Nov. 13, 2005 "With great relief and tremendous pride, " Anna Lomax Wood symbolically placed the Caribbean archives of her father, folklorist and musicologist Alan Lomax, into the care of the Alton Augustus Adams Music Research Institute in Charlotte Amalie and its parent institution, the Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College Chicago.
Lomax spent much of his working time traveling the world to collect the sound, words and history of folk music. Traveling with a three-foot speaker, recording equipment which present-day musicologists would find primitive, and pen and paper, he spent three months of that time in 1962 visiting 12 Caribbean countries, did 1,800 interviews and ended up with hours and hours of tapes of his fieldwork: interviews and audio clips. Some of the music has been recorded commercially by Rounder Records.
On his field trips, he found outstanding persons to accompany and assist him. On his Florida investigations, he was accompanied by Zora Neale Hurston. In the Eastern Caribbean travels, he was assisted by J.D. Elder, Roger Abraham and Derek Walcott.
The originals of the Caribbean fieldwork — some 60 hours of recordings — are archived in Washington, D.C., where Lomax and his father, John, co-founded the Library of Congress' Archive of American Folk Song and where Alan Lomax worked from 1932 until 1950 between field collecting trips.
Digitized copies will be housed at the Adams Institute, where the material will be accessed on computer via a relational database, which provides music clips and photographs as one conducts a search of the catalogue. The material is not on site as yet. Additional digitized copies of the fieldwork for each island will be disseminated to the individual Caribbean islands as research entities are identified to house them. The first such dissemination, of St. Kitts and Nevis recordings, took place Nov. 14 at the Nevis Historical and Conservation Society.
The archives will not be locked away, Wood said in her presentation, but will be available for the region in which they were created. She provided audio clips and photographic stills during her speech. Her father had long wanted this return, never expecting it to be achieved so completely, and thought it was only a dream. "I am thrilled," she said.
Dr. Rosita Sands, director of both the Center and the Institute, said she was "profoundly honored to be the recipient." She announced that the collection of materials will be named the "Alan and Anna Lomax Collection of Caribbean Music."
Dr. Orville Kean, formerly president of the University of the Virgin Islands, in his brief remarks earlier in the program, praised Alan Lomax's belief that everyone's music should have equal time in the classroom and in the community.
Dr. Samuel Floyd Jr., founder and for 19 years director of the Center for Black Music Research, said Alan Lomax contributed more to American vernacular music than anyone. He was the first to record Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter, Woody Guthrie, and Muddy Waters. Lomax's "enormous database of music," Floyd said, provided two important contributions: It corrects the false assumptions about the Diaspora and, second, it has altered how we perceive Caribbean and African music. Quoting Rex Nettleford of Jamaica, Floyd said it's time "for the United States to recognize that it is part of the Americas."
"Lomax understood this," Floyd said.
The presentation took place Thursday at the Marriott Frenchman's Reef Resort during a well-attended program featuring Dr. Lois Hassell-Habtes as mistress of ceremonies, several commentaries, and musical accompaniment.
The final portion of the program punctuated the words with music, as the Lockhart School Quadrille Dancers, led by Sandra Reed, performed the Trinidad version of "Brown Girl in the Ring." The dancers were accompanied by Habtes on guitar and vocal. At the reception following, Koko and the Sunshine Band started their musical contribution with "Sly Mongoose" and continued playing music that some of the audience found worthy of dancing.
Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.