightened  government  cultural  policies,  such  as  the  Romanian  

government’s  decision  to  give  the  last  panpipe  master  a  chair  at  the  Romanian  Academy  of  

Music,  and  the  “magnificent  recrudescence  of  the  many-­‐faceted  carnival  in  Trinidad  [,  which  

w]as  a  result  of  a  devoted  committee  of  folklorists  backed  by  the  Premier”  (298).    Other  

successes  highlighted  by  Lomax  had  resulted  from  his  own  initiatives.    Using  advanced  audio  

technology  in  West  Indian  villages,  Lomax  played  music  he  recorded  on  huge  loudspeakers  in  a  

“thunderous  three-­‐dimensional  concert,”  and  the  audiences  were  “simply  transported  with  

pleasure.”    On  one  island,  a  yearly  festival  was  “revived  in  all  its  richness”  (289).    He  also  wrote  

with  pride  of  his  success  in  bringing  about  the  revival  of  the  five-­‐string  banjo  because  he  

“induced  a  talented  young  man  named  Peter  Seeger  to  take  up  its  popularization  as  his  life’s  

work”  (298).    

             While  Lomax  was  critical  of  the  alienating  dimensions  of  modern  life,  he  should  not  be  

viewed  as  an  anti-­‐modernist.      He  recognized,  prophetically,  that  advanced  technologies  utilized  

for  the  benefit  of  local  cultures  could  help  them  thrive  once  again.      Although  mass  media  has  
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had  a  deleterious  effect  upon  local  cultures  and  folk  traditions,  it  can  be  –  and  has  been  –  used  

to  broadcast  and  disseminate  traditions  both  within  their  originating  communities  and  for  mass  

regional  and  national  audiences.    In  the  twenty-­‐first  century,  relationships  between  center  and  

periphery  in  cultural  matters  are  being  realigned  through  two-­‐way  communication  and  easy  

access  to  electronic  dissemination  of  cultural  products  from  local  cultures  anywhere  in  the  

world,  and  two-­‐way  communication  systems  are  enabled  by  the  Internet  and  social  media.    

Local  cultures  now  have  airtime  as  never  before.      Lomax  called  for  intervention  to  revitalize  

and  perpetuate  traditions,  but  he  also  recognized  that  some  conditions  enable  them  to  survive  

on  their  own.      While  folklorists  have  a  moral  imperative  to  advocate  for  the  traditions  they  

study  and  must  do  what  they  can  to  intervene  to  safeguard  them,  many  traditions  have  proved  

to  be  resilient  and  their  practitioners  have  found  their  own  mechanisms  to  maintain  them.  

Protest,  Resistance  and  Resilience  

Over  the  course  of  his  career,  Lomax  discussed  many  cases  of  folklore  maintained  in  

oppressive  circumstances  by  practitioners  who  exercised  their  own  agency  in  this  regard,  apart  

from  the  intervention  of  folklorists.      He  brought  these  perspectives  to  wide  audiences  by  

means  of  recordings,  radio  programs  and  publications.        They  demonstrated  how  folklore  

serves  as  a  means  of  protest  and  cultural  survival  in  the  face  of  extreme  political  oppression  

and  racist  exploitation,  as  well  as  in  contexts  of  less  blatant  oppression.            

The  actions  of  Francisco  Franco  in  Spain  greatly  affected  Lomax,  and  during  a  field  trip  to  

Spain  that  resulted  in  magnificent  recordings  he  marveled  at  the  survival  of  vernacular  culture  
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amidst  suffering.    Lomax  felt  “faint  and  sick  at  the  sight  of  this  noble  people,  ground  down  by  

poverty  and  a  police  state.”    Franco’s  dictatorial  regime  tried  to  alter  folklore  to  its  own  ends.    

As  John  Szwed  notes,  it  attempted  to  ”standardize  and  rewrite  local  traditions  and  songs  …  and  

save  folklore  by  reforming  it  and  teaching  the  proper  versions”  as  a  “means  of  fostering  

nationalism”    (2010,  273).      For  Lomax,  folklore  was  “not  mere  fantasy  and  entertainment;”  

rather,  it  “had  been  the  spiritual  armor  of  the  Spanish  people  against  the  many  forms  of  

tyranny  imposed  upon  them  through  the  centuries.”    Through  maintaining  their  inherited  

folklore  on  their  own  terms,  the  Spanish  found  “models  for  …  noble  behavior”  and  a  “sense  of  

the  beautiful”  despite  oppressed  circumstances  (Lomax  [1960]  2003),  181).  

     Hard  Hitting  Songs  for  Hard-­‐Hit  People,  compiled  by  Lomax  with  annotations  by  

Woody  Guthrie,  included  topical  songs  collected  and  recorded  during  the  Depression.    While  

completed  in  1940,  it  was  finally  published  in  1967  after  repeated  attempts  by  Lomax  to  find  a  

publisher.      The  songs  spoke  to  “how  the  underprivileged  people,  how  the  people  on  the  picket  

lines  of  America,  felt  about  their  times,”  with  folk  songs  giving  voice  to  people  who  would  

otherwise  be  unheard.    They  were  “symbols  of  the  fighting,  democratic  spirit  of  a  whole  sector  

of  the  population  that  is  too  often  viewed  as  faceless,  voiceless,  supine  and  afraid;  ….  as  deeply  

involved  in  social  change  as  any    politician,  union  organizer  or  social  critic”    (Lomax:  1967,  366).      

When  Lomax  first  collected  African  American  music  in  the  1930s,  he  saw  the  “Southern  

system  of  Black  oppression”  as  comparable  to  fascism.    He  was  struck  by  the  casual  brutality  of  

violence  against  Blacks,  in  a  region  where,  as  Big  Bill  Broonzy  and  Sonny  Boy  Williamson  told  it    

on  the  record  Blues  in  the  Mississippi  Night,    a  prevailing  attitude  was,      “Kill  a  Nigger,  we’ll  hire    

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another’n,  kill  a  mule,  we’ll  buy  another’n;  …  back  in  those  days,  a  Negro  didn’t  mean  no  more  

to  a  white  man  than  a  mule”  (Lomax  [1959]  2003a,  Track  17;  [1959]  2003b).      For  the  African  

American  working  class,  according  to  Lomax  ,  “the  South  enclosed  them  like  a  dark  prison  in  

which  they  were  lost  and,  in  a  very  real  sense,  trapped”  (Lomax  [1959]  2003b,  2).    Out  of  these  

nearly  unspeakable  conditions,  folklore  served  as  a  primary  expressive  means,      offering  a  

vehicle  for  veiled  protest,  solidarity,  fantasized  triumphs  and  ridicule  of  the  oppressors.  

Lomax’s  book,  Land  Where  the  Blues  Began  is  the  consummate  expression  of  Lomax’s  

research  on  African  American  folklore  in  the  South.      These  traditions  often  artfully  exhibited  

what  Herskovits  characterized  as  the  “principle  of  indirection”:  “subterfuge  and  concealment”  

as  a  “weapon”  and  “discretion”  as  a  survival  technique,  drew  upon  behavioral  patterns  intrinsic  

to  an  African  heritage  and  well  suited  to  immediate  oppressive  contexts  (Herskovits  [1941]  

1958,  156,  158  see  also  Baron  1994,  658-­‐66).    In  the  church,  Lomax  saw  preachers  who,  

capitalizing  on  the  “relative  immunity  of  the  pulpit  and  employing  biblical  language  to  veil  their  

meaning,  denounced  the  wickedness  of  Jim  Crow.”    Their  “orally  composed  sermons  …  likened  

their  oppressed  congregations  to  the  children  of  Israel  and  the  heroes  of  the  Old  Testament”  

(Lomax  1993,  102).      And  folk  tales  enacted  fantasies  of  revenge.      Speaking  of  the  trickster  hero  

John,  Lomax  contended  that  the  “viewpoint  implicit”  in  his  “exploits  helped  Old  John  to  survive  

and  to  get  the  better  of  the  all-­‐powerful  master.    In  that  code,  depredations  against  the  master  

were  counted  as  acts  of  virtue  since  masters  were  viewed  as  the  true  thieves”  (132).      For  

prisoners,  work  songs  facilitated  highly  synchronized  group  work;  performed  in  an  

“intertwined,  unified,  overlapping  style  …  peculiar  to  black  Africa  and  African  America”,  

embodying  a  “group-­‐involved  approach  to  communication  that  allows  everyone  present  to  
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have  an  input  in  everything  that  is  happening”  (261).    Work  songs  provided  pleasure  in  singing  

amidst  harsh  physical  labor  and  subhuman  conditions.    They  served  as  means  of  solidarity  and  

group  identity;  this  form  of  expressive  culture  “differentiated  [African  American  prisoners]  from  

their  guards  and  from  the  free  world  which  was  so  cruelly  punishing  them”  (267).      The  work  

songs  thus  starkly  functioned  as  what  José  Limón    and  William  S.  Fox  see  as  a  modality  of  

opposition  to  social  and  political  domination.    Limón,  in  discussing  Fox’s  (1980)  view  of  folklore  

as  contestation,  indicates  that  folklore  of  any  kind  “strengthens  the  internal  cohesion  of  a  

group  and  thereby  maximizes  its  solidarity  and  survival  against  a  dominant  social  order”  (Limón  

1983,  47).  

    Sometimes,  when  out  of  earshot  of  their  target,  Delta  Blacks  would  ridicule  poor  white  

behavior  through  “Yahoo  songs,”  more  obvious  in  their  referents  than  other  genres.    The  poor  

white  was  represented  as  gross  and  incompetent  in  these  songs,  which  were  sung  in  the  “hard  

nasal  sound  of  rural  Mississippi,”  and  viewed  by  the  singers  as  “highly  charged  satire  on  poor-­‐

white  behavior”    (Lomax  1993,  186-­‐87).    Hollers  and  blues  also  voiced  complaint  and  protest,  

rendering  in  sung  poetry  these  sentiments  when  there  was  no  recourse  for  injustices.    Lomax  

notes  that  unlike  most  places  in  the  world,  where  “the  individual  could  look  to  organized  

authority  as  in  some  sense  beneficent  or  protective,  can  ask  for  mercy  and  help  in  times  and  

distress  and  expect  to  receive  it,  …  the  laborers  of  the  Deep  South,  floating  from  camp  to  camp,  

often  from  prison  to  prison,  came  to  feel  that  they  had  nowhere  to  turn.”    In  levee  camp  

hollers,  they  would  cry:    “Cap’n  doncha  do  me  like  you  do  poor  Shine,/  Drove  him  so  hard  till  he  

went  stone  blind,”  and    “Mister  Cholly,  Mister  Cholly,  just  gimme  my  time./  Gwan,  old  bully,  

you  are  time  behind”    (232-­‐33).  


  29  
The  blues  are  especially  rich  in  their  use  of  metaphor  and  indirection  to  express  protest,  

anger  and  revenge.    Once  Lomax  urged  me  to  listen  to  Blues  in  the  Mississippi  Night  if  I  wanted  

to  better  understand  what  the  blues  were  all  about,  and  when  I  listened  to  the  recording  I  

understood  immediately  that  it  was  an  indispensable  document  of  native  exegesis.    Under  the  

condition  of  anonymity,  Big  Bill  Broonzy,  Sonny  Boy  Williamson  and  Memphis  Slim  spoke  with  

brutal  frankness  about  the  blues  and  oppression,  and  their  names  were  not  revealed  until  all  

were  dead.6      According  to  Memphis  Slim,  “The  blues  is  a  kind  of  revenge,  you  know.    You  

wanta  say  something,  and  you  wanta,  you  know,  signifyin’  like  –  that’s  the  blues  …  things  we  

couldn’t  say  …  or  do,  so  we  sing  it.”      For  Memphis  Slim,  

Whenever  you  hear  a  fellow  singing  the  blues  …  it  was  really  a  heart  thing  …  expressing  his  
feeling  about  how  he  felt  to  the  people  –  and  that’s  the  only  way  he  know  to  say  those  things.    
I’ve  known  guys  that  wanted  to  cuss  out  the  boss  and  he  was  afraid  to  go  up  to  his  face  and  tell  
him  what  he  wanted  to  tell  him,  and  I’ve  heard  them  sing  those  things  –  sing  words,  you  know  –  
back  to  the  boss,  just  be  behind  the  wagon,  hookin’  up  the  horses  or  somethin’  or  ‘nuther  –  or  
the  mules  or  something.    And  then  he’d  go  to  work  and  go  to  singin’  and  say  things  to  the  horse  
…  make  like  the  mule  stepped  on  his  foot  –  say,  “Get  off  my  foot,  goddam  it!”    or  something  like  
that  …  and  he  meant  he  was  talkin’  to  the  boss.    “You  son  of  a  bitch,  you.”    Say,  “You  got  no  
business  on  my  …  stay  off  my  foot!”  and  such  things  as  that  …  (Lomax[1959]  2003a:Track  6).      

                     While  Southern  African  American  folklore  of  the  early  and  mid-­‐twentieth  century  are  

paradigmatic  expressions  of  protest  and  resilience  under  conditions  of  extreme  oppression,  

Lomax  saw  protest  songs  occurring  in  a  variety  of  other  kinds  of  circumstances  and  cultures.    In  

Hard  Hitting  Songs  for  Hard-­‐  Hit  People,  he  stated:  

In  a  broad  but  very  general  sense,  most  of  our  traditional  American  songs  can  be  considered  
songs  of  complaint  or  protest  about  the  main  economic  and  social  problems  that  have  always  
faced  the  mass  of  the  American  people  as  they  struggled  for  a  living,  whether  the  scene  of  this  
struggle  was  on  the  bountiful  but  still  harsh  frontier,  on  a  small  farm,  in  a  mine  or  a  bunkhouse  
or  –  if  the  singer  was  a  woman  –  in  the  kitchen  of  a  little  cabin  or  wooden  shack  somewhere”  
(1967,  365).      

 
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 Szwed  indicates  that  the  collection  vindicated  Lomax’s  approach  to  song  collecting  “by  

revealing  that  protest  against  injustice  could  be  found  even  among  the  older  singers  and  the  

hillbilly  and  race  recordings  sold  across  the  South,  as  well  as  the  repertoires  of  the  younger  folk  

poets”  (2010,  162).    Hard  Hitting  Songs  noted  as  well  the  protest  component  found  in  British  

folk  song,  where  labor  songs  and  the  folk  songs  of  the  urban  working  class  included  “sharp,  

angry  and  self-­‐conscious  songs  of  protest”  (Lomax  1967,  365).    Situating  the  holler  globally  as  a  

protest  genre,  in  The  Land  Where  the  Blues  Began  Lomax  notes  that  “this  song  type,  which  we  

might  call  the  high,  lonesome  complaint,  is  one  undercurrent  of  music  in  the  whole  of  civilized  

Eurasia  –    the  ancient  world  of  caste,  empire,  exploited  peasantry,  harem-­‐bound  women,  and  

absolute  power  –  from  the  Far  East  to  Ireland”    (1993:232).      

Using  examples  from  all  over  the  world,  Lomax  highlighted  how  folklore  could  be  used  

as  a  vehicle  for  contesting  and  resisting  domination.    Protest  and  resistance  through  folklore  

may  be  overt,  explicitly  directed  to  oppressors  and  intolerable  social  conditions.    Or  folklore  can  

serve  as  a  means  of  resistance,  both  by  its  very  presence  and  as  a  means  of  expressing  and  

reinforcing  group  solidarity.      It  is  counterhegemonic  in  all  of  these  manifestations.      In  

Leteratura  e  vita  nazionale,  Gramsci  stated  that  folklore  is  “a  concept  of  the  world  and  of  life  …  

in  contraposition  …  to  the  official  conceptions  of  the  world,”  (quoted  in  Lombardi-­‐Satriani  1974,  

104-­‐105),  what  Límon  sees  as  “a  kind  of  folk  political  philosophy  –  an  initial  and  potentially  

critical  outlook  on  the  world    (1983,  4).        Extending  the  Gramscian  notion  of  hegemony  as  

“direct  contestation”  (Límon  1983,  42),  Luigi  Lombardi-­‐Satriani  states  that  folklore,  as  “other,  

opposing  testimony  that  the  folk  world  provides  against  the  ‘official’  ideology’  …  sustained  by  

the  dominant  class,”  also  resists  by  “contesting  at  times  only  with  its  own  presence,  the  
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universality,  which  is  only  superficial,  of  the  official  culture’s  concepts  of  the  world  and  of  life”  

(1974,  103,  104).    Folklore  can  be  viewed  among  the  “weapons  of  the  weak,”  those  “everyday  

forms  of  resistance”  that  avoid  direct  confrontation  with  authority  while  they  “mitigate  or  deny  

claims  made  by  superordinate  classes”  (Scott  1985,  32).      Whether  by  its  mere  existence  or  

through  explicit  contestation  of  the  powerful,  the  kinds  of  folklore  collected  and  analyzed  by  

Lomax  embodies  counterhegemonic  resistance,  contesting  the  powerful  as  it  maintains  the  

integrity  of  a  dominated  culture.  

Intervening  and  Safeguarding  

Much  of  the  folklore  collected  by  Lomax  was  unknown  outside  of  the  immediate  

communities  where  it  was  customarily  practiced.    While  these  traditions  had  not  required  the  

involvement  of  a  folklorist  to  survive,  they  became  widely  known  and  gained  a  new  lease  on  life  

through  Lomax’s  efforts  as  a  public  folklorist.      By  presenting  traditions  to  wider  audiences  he  

helped  to  safeguard  them,  providing  new  performance  opportunities.      Like  contemporary  

public  folklorists,  Lomax  had  a  Janus-­‐faced  approach  to  those  he  served,  with  one  side  turned  

to  the  bigger  stage  (presenting  material  to  exoteric  audiences),  and  the  other  side  turned  

inward  (perpetuating  traditions  within  the  originating  communities).      These  approaches    

impact  each  other,  as  the  wider  visibility  and  prestige  brought  about  by  recording  and  

presentation  to  new  audiences  reverberate  within  the  communities  where  traditions  originate,  

spurring  revitalization.  

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Safeguarding  and  sustaining  traditions  requires  multiple  approaches,  as  Daniel  Sheehy  

points  out  in  delineating  four  principal  strategies  “aimed  at  affecting  the  community  of  origin  of  

a  given  music”  (1992,  330).    Frequently  citing  Lomax’s  work  as  exemplary,  he  discusses  four  

“basic  qualities  for  these  strategies:      

(1) developing  new  “frames”  for  musical  performance,  (2)  “feeding  back”  musical    models  to  
the  communities  that  created  them,  (3)  providing  community  members  access  to  strategic  
models  and  conservation  techniques,  and  (4)  developing  broad,  structural  solutions  to  
broad  problems”  (330-­‐31).  

Lomax  created  new  performance  frames  through  radio  programs,  concerts  and  development  of  

folklife  festivals.      Sheehy  cites    Folk  Song  Style  and  Culture  as  employing  a  feedback  approach;  

he  notes  that    Lomax  wrote  about  the  “renewed  sense  of  significance”  generated  for  peoples  

whose  

artists,  communicating  in  genuine  style,  appear  on  the  powerful  and  prestigious  mass  
media  or  begin  to  use  them  for  their  own  purposes.    Experience  teaches  that  such  direct  
feedback  of  genuine,  uncensored  native  art  to  its  roots  acts  upon  a  culture  like  water,  
sunlight  and  fertilizer  on  a  barren  garden;  it  begins  to  bloom  and  grow  again”  (Lomax  
1968,  9,  cited  in  Sheehy  1992,  333).    

When  discussing  the  strategy  of  “providing  communities  with  access  to  strategic  models  and  

conservation  techniques”  Sheehy  again  cites  Lomax,  who  wrote  to  his  sister  Bess  in  1987  that  

he  “equated  the  possession  of  knowledge  of  one’s  own  culture  to  an  arming  mechanism  against  

cultural  aggression”  (quoted  in  Sheehy  1992,  333).    Lomax  worked  within  communities  to  

provide  techniques  to  safeguard  traditions  and  thus  act  counterhegemonically.    But  he  was  also  

an  important  influence  in  shaping  the  Smithsonian  Folklife  Festival,  the  National  Endowment  

for  the  Arts  Folk  and  Traditional  Arts  Program,  and  the  traditional  music  components  of  the  

Newport  Folk  Festival,  while  also  indirectly  influencing  other  American  folklife  programs.    Thus,  
  33  
he  also  pursued  the  fourth  strategy  discussed  by  Sheehy:  the  creation  of  institutions  that  

develop  “broad  structural  solutions  to  broad  problems,”    forwarding  the  goals  embodied  in  the  

other  strategies  (1992,  331).  

Lomax  viewed  the  act  of  collecting  folklore  as  an  encounter  that  at  once  validated  

neglected  traditions,  brought  joy  to  performer  and  audience  at  the  moment  of  documentation,  

and  promised  tradition  bearers  that  their  voices  would  be  heard  rather  than  ignored.      In  

recounting  his  earliest  collecting  experiences  with  his  father,  he  spoke  of  African  American  

prisoners  and  abjectly  poor  sharecroppers  performing  for  recording  devices  that  were  seen  as  

portals  to  powerful  people  capable  of  providing  redress  for  their  suffering.        Recording  a  group  

of  sharecroppers  with  his  father  John  in  a  small  country  church  on  the  Smithers  Plantation,    

Lomax  related  an  “Aha!”  moment  that  would  forever  shape  his  approach  to  folklore.      Old  Blue  

demanded  to  sing  into  the  recorder  right  away  without  singing  the  song  in  advance,  as  the  

Lomaxes  had  requested  of  the  group  of  sharecroppers  gathered  around  them  (Lomax  [1982]  

2003,  92-­‐93).      His  text  was  

 
 Poor  farmer,  poor  farmer,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                              
 Poor  farmer,  they  git  all  the  farmer  makes  …  

   His  clothes  is  full  of  patches,  his  hat  is  full  of  holes,  

   Stoopin’  down,  pickin’  cotton,  from  off  the  bottom  bolls,  

   Poor  farmer,  poor  farmer.        

When  this  “rhymed  indictment”  of  the  sharecropper  system”  was  played  back,  one  of  the  

sharecroppers  shouted,  “That  thing  sho’  talks  sense.    Blue  you  done  it  this  time!”    And  the  
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crowd  burst  into  applause  (Lomax  [1960]  2003,  174),  in  a  response  “wild  with  excitement  and  

happiness.”    The  teenaged  Lomax  knew  from  that  moment  that  he  would  be  a  folklorist,  and  he  

“realized  right  then  that  the  folklorist’s  job  was  to  link  the  people  who  were  voiceless  and  who  

had  no  way  to  tell  their  story,  with  the  big  mainstream  of  world  culture”  (Lomax[1982]  2003,  

92-­‐93).          In  other  field  work  experiences,  playback  would  again  and  again  act  as  an  immediate  

feedback  mechanism,  generating  enthusiastic  response  to  performances,  validating  the  

tradition  and  opening  a  portal  to  a  wider  world.    In  Italy,  fishermen  who  sang  shanties  

“applauded  their  own  performance  like  so  many  opera  singers”    (Lomax  [1960]  2003,  183),  and  

the  “three-­‐dimensional”  concert  of  music  he  recorded  in  West  Indian  villages  brought  great  joy  

to  audiences  and  set  in  motion  the  revival  of  an  annual  festival    (Lomax  [1977]  2003,  289).  

Radio  broadcasts  on  national  networks  scripted  by  Lomax  during  the  early  1940s  

enabled  Americans  to  see  themselves  through  their  local  traditions.    Utilizing  the  most  widely  

disseminated  mass  media  of  the  day  –  which  was  dominated  by  popular  entertainment,  world  

and  national  news,  sports  and  classical  music  -­‐    Lomax  offered  a  radical  alternative.    Listeners  

heard  about  traditions  “back  where  I  come  from”  -­‐-­‐  the  title  of  one  of  these  radio  series,  which  

Lomax  scripted  with  Nicholas  Ray.      Along  with  productions  for  The  American  School  of  the  Air  -­‐    

Lomax  sang,  commented  and  advised  on  scripting  -­‐    the  Back  Where  I  Come  From  shows  

presented  a  panoply  of  American  traditions,  entertaining  and  educating  about  American  folk  

culture  (see  Szwed  2010,  151-­‐56,  165-­‐67).    Representing  the  local  to  the  masses,  these  series  

dealt  with  universal  dimensions  of  the  human  condition  through  the  particular  expressive  

means  of  local  communities,  at  times  incorporating  the  comparativist  thrust  of  folklore  

scholarship  of  the  time.      The  opening  remarks  of  the  announcer  on  the  October  21,  1940  
  35  
broadcast  of  Back  Where  I  Come  From  demonstrated  the  breadth  of  topics  dealt  with  in  both  

series.    He  reminded  listeners  that  in  previous  programs  “we’ve  talked  of  courting,  war,  the  

weather,  horses  and  quite  a  few  other  topics  on  which  the  American  people  have  taken  the  

trouble  of  and  enjoyed  talking  about,  but  we’ve  confined  it  mainly  to  people  from  small  towns,  

hilltops  and  farm  valleys,”  as  he  introduced  a  show  devoted  to  the  topic  of  “work,”  including  

the  song,  narrative  and  experiences  of  urban  workers  (Lomax  and  Ray  1940,  2).        

A  broadcast  of  the  American  School  of  the  Air  about  the  “Games  and  Recreation  of  

Children”      underscored  that  folklore  is  possessed  by  everyone.    Lomax  invited  fifth  graders  

from  a  New  York  City  public  school,  PS  41  in  Greenwich  Village,  “to  help  me  sing  the  songs,  to  

correct  me  when  I’m  wrong  and  to  generally  defend  me.”      The  children  followed  scripts  that  

directed  them  to  correct  him  as  they  shared  their  folklore  with  one  another,  and  Lomax  spoke  

about  time  depth,  distribution  and  variation  in  children’s  folklore:  

LOMAX:    Game  songs  are  the  oldest,  the  stubbornest,  and  in  many  ways  the  most  

mysterious    of  all  songs.    Let’s  begin  with  this  old  rhyme:    Onery,  uery,  ickery  ee/  

Huckabone,  crackabone,  tillibonee,/Ram  pang  muski  dan,/Striddleum,  straddleum  

twenty-­‐one.  

 1st  CHILD:    That’s  not  the  way  we  do  it  down  our  way.  We  count  like  this:  

                           eeny  enny  typ-­‐a  tunee/la  la  bomablini/otchee  potchess  doube  otchee/one,  two,  three.  

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2nd  CHILD:    Well,  Eleanor,  you  may  like  that  one,  but  I  like  mine  better:  Ing  wang  way,  

calisu,  cabisay/Tafee,  tafee  ing  wang  way/Aroomiay  –  aromizay/  Ing  wang  way  –  one,  

two,  three.  

3rd  CHILD:    Do  you  know  this  one?  Eeny  meeny  miny  mo/  Catch  a  rabbit  by  the  toe/  

                    If  he  hollers,  let  him  go/Eeny  meeny  miny  mo.  

4th  CHILD:        Oh,  everybody  knows  that.    What’s  the  point  of  that  old  silly  stuff  anyhow.                

Just  a  bunch  of  dopey  words  …  

LOMAX:    First  of  all,  they’re  fun,  and  they’re  easy  to  remember.    But  the  reason  I            

mentioned  them  at  all  was  to  show  you  something.  

                         1st  CHILD:      Show  us  what?  

LOMAX:            That  children’s  poems  and  games  and  rhymes  are  usually  very  old.      Now  this    

ena,  mena,  miny,  moe  rhyme  that  we  have  always  known  goes  back  to  an  old  system  of  

counting  in  England,    that  comes  from  the  part  of  England  known  as  Wales.    In  the  old  

days  in  Wales  you  counted  to  ten  this  way:  One,  eina;  two,  mina;  three,  pera;  four,  

peppera;    five,  pin;  six,  chester;    seven,  nester;  eight,  near;  nine,  dickera,  ten,  nin.  

 CHILD:      It  certainly  sounds  funny  to  me.    (Lomax    1941,  2-­‐4).  

In  replying  to  the  child,  Lomax  noted  that  American  children  still  use  such  rhymes  in  choosing  

sides  for  tag.    

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                       Lomax  continued  to  be  extensively  involved  with  radio  during  the  1940s  and  1950s.    He  

profiled  American  regions  and  examined  issues  in  the  lives  of  ordinary  Americans  in  radio  

broadcasts  produced  for  the  Office  of  War  Information,  and  he  explored  musical  traditions  from  

diverse  American  regional  and  ethnic  traditions  as  well  as  other  world  cultures  on  a  weekly  

radio  show  broadcast  nationwide  on  the  Mutual  Broadcasting  System  in  the  late  1940s.      During  

the  years  he  spent  living  in  Britain  in  the  1950s,  he  produced  a  number  of  broadcasts  for  the  

BBC  on  American,  British  and  other  European  traditions.    As  he  had  in  his  American  broadcasts,  

Lomax  drew  heavily  from  his  own  field  research  and  presented  folk  musicians  in  live  broadcasts,  

while  also  producing  theatricalized  renderings  of  folk  culture.    He  continued  to  combine  

different  approaches,  presenting  both  scripted  dramatizations  and  straight  performances  of  

folk  song,  as  in  “Sing  Christmas  and  the  Time  of  the  Year,”  a  live  1957  Christmas-­‐day  program  

on  the  BBC  Home  Service.    It  originated  from  multiple  locations  and  was  rehearsed  in  studios  by  

participants  who  included  English,  Scottish  and  Welsh  folk  singers.        During  the  1950s,  Lomax  

continued  to  produce  documentary  films  and  began  to  venture  into  television,  producing  

television  programs  for  the  BBC  and  Granada  Television  .  

When  producing  presentations  for  the  concert  stage  during  the  first  half  of  his  career,  

Lomax  likewise  used  both  theatricalized  approaches  and  less  mediated  presentations  featuring  

traditional  folk  musicians  performing  their  own  repertoires.      The  theatre  productions  included  

The  Big  Rock  Candy  Mountain,  dubbed  “A  New  American  Folk  Musical,”  which  was  staged  in  

London  in  1955,  and  American  Folk  Music,  scripted  by  Lomax  in  the  1940s,  which  included  

choreography  by  Sophie  Maslow  and  songs  by  Woody  Guthrie  for  a  “Folksay”  number  based  on  

Carl  Sandburg’s  “The  People  YES.”      As  a  central  figure  in  the  folk  music  boom  of  the  early  
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postwar  period,  Lomax  promoted  participation  by  actively  engaged  audiences,  and  he  viewed  

these  revivals  as  a  major  countervailing  force  to  the  alienation  experienced  by  passive  

consumers  of  mass  entertainment.      Along  with  Pete  Seeger  and  Earl  Robinson,  he  was  one  of  

the  driving  forces  behind  the  participatory  hootenannies  produced  by  People’s  Songs  at    New  

York’s  Town  Hall  (Szwed  2010,  224).        The  hootenannies  included  both  traditional  folk  

musicians  and  folk  revivalists,  in  what  was  billed  as  “an  outstanding  array  of  folksinging,  guitar-­‐

playing,  songwriting,  harmonica-­‐blowing,  banjo-­‐plucking  people  in  New  York  and  vicinity”  

(People’s  Songs,  n.d.).    People’s  Songs  backed  Lomax  for  another  series,  The  Midnight  Special,  

featuring  folk  musicians  performing  to  audiences  of  as  many  as  1500  (Szwed  2010,  225-­‐28).  

While  Lomax,  himself  a  singer  of  folk  songs,  continued  to  favor  broad  participation  in  

the  performance  of  folk  music,  during  a  subsequent  folk  revival  which  began  in  the  late  1950s  

he  began  to  raise  issues  of  authenticity  and  appropriation  by  the  “city  singer  of  folk  songs”  

(Lomax  [1959]  2003c,  197).    He  contended  that  the  “folkniks  have  been  mainly  concerned  with  

the  formal  aspects  of  folk  song,”  while  generally  unaware  of  the  singing  style  or  the  emotional  

content  of  these  folk  songs,  as  they  exist  in  tradition”  (195,196).      While  he  recognized  that  

some  of  these  revivalists  were  “tackling  the  …  much  more  serious  problems  of  style  and  

content,”  Lomax’s  interests  had  now  turned  to  greater  emphasis  on  the  performance  of  

traditions  possessed  by  birthright  (197).      He  advocated  more  strongly  for  communities  to  come  

to  consciousness  of  their  cultural  heritage  by  respecting  and  participating  in  their  own  folk  

traditions.    This  shift  of  emphasis  was  evident  during  Lomax’s  last  several  years  in  England.    

While  he  had  formed  skiffle  bands  with  Ewan  MacColl,  Shirley  Collins  and  others  (Szwed  2010,  

291-­‐92),  and  he  applauded  the  skiffle  music  movement’s  success  in    motivating  Britons  towards  
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“learning  to  make  their  own  music,”  Lomax  expressed  the  hope  that  the  skifflers  would  “get  

tired  …  of  their  monotonous  two-­‐beat  imitation  of  Negro  rhythm  and  [,]  …  looking  around  [,]  …  

discover  the  song-­‐tradition  of  Great  Britain”  which,  he  contended,  “in  melodic  terms,  is  

probably  the  richest  in  Western  Europe”  (Lomax[1957]  2003,  137).      However,  as  Szwed  notes,  

many  in  Britain  “assumed  there  was  not  much  left  of  folk  culture  in  the  first  industrialized  

nation”  (Szwed  2010:262).  

In  his  BBC  series  A  Ballad  Hunter  Looks  at  Britain,  the  episode  “Come  Listen  to  My  Song”  

presented  a  “folk-­‐song  portrait  of  the  British  Isles.”    Lomax  spoke  of  the  enduring  majesty  of  

British  folk  song  and  the  need  to  recognize  and  revitalize  the  tradition:  

LOMAX:    “The  Bonny  Bunch  of  Roses”    –  ever  since  I  heard  this  old  ballad,  this  is  the  

way  I    thought  about  the  British  Isles.    In  the  last  half  dozen  years  we  found  more  

varied  and  more  beautiful  tunes  here  than  in  any  country  west  of  the  Balkans.    This  is  

spite  of  the  competing  roar  of  factories  and  the  radio  and  the  cinema  –  in  spite  of  

neglect  and  the  snobbery  that  has  driven  your  folksingers  into  the  back  country  of  

Britain.…  When  Napoleon  reached  out  to  pluck  the  Bonny  Bunch  of  Roses  a  hundred  

and  fifty  years  ago,  it  must  have  been  the  richest  garden  of  music  in  the  Western  

world.  

 RECORD:      PIPES  UP  FOR  A  MOMENT  AND  OUT  

 LOMAX:    My  hope  is  that  this  day  will  come  again.    My  purpose  in  this  programme  is  to  

show  that  the  songs  and  the  singers  are  at  hand  for  a  native  musical  re-­‐awakening.    Like  

all  art,  British  folk  song  waits  only  for  appreciation  and  encouragement.    In  every  county  
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there  are  folk  artists  ready  to  show  the  way.    Listen  now  to  a  woman  in  County  Cork,  a  

fair,  tall  girl  with  a  voice  as  tender  as  her  blue  eyes,  who  sings  THE  AIRY  GIRL  (Lomax  

1957:2).  

Through  all  his  manifold  approaches  to  creating  representational  frames  for  folk  traditions,  

Lomax  maintained  an  overarching  objective  of  safeguarding  local  traditions  by  creating  multiple  

performance  situations,  both  in  community  settings  as  part  of  everyday  life  and  when  reframed  

for  general  audiences.          Contemporary  American  folklife  festivals  often  ground  performances  

in  modes  of  presentationlike  those  practiced  in  their  local,  community  based  contexts,  a  

recontextualizing  approach  first  envisioned  by  Lomax  for  the  1939  New  York  World’s  Fair.        

Writing  to  Olin  Downes,  the  Fair’s  Director  of  Music,  Lomax  proposed  a  “Folk  Lore  Midway,”  

centered  upon  “night  spots  for  American  folk  lore,”      including  “A  down-­‐Easter  fish  house  with  

the  shanties  and  the  ballads  that  have  grown  up  along  the  New  England  sea  coast,  a  Mexican  

patio  with  hot  tamales,  tacos  and  tequila  vendors”  and  the  performance  of  “ballads  and  

religious  festivals  from  Northern  Mexico  and  Southwestern  United  States,”  and  a  “Negro  honky  

tonk”  (Lomax  1938).      

Lomax  envisioned  re-­‐created  settings  that  would  incorporate  meticulously  developed  

staging  as  a  way  to  accomplish  a  folk  naturalism  at  the  World’s  Fair.    For  instance,  he  also  

proposed  a  “break-­‐down  house”  –  an  ideal  type  of  a  “mountain  square  dance  hall”  –  that  would    

offer  traditional  foods;  music  by  performers  such  as  Aunt  Molly  Jackson,  Pete  Steele  and  Sara  

Ogan,  and  a  participatory  square  dance.      Lomax  described  the  proposed  setting  and  scene  in  

considerable  detail.    The  stage  would  be  a  dais  “about  eighteen  feet  in  diameter,”  raised  so  all  

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participants  could  view  the  singing,  acting  and  dancing.      In  his  description,  a  dance  hall  

“encircles  the  stage,”  with  “levels  for  tables”  around  it.    “Back  country  life”  is  indexed  by  props  

that  include  a  “pot-­‐bellied  stove  and  a  big  lard  can.”      Lomax  imagined  performers  who  could    

“step  across  the  narrow  well  of  the  dance  floor  and  bring  the  audience  into  the  action  of  the  

play  by  teaching  them  the  square  dance”;  thus,  the  performers  would  “not  feel  themselves  

isolated  from  their  audience,”  and  they  would  be  “working  under  conditions  to  which  they  are  

accustomed  to  in  their  own  environment.”    Lomax  insisted  that  the  venue  should  serve  “corn  

bread,  corn  liquor,  spare  ribs,  hominy,  green  corn,  apple  cobbler  and  all  the  other  succulent  

dishes  of  rural  America”  (1938).      Apparently  the  break-­‐down  house,  like  the  other  nightspots,  

would  encompass  the  features  of  both  a  staged  dramatic  performance  and  a  representative  

folk  performance  in  a  ‘natural’  setting.      A  carefully  planned  verisimilitude  to  natural  practice  

was  designed  to  trigger  spontaneous  performance  and  fully  engage  participation  by  the  

audience.      

 In  addition  to  the  night-­‐spots,  Lomax  proposed  a  “series  of  strategically  placed  open  air  

stages  throughout  the  Fair  Grounds”  with  performers  drawn  from  the  same  wide  spectrum  of  

regional  and  ethnic  genres  represented  in  the  fair’s  nightspots.    Performances  would  be  

unscripted,  and  artists  would  engage  passers-­‐by  in  the  traditional  manner  of  street  performers.    

As  an  example,    Lomax  advised  that  the  “Mexican  ballad  vendor  should  actually  vend  his  wares  

throughout  the  Fair  Grounds  exactly  in  the  fashion  that  he  does  on  market  day  in  Mexico,  

where  he  holds  hundreds  of  people  entranced  for  hours  on  end  with  his  chit-­‐chat  and  his  

sounding  guitar”    (1938).    

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By  presenting  street  performers,  Lomax  felt  that  the  World’s  Fair  would  return  to  the  

“ancient  techniques  of  the  strolling  player,  the  Commedia  del  Arte,  the  wandering  minstrel,  the  

medicine  show  and  the  parade,”  which  would  “bring  back  the  ancient  feeling  of  gaiety  that  our  

stream-­‐lined  commercialism  has  smothered.”      In  making  his  case  for  this  approach,    Lomax  

spoke  to  the  need  to  counter  the  hegemonic  forces  of  mass  entertainment,  a  position  he  would  

return  to  again  and  again  for  the  next  six  decades.    “Driven  into  the  back  woods  by  the  radio  

and  the  cinema,”  Lomax  contended,  “popular  art  has  tended  to  become  the  monopoly  of  

professional  virtuosos  and  big  corporations.”    (1938).  7  

While  Lomax’s  proposals  for  the  1939  World’s  Fair  were  never  implemented,8  his  ideas  

for  the  recontextualization  of  folk  performances  were  reborn  at  the  Smithsonian  Folklife  

Festival.    He  was  a  mentor  to  the  festival’s  founder,  Ralph  Rinzler.    As  a  Newport  Folk  Festival  

board  member,  Lomax  was  instrumental  in  establishing  Rinzler’s  position  as  its  director  of  field  

research,  and  he  shaped  Newport’s  traditional  music  program.    Lomax  also  advised  Rinzler    

during  the  formative  years  of  the  Smithsonian  Festival  of  American  Folklife,  underscoring  the  

importance  of  presenting  folklore  as  customarily  practiced,  identifying  participants  through  

field  research,  and  engaging  cultural  professionals  to  prepare  artists  for  the  transition  to  new  

venues  and  audiences.      In  an  undated  “Theoretical  Points  for  Smithsonian”  written  in  the  mid-­‐

1970s,  he  outlined  “[t]wo  big  themes  both  of  which  have  to  do  with  the  social  and  cultural  

health  of  the  United  States:  

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1. Bringing  into  action  the  local  community  style  models,  whatever  they  are.    Must  be  

very  purist,  not  amateurist.      The  festival  sums  this  up  by  digging  under  the  surface  

of  every  day  and  bringing  to  light  the  roots  of  all  American  cultures.  

2. Accent  on  ancestries.    Those  people  who  are  disadvantaged  in  our  country  are  those  

who  have  no  culture  or  who  don’t  know  what  it  is  composed  of.  People  need  to  feel  

good  about  their  own  particular  ancestries.      (Lomax  [1974?])  

Unabashed  in  his  advocacy  for  authenticity  and  purity,  notions  heavily  deconstructed  and  

problematized  in  contemporary  folkloristics,  Lomax  was  outlining  a  case  for  the  Folklife  Festival  

to  showcase  traditions  representing    an  alternative  to  cultural  alienation  and  deracination.      On  

another  occasion,  however,  his  notes  for  a  festival  planning  meeting  in  January  1975  seemed  to  

question  focusing  upon  cultures  as    self-­‐contained  entities,  as  he  “questioned  focus  on  

particular  communities,  a  focus  possibly  too  narrow  to  show  the  broader  stream  of  tradition  

shaping  people’s  lives”  (Smithsonian  Institution  Division  of  Performing  Arts  1975).        While  some  

of  his  language  in  “Theoretical  Points  for  the  Smithsonian”  is  unfortunate,  eliding  such  critical  

matters  as  cultural  creolization  and  the  multiple  ancestries  of  most  Americans,  this  document  

also  succinctly  states  Lomax’s  ongoing  concerns    about  genuine  and  spurious  culture  and  the  

need  to  affirm  roots  traditions.      

  Indeed,  the  same  year,  in  his  capacity  as  a  consultant  to  the  1976  Smithsonian  Festival  

of  American  Folklife,  Lomax  asked  Yaskcko  Ichioka  of  the  Nippon  Television  Network  to  suggest  

“a  company  of  twenty  or  so  genuine  village  dancers  and  singers  who  can  present  a  

representative  kind  of  Japanese  Folklore.”    The  Festival,  he  wrote,  would  be  presenting  

  44  
“genuine  and  authentic  American  folkways,”  and  organizers  would  “match  these  living  

presentations  with  groups  of  equally  authentic  signers  from  the  many  countries  which  have  

sent  immigrants  to  North  America.”      In  this  letter,  Lomax  underlined  what  was  needed:    “We  

do  not  want  students  or  city  performers  of  choreographed  folk  music  and  dance,  but  real  farm  

laborers  and  fishermen,  and  so  on,  whose  tradition  goes  back  to  their  ancestors  (1975b).      

Here,  then,  is  another  shift  in  Lomax’s  thought.    For  Lomax  and  for  the  Smithsonian  

Festival,  presenting  traditions  as  they  are  traditionally  practiced,  with  “local  community  

models,”  came  to  mean  avoiding  choreographed  and  theatricalized  presentations,  approaches  

which  Lomax  had  himself  employed  earlier  in  his  career.      After  the  early  1960s,  his  own  

presentations  of  folk  traditions  centered  upon  documentary  films  and  television  programs  that  

were  not  dramatized;  notable  among  these  were  his  “American  Patchwork”  series  for  PBS  and  

educational  films  exploring  global  traditions  through  cantometrics  and  choreometrics.      

   Lomax  insisted  that  traditional  performers  be  treated  with  “Cultural  TLC”  (tender  

loving  care)  when  they  perform  for  new  audiences;  as  he  advised  me  in  our  first  meeting,  he  

wanted  to  make  sure  artists  felt  good  about  themselves  and  their  traditions.    Writing  to  James  

Morris  in  1975  about  the  Smithsonian  Festival  of  American  Folklife,  Lomax  asserted,  “[T]he  

most  important  thing  that  the  festival  can  do  is  to  aid  and  strengthen  the  singers.”      He  insisted  

that  “there  always  needs  to  be  somebody  always  on  hand  at  the  performances  to  take  care  that  

these  real  and  sensitive  people  that  you  bring  from  quiet  places  into  noisy  Washington  are  not  

hurt.”              The  Smithsonian  staff  needs  to  treat  the  artists  like  “royalty”,  with  “each  one  an  

important  artist  in  his  own  genre.”    He  added  that  Cultural  TLC  “needs  to  go  further  than  that”  

  45  
to  “help  develop  the  confidence  of  the  artist,  his  sense  of  his  worth  in  comparison  to  other  

artists  and  other  aesthetic  traditions,  so  that  when  we  goes  back  home  he  can  work  more  

confidently  in  his  own  community”  (1975a).      Since  all  folklore  is  local,  presenting  folk  artists  in  

public  programs  to  new  audiences  should  affirm  their  self  worth  and  the  value  of  their  

tradition,  stimulating  them  to  perform  and  perpetuate  their  traditions  with  new  vigor.          

    Lomax  spoke  to  me  about  “the  return”  with  strong  intonation  when  I  first  encountered  

him,  and  I  sensed  that  this  concept  had  multiple  meanings.    I  came  to  understand  that    in  a  

general  sense,  he  meant  the  return  of  traditions  to  their  originating  communities,  viewed  as  an  

ethical  imperative  for  all  scholars  who  have  intervened  in  a  culture  as  researchers.      The  idea  

resonates  deeply  with  contemporary  folklorists,  ethnomusicologists  and  anthropologists,  who  

speak  often  nowadays  of  the  need  for  reciprocity  between  scholars  and  communities  they  

study,  as  they  question  what  these  communities  get  out  of  their  relationship.    This  kind  of  

reciprocity  can  involve  returning  documented  materials  to  local  archives  and  providing  royalties  

for  recordings,  as  Alan  Lomax’s  daughter  Anna  Lomax  Wood  has  done  through  the  Association  

for  Cultural  Equity,  which  her  father  founded.    Another  meaning  of  ‘the  return’  could  be  

equipping  communities  to  document  their  own  traditions  and  making  scholarship  written  about  

them  accessible.    And  ‘the  return’  could  also  mean  the  return  of  artists  to  their  communities  

after  performing  elsewhere,  affirmed  and  committed  to  revivifying  their  traditions.      

   “The  return”  speaks  to  a  movement  that  gathered  steam  in  the  last  quarter  of  the  

twentieth  century;  as  Lomax  noted  in  a  letter  to  Burt  Feintuch  in  1980,  the  “new  groundswell  in  

anthropology,  folklore  and  the  humanities  is  concern  about  the  RETURN  of  tapes,  photographs,  

  46  
information  of  all  sorts  to  its  sources  -­‐-­‐-­‐  the  tribes  and  villages  of  the  planet  from  which  our  

centers  of  learning  have  enriched  themselves.”    He  indicated  that  he  was  developing  a  plan  for  

ethnomusicologists  to  return  copies  of  documentation  they  collected  in    

various  third  world  countries,  to  set  up  recording  and  filming  centers  and  then  to  work  with  all  
sorts  of  media  and  living  event  modes  to  feedback  the  collectanea  to  the  cultures  from  which  it  
came,  in  order  to  give  them  media  status,  the  educational  standing,  and  the  sense  of  
professional  competence  in  the  arts  that  will  enable  them  to  face  the  pressure  of  the  media  and  
to  grow  from  their  own  roots”  (1980).  

His  1987  “Micro-­‐Polynesian  Folk  Arts  Plan”  outlined  in  detail  a  schema  for  “the  return”  in  that  

region.      He  stated  that  the  “role  of  the  scholar  …  should  be  in  sharing  what  has  already  been  

learned  and  collected  with  the  peoples  involved.”    Scholarly  products  of  this  sort  could  include  

ethnographic  and  archaeological  handbooks,  maps,  photographs,  “tapes  of  the  music  recorded,  

videos  of  the  dances  and  ceremonies  filmed  …  to  enable  people  of  the  area  to  share  the  

rhythmic  and  non-­‐verbal  arts  of  their  ancestors,  to  reacquire  items  where  moribund  and  add  to  

these  audiovisual  records.”      His  plan  called  for  all  field  work  teams  “to  be  equipped  with  a  tape  

recorder,  a  tape  duplicator,  a  video  camera  and  a  video  tape  duplicator,  which  might  be  left  on  

site  having  been  cooperatively  used  to  record  as  much  of  the  expressive  behavior  as  possible.”        

He  indicated  that  ‘the  return’  entails  mutual  engagement  in  research  and  presentation  of  

culture,  with  the  outside  scholar  “providing  media  training  …  setting  up  oral  history  activities  of  

the  sort  the  communities  want  and  designing  the  kind  of  museums  that  might  be  required”  

(1987,  1-­‐3).          

 As  in  so  much  of  what  he  wrote  and  accomplished,  Lomax  was  prescient  in  this  

comprehensive  schema  for  mutual  engagement,  suggesting  an  ideal  yet  to  be  realized  –  even  

  47  
by  himself.    Lomax  certainly  had  his  share  of  contradictions,  and  his  relationships  with  others  

were  shaped  by  his  overwhelming  personality  and  a  distinctive  vision  that  he  pursued  

relentlessly.        Both  by  conviction  and  by  necessity,  anthropologists  and  folklorists  are  now  

engaged  in  ‘the  return’  and  attempt  mutual  engagement;    efforts  in  this  regard  include  

reframing  ‘informants’  as  ‘collaborators’  and  training  ‘community  scholars’                                                                                                                                  

to  document  and  present  their  own  traditions.    However,  intellectual  appraisals  are  still  shared  

too  rarely  between  ethnographers  and  the  communities  they  study,  and  the  scholar  too  often  

maintains  academic  privilege.    Scholars  who  equip  communities  to  document  their  own  

cultures  are  likewise  all  too  uncommon.      Power  asymmetries  are  always  intrinsic  to  the  

relationships  of  ethnographers  and  the  communities  they  study,  although  these  power  

imbalances  may  be  diminished  when  the  folklorist  shares  authority  for  representation.  At  

times,  folklorists  have  disempowered  themselves  by  turning  over  responsibility  for  

representation  entirely  to  local  communities  (see  Baron  1999,  2010).          Self-­‐documentation  is  

proliferating  as  communities  take  care  of  their  own  business  using  inexpensive  recording  

technology  and  the  Internet,  placing  the  onus  on  scholars  to  demonstrate  the  value  of  

systematic  ethnographic  documentation.    

  Alan  Lomax  had  a  massive  impact  upon  small-­‐scale  cultures  and  the  world  at  large.    He  

helped  awaken  America  and  Great  Britain  to  their  folk  heritage  with  broadcasts,  concerts  and  

recordings  based  upon  his  field  research.      He  was  a  major  catalyst  for  folk  revivals  and  helped  

lay  a  foundation  for  a  worldwide  revolution  in  popular  culture  through  recordings  of  great  blues  

singers  and  other  musicians  who  greatly  influenced  rock  music.      As  a  prototype  for  the  

folklorist  as  cultural  broker,  he  connected  artists  to  audiences  and  markets  beyond  their  own  
  48  
communities  by  means  of  the  mass  media,  recordings,  public  presentations  and  the  

development  of  cultural  policies.      He  shaped  the  development  of  American  national  folklife  

programs  and  articulated  a  remarkable,  comprehensive  vision  for  a  national  folk  cultural  policy.    

Long  before  the  emergence  of  public  folklore  as  a  major  focus  of  the  field  of  folklore  studies,  

Lomax  contended  that  all  folklorists  should  be  advocates  for  traditional  artists  and  their  

communities.    While  recognizing  that  communities  can  safeguard  their  traditions  through  

resilience  and  resistance  to  the  hegemony  of  mass  culture,  he  showed  that  it  is  often  necessary    

for  folklorists  to  intervene  in  order  to  sustain  folklore  by  documenting  it  and  enabling  traditions  

to  be  presented  anew.      With  one  eye  on  endangered  traditions  and  the  other  on  broad  

audiences,  Lomax  combined  the  two  with  parallax  vision,  conceptualizing  and  experimenting  

with  feedback  loops  of  two-­‐way  communication  and  presentation  methods  grounded  in  

customary  modes  of  performance  that  engaged  new  audiences  while  also  reinvigorating  

traditions  within  communities.    He  was  a  maverick  in  folklore  studies,  an  outsider  in  a  field  that  

specializes  in  the  marginal,  though  his  substantial  influences  upon  the  field  as  both  a  theorist  

and  practitioner  have  not  been  fully  acknowledged.  

Today,  relationships  between  center  and  periphery  are  being  reconfigured,  placing  into  

question  some  of  Lomax’s  concerns  about  the  marginalization  and  fragility  of  local  cultures.    

Individuals  and  groups  from  cultures  anywhere  in  the  world  can  now  readily  upload  traditional  

performances  on  YouTube,  thousands  of  formerly  difficult-­‐to-­‐find    recordings  of  traditional  

performances  are  available  online,  and  community  members  can  easily  and  accessibly  record  

traditional  events  with  smart  phones  and  sophisticated  mass-­‐produced  digital  cameras.    

Multiculturalism  is  far  more  accepted  nowadays  (due,  again,  in  no  small  part  to  Lomax’s  
  49  
influence),  to  the  point  where  it  has  become  problematic  to  locate  what  is  culturally  normative.      

Communities  everywhere  are  interested  in  recovering  and  promoting  their  heritage,  just  as  

individuals  are  trying  to  connect  to  their  ancestral  roots.    But  academic  and  cultural  

establishments  still  devalue  the  local,  and  American  commercial  entertainment  industries  

maintain  a  strong  hegemony  that  shuts  out  local  vernacular  expressions.    While  electronic  

media  easily  facilitate  community  self-­‐documentation,  they  also  enable  rapid  appropriation  of  

traditional  cultural  practices  by  outsiders,  engendering  new  threats  to  small-­‐scale  cultures.        As  

Lomax  might  say,  cultural  health  is  one  of  the  great  public  health  issues  of  the  day.    Folklore,  as  

always,  is  a  potent  antidote  to  alienation,  and  there  needs  to  be  much  more  power  to  the  

periphery.  

New  York  State  Council  on  the  Arts  

New  York  City  

Acknowledgments  

I  presented  an  earlier  version  at  this  essay  at  “Crossovers:  Conversations  in  Celebration  of  John  

F.  Szwed”,  at  Yale  University  in  May  2008.      That  presentation  drew  from  my  remarks  

moderating  the  session  “Equity  and  Cultural  Policy”  at  “The  Lomax  Legacy:  Folklore  in  a  

Globalizing  Century,”  a  symposium  at  the  American  Folklife  Center  of  the  Library  of  Congress  in  

January  2006.      Research  for  this  essay  was  carried  out  while  I  was  a  Non-­‐Resident  Fellow  of  the  

W.E.B.  Du  Bois  Institute  for  African  and  African-­‐American  Research  at  Harvard  University.    I  am  

grateful  to  Guha  Shankar,  John  Szwed,  and  Anna  Lomax  Wood  for  their  advice  and  

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encouragement.    Photocopies  of  documents  from  the  Alan  Lomax  Collection  at  the  Library  of  

Congress  were  viewed  at  the  Association  for  Cultural  Equity  (ACE)  in  New  York  City.    Anna  

Lomax  Wood  facilitated  access  to  the  copies  held  by  ACE,  and  Todd  Harvey  generously  located  

citation  information  about  the  original  materials  at  the  American  Folklife  Center  of  the  Library  

of  Congress.  

Notes  

                                                                                                                         

1
 Writing  in  the  New  York  Times,  Larry  Rohter  noted  that  “Lomax’s  use  of  personal  computers  to  help  develop  

criteria  to  identify  and  classify”  commonalities  in  musical  styles  worldwide  involved  “creating  something  very  much  

like  the  algorithms  used  today  by  Pandora  and  other  music  streaming  services”  (2012).        For  the  Association  of  

Cultural  Equity’s  online  archives,  go  to  http://research.culturalequity.org/  .      More  information  about  the  Alan  

Lomax  Collection  at  the  Library  of  Congress  is  available  at  http://www.loc.gov/folklife/lomax/  .  

2
 The  Smithsonian  Festival  of  American  Folklife  is  now  known  as  the  Smithsonian  Folklife  Festival,  and  the  Folk  Arts  

Program  of  the  National  Endowment  for  the  Arts  is  now  known  as  the  Folk  and  Traditional  Arts  Program  of  the  

National  Endowment  for  the  Arts.  

3
 For  instance,  Lomax  proposed  that  the  Carter  administration  create  a  Presidential  Commission  on  Grass  Roots  

Culture  and  suggested  that  the  Federal  Communications  Commission  “might  assign  staff  to  implement  the  

regulations  under  which  licensees  are  required  to  devote  a  reasonable  amount  of  air  time  to  local  affairs  and  local  

cultural  activities”  ([197-­‐?  b]  ),  5).  

4
 At  the  Midcentury  International  Folklore  Conference,  Lomax  wrote  that  folklore  in  its  “nationalistic  or  even  its  

regionalistic  form  …  can  be  not  only  ugly  but  downright  dangerous”  ([1952]  2003,  114).  

  51  
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

5
John  Szwed  indicates  that  Lomax’s  proposal  reached  Carter  “through  Andrew  Young,  who  passed  it  on  to  Stuart  E.  

Eizenstat,  of  Carter’s  campaign,  and  later  Carter’s  chief  domestic  policy  advisor.”    Eizenstat  “urged”  Lomax  to  

“apply  for  a  job  within  the  incoming  administration.”    Though  Lomax  never  submitted  an  application,  he  did  attend  

Carter’s  inauguration,  “where  he  introduced  the  Georgia  Sea  Island  Singers”  (Szwed  2010:370).    

6
 Blues  in  the  Mississippi  Night  was  recorded  in  1946  following  a  concert  produced  by  Lomax  in  New  York  CIty,  but  

it  was  not  released  until  1959.        The  bluesmen  initially  asked  for  the  recordings  to  be  destroyed,  but  the  artists  

eventually  agreed  that  the  recordings  could  be  retained  under  the  condition  that  Lomax  never  reveal  their  

identities.    

7
 The  proposal  for  the  1939    World’s  Fair  also  recommended  that  lectures  by  leading  folklorists  and  performers  be  

presented  at  the  fair,  on  topics  which  included  a  “Symposium  on  American  Folk  Music,”  (including  Charles  Seeger,  

George  Pullen  Jackson,  and  Robert  Gordon),  “Hot  Jazz”      (with  John  Hammond,  Benny  Goodman  and  Louis  

Armstrong,  among  others),  “Regional  Literature”  (including  J.  Frank  Dobie,  Frances  Densmore,  Benjamin  Botkin,  

and  Sterling  Brown);  “The  American  Folk  Tale”  (to  feature  Franz  Boas,  Stith  Thompson,  Martha  Beckwith  and  Zora  

Neale  Hurston),  and  “the  Ballad  in  America”  (including  Louise  Pound,  George  Lyman  Kittredge,  Herbert  Halpert,  

Reed  Smith,  and  John  A.  Lomax).      Szwed  notes  that  Lomax  wanted  the  symposium  to  occur  in  the  “American  Folk  

Theatre,  a  concert  hall  and  educational  center  for  the  popular  arts”  which  would  “ease  audiences  into  folk  culture  

and  avoid  the  chaos  of  the  typical  folk  festival”  by  offering  both  “academic  symposia”  and  “carefully  scripted  

concerts  that  would  put  folk  music  in  historic  and  aesthetic  context”  (Szwed  2010,  132)  

6  Szwed  indicates  that  “a  series  of  bureaucratic  tangles  and  turf  wars  resulted  in  the  musical  events  either  being  

appropriated  by  the  director  of  entertainment’s  office  or  not  being  approved  at  all.”    For  example,  “The  African  

American  juke  joint  was  made  a  concession  for  the  owners  of  the  Savoy  ballroom”  (133).  

 
  52  
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       

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                   .  (1959)  2003a.   Blues  in  the  Mississippi  Night.  CD.  Rounder  Records.  82161-­‐1860-­‐2.  

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                   .  (1959)  2003c.  “The  `Folkniks’  –  and  the  Songs  they  Sing.”      In  Alan  Lomax:  Selected  
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                   .  (1961)    2003.  “Folk  Song  Traditions  Are  All  Around  Us.”    In  Alan  Lomax:  Selected  
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                   .  1967.  “Compiler’s  Postscript.”    In  Hard-­‐Hitting  Songs  for  Hard-­‐Hit  People,  compiled  by  
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                   .  1968.      Folk  Song  Style  and  Culture.    Washington,  DC:  American  Association  for  the  
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                   .  [197-­‐?a].  “We  Need  a  Grass  Roots  Communications  System.”      Unpublished  ms.    Alan  
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                   .  [197-­‐?b].  “Toward  a  Presidential  Commission  on  Grass  Roots  Culture.”    Unpublished  ms.    
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                   .  (1972)    2003.  “Appeal  for  Cultural  Equity.”    In  Alan  Lomax:  Selected  Writings  1934-­‐1997,  
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                   .  [1974?]    “Theoretical  Points  for  Smithsonian.”    Undated  notes.  Alan  Lomax  Collection  
(AFC  2004/004),  fol.  130410.    American  Folklife  Center,  Library  of  Congress.  

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                   .    1975a.  Letter  to  James  Morris,  April  25.  Alan  Lomax  Collection  (AFC  2004/004),  fol.  
180402  (2/2).    American  Folklife  Center,  Library  of  Congress.  

                   .  1975b.  Letter  to  Yasuko  Ichioka,  August  19.  Alan  Lomax  Collection  (AFC  2004/004),  fol.  
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                   .  1977.  Letter  to  Ralph  Rinzler,  May  12.    Alan  Lomax  Collection  (AFC  2004/004),  fol.  
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                   .  1979.  Letter  to  Joseph  Duffy,  February  28.    Alan  Lomax  Collection  (AFC  2004/004),  fol.  
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                   .  1980.  Letter  to  Burt  Feintuch,  March  23.    Alan  Lomax  Collection  (AFC  2004/004),  
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                   .  (1982)  2003.    “Folk  Music  in  the  Roosevelt  Era.”    In  Alan  Lomax:  Selected  Writings  1934-­‐
1997,  edited  by  Ronald  D.  Cohen,  92-­‐106.    New  York:  Routledge.      

                   .  1987.  “Micro-­‐Polynesian  Folk  Arts  Plan.”      Unpublished  ms.    Alan  Lomax  Collection  (AFC  
2004/004),  American  Folklife  Center,  Library  of  Congress.  

                   .  1993.  The  Land  Where  the  Blues  Began.    New  York:  Pantheon.  

Lomax,  Alan  and  Nicholas  Ray.    1940.    Back  Where  I  Come  From.    Radio  Script,  Columbia  
Broadcasting  System,      October  21.    Alan  Lomax  Collection.  (AFC  2004/004),  fol.  040102  (2/3).    
American  Folklife  Center,  Library  of  Congress.  

Lombardi-­‐Satriani,    Luigi.  1974.    “Folklore  as  Culture  of  Contestation.”    Journal  of  the  Folklore  
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Mannheim,  Karl.    1936.    Ideology  and  Utopia.  New  York:  Harcourt  Brace.  

Oring,  Elliot.  2004.  “Folklore  and  Advocacy:  A  Response.”    Journal  of  Folklore  Research  41:  259-­‐
67.  

People’s  Songs.  n.d.  “Two  Hootenannies”  Promotional  Flyer.    Alan  Lomax  Collection.  (AFC  
2004/004),  fol.  230103  (4/4).    American  Folklife  Center,  Library  of  Congress.  

Rohter,  Larry.  2012.  “Folklorist’s  Global  Jukebox  Goes  Digital.”  New  York  Times,  January  20.    
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/31/arts/music/the-­‐alan-­‐lomax-­‐collection-­‐from-­‐the-­‐
american-­‐folklife-­‐center.html.    Accessed  March  25,  2012.  

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Scott,  James  C.  1984.      Weapons  of  the  Weak:  Everyday  Forms  of  Peasant  Resistance.  New  
Haven,  CT:  Yale  University  Press.    

Sheehy,  Daniel.  1992.  “A  Few  Notions  about  Philosophy  and  Strategy  in  Applied  
Ethnomusicology.”    Ethnomusicology    36:323-­‐36.  

Smithsonian  Institution  Division  of  Performing  Arts.  “Notes  on  meeting  1/17/75  with  Alan  
Lomax  and  Bess  Lomax  Hawes  in  New  York  City.    DPA  staff  participating:  Ralph  and  Susie  C.”    
Alan  Lomax  Collection.  (AFC  2004/004,    American  Folklife  Center,  Library  of  Congress.  

Szwed,  John.  2010.    Alan  Lomax:  The  Man  Who  Recorded  the  World.    New  York:  Viking.  

Thompson,  Stith.  1953.  Four  Symposia  on  Folklore.    Indiana  Folklore  Series,  no.  8.    Bloomington:  
Indiana  University  Press.    

Turner,  Rory.  2010.    “Arkansas  Talk.”    Keynote  Address  to  the  Arkansas  Arts  Council,  Artslink  
Conference,  October  25,  In  Little  Rock,  AK.  
http://blogs.goucher.edu/culturalsustainability/2010/10/29/arkansas-­‐talk/.  Accessed  April  1,  
2012.    

Weintraub,  Andrew  N.    2009.  “Introduction”  in  Music  and  Cultural  Rights,  edited  by  Andrew  N.  
Weintraub  and  Bell  Yung,  1-­‐18.    Urbana:  University  of  Illinois  Press.  

Whisnant,  David.    1988.    “Public  Sector  Folklore  as  Intervention:    Lessons  from  the  Past,  
Prospects  for  the  Future.”    In  The  Conservation  of  Culture:  Folklorists  and  the  Public  Sector,                                                            
edited  by  Burt  Feintuch,  233-­‐47.      Lexington,  KY:  The  University  Press  of  Kentucky.      

Robert  Baron  directs  the  Folk  Arts  Program  and  Museum  Program  at  the  New  York  State  

Council  on  the  Arts  and  teaches  in  the  Goucher  College  Master  of  Arts  in  Cultural  Sustainability  

Program.    His  publications  include  Public  Folklore  (with  Nick  Spitzer,  1992)  and  Creolization  as  

Cultural  Creativity  (with  Ana  Cara,  2011).    Baron  holds  a  PhD  in  Folklore  and  Folklife  from  the  

University  of  Pennsylvania;  he  has  been  a  Smithsonian  Fellow  in  Museum  Practice  and  a  

Fulbright  Senior  Specialist  in  Finland  and  the  Philippines.    (rbtbaron@gmail.com)  

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