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Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR

Joe Offer 21 Feb 15 - 11:45 PM
Joe Offer 21 Feb 15 - 11:50 PM
Joe Offer 21 Feb 15 - 11:51 PM
Mrrzy 22 Feb 15 - 06:03 PM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 23 Feb 15 - 11:44 AM
GUEST,Joseph Scott 15 Jun 15 - 03:00 PM
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Subject: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Joe Offer
Date: 21 Feb 15 - 11:45 PM

Subject: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Mrrzy
Date: 08 Feb 15 - 09:41 PM

Fascinating column on NPR on Alan Lomax and how he got wardens to force black prisoners to sing or else, among other interesting stuff...

Most other Alan Lomax threads available by searching for Lomax (can't do a blicky to a search like that), for simplicity's sake, but I didn't find anything that was germane so I started a new thread.

I didn't know half this stuff, as Doonesbury put it.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 09 Feb 15 - 05:01 AM

This is a disturbing read. The story about the prison guard pushing a black prisoner in front of Lomax's microphone and the prisoner, thinking that if he did not sing he would be punished, makes for difficult reading. It reminds me of something that the English song collector Peter Kennedy wrote about trying to get songs from a young Scottish traveller:

"Duncan McPhee, age 19, proved to be somewhat shy about singing his Scottish stanzas. Even though he was among his peers, the other teenage Travelers (sic) at the Perthshire raspberry-picking camp, Hamish Henderson and Peter Kennedy, amid shouts of "Come on, Duncan!" had to appeal to the company as a whole to use their group coercion. This eventually involved picking him up bodily and threatening to roast Duncan over the flames of the campfire. (It sometimes happens that collectors, in order to rescue important ballads and preserve our musical heritage, have to resort to somewhat drastic methods.)"

Why, I have often wondered, did Kennedy do such a thing and why did he tell people about his actions, which he clearly felt were justified? And this brings me back to the Lomax story and the "trembling and sweating" prisoner. According to the article "Lomax wasn't ashamed of his methods". But is that really the case? Or, as I suspect, was Lomax actually trying, in a round-about way, to tell the world about the brutality that existed in the southern prison camps at that time?

In a recent review of the Dust-to-Digital double CD and book set, Parchman Farm, I wrote:

"I have long had problems coming to terms with Alan Lomax. I never met him, but have met many people who did know him. Many said that he was arrogant; others said that he was a pain in the butt. I felt that he was too quick to copyright (to himself) any song that he came across. And yet, when I read his books, I have often come across another side of the man. He once said that his job was to be a conduit through which 'the common man could speak … could tell his side of the story'. Now that I like.

I also like this story, told by Bruce Jackson in the book. In 1983 Jackson was attending the annual meeting of the American Folklore Society held that year in a Nashville hotel. Jackson had just been elected President of the Society and was expected to deliver a keynote speech that night. But, in the elevator, he met up with Bess Lomax Hawes, who suggested that they went to Alan Lomax's room to collect him, before going down to the conference room. When they arrived at Lomax's room Lomax suggested that they should have a drink. And, of course, one drink led to another. Soon, Lomax was telling stories, one after another, and before they knew it, three hours had passed. There were 'stories about working with his father, stories about people we all knew, stories about people only he knew, stories about doing the work. Three hours of it. It was just magnificent'. Jackson continues:
I remember one sentence out of all the sentences he said that night. He had gotten onto the subject of academic folklorists and he pointed down to the floor, towards the place however many stories below us they were doing their speechifying:

They squoze and they squoze, he said, and they produced another generation of pedants just like the generation of pedants they wanted to replace. But without the beautiful manners.

How can you not love somebody who can summarize a generation of ambitious and competitive pedants like that? That was the best evening I ever had at an American Folklore Society meeting."

At last, a story that I can relate to, about a man whom I now feel able to understand and empathize with, because in this instance he was right. Too many people feel able to pontificate these days on folk music. And often their knowledge comes from books and libraries, rather than from the actual lips of the people who have produced this music. But it takes guts and determination to produce recordings such as the ones that Alan Lomax made in Mississippi in the 1940s and '50s. Read his book, 'The Land Where the Blues Began', and listen to his stories about being run out of town after town by white sheriffs, who objected to him mixing with black people in his search for the music of America. And, despite such treatment, Lomax continued in his quest throughout his life. This book and CD set are, indeed, a fitting tribute to one of the world's great song collectors.

In a sense, Alan Lomax does not need defending. His work is there for all to see and hear. I have some practical experience when it comes to collecting songs and tales etc. I know how difficult it can be to get singers to actually sing in front of a microphone. And I also know how easy it is for later academic folklorists to sit in their ivory towers and criticise the people who actually get out into the field. That is why I prefer to read what Alan Lomax had to say about his singers, rather than read the later comments of people whose motives often remain hidden and unknown.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Feb 15 - 06:14 AM

Would go along with what Mike said 100% - too often is the work of pioneers denigrated and dismissed when taken on hearsay or out of context.
Would also go along with Jackson's recommendation "Read his book, 'The Land Where the Blues Began'" to get a picture of both the man and the context
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Mrrzy
Date: 09 Feb 15 - 10:21 AM

I knew this would be the place to put that article. Great info from y'all. Fascinating stuff.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 09 Feb 15 - 02:51 PM

A pedant is someone who is excessively concerned with minor details. Generally, Alan was certainly anything but that. But ever seen cantometrics?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Feb 15 - 03:01 PM

"But ever seen cantometrics?"
Seemed to go the same was as Charlie Seeger's Melograph - overtaken by the computer before it ot off the ground
Wasn't there a similar project on dance - Choreometrics?
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 09 Feb 15 - 03:04 PM

Should read "same way"
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Felipa
Date: 09 Feb 15 - 05:35 PM

Peter Kennedy's account seems to me "tongue in cheek"




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Felipa
Date: 09 Feb 15 - 06:02 PM

I would not jump to the conclusion that Lomax asked the guards to point guns and be domineering with the prisoners; I expect that's the way the guards acted anyway.

Also his selectivity in wanting to hear "authentic" songs would be common to folklore collectors working among any group of people. "after a few fruitless circuits of greater Castleisland, Munnelly complained to Carroll: 'Sometimes I'll go through this sort of thing for two solid days and wind up with some ould one singing I'll Take You Home, Kathleen'." http://www.irishtimes.com/culture/heritage/in-search-of-lost-rhyme-an-irishman-s-diary-on-the-song-collecting-of-tom-munnelly-1.2091397




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 08:34 AM

I'm surprised that this hasn't attracted more comment, given the status of the subject, and the controversial nature of the programme.

I'd suggest that anyone who's interested listens to the entire 13-minute broadcast rather than relying on the written transcription, which paraphrases a lot and omits several very contentious statements. Now, there are far greater Lomax experts out there than a mere Englishman like me, and I hesitate to take issue with eminent American professors, but this programme seems to me so determined to find fault as to lose any sense of balance.

You can guess at what's coming by the partisan tone of the title: 'How Lomax segregated music'. What - the man who brought Hobart Smith together with Bessie Jones and Ed Young - a segregationist? Doesn't sound quite right. The nature of some of the criticism will be familiar to anyone who's read Dave Harker and the various critiques of Cecil Sharp: the collector finds only that which fits his own preconceptions, thus presenting an inaccurate picture of the culture in question. We read in the transcript that "If a man gave him a Tin Pan Alley number or a church song, Lomax wasn't terribly interested". The actual quote in the audio is: "If a man gave him a Tin Pan Alley number or a church song, Lomax would wave and just drive away". After hearing one song he didn't approve of? Really?

Karl Hagstrom Miller tells us that, "There's a difference between what folklorists were searching for, and what people were listening to and enjoying". Even if we grant him the assumption that the commercial music that people were "listening to and enjoying" was also what they were actually singing, you wonder whether Lomax's collection would have been of greater value if he had assiduously recorded every Tin Pan Alley ditty and thus left himself starved of time and tape to record the unique stuff that he found. As Felipa says, some kind of focus is essential to this kind of collecting.

Miller also criticizes the narrowness of Lomax's collecting criteria: "He asked for songs that fit into his idea of old-time folk songs." You have to wonder what 'his idea of old-time folk songs' might have been, given that during his collecting career he recorded such an astonishing variety of African-American material including fiddle tunes, Menhaden fishermen's rowing shanties, Mississipi fife and drum bands, children's singing games and lots of sacred music, as well as the blues (both acoustic and electric) and prison work songs that the programme chooses to focus on almost exclusively.

"Where does he find his real, raw, authentic black music?" asks the presenter, before stating with finality: "In the penitentiary." Period. But what about the church, the front porch, the fishing village? Ah, but now we're told, in a tone of incredulity, that "It would take fourteen years before he recorded in a black church!" I'm not sure what year they've counted from, but Lomax's first tapes were made in 1946, and he recorded in three black churches in 1948. Who's done the research here? I found that in two minutes.

And that passage about the convict 'trembling and sweating', that Mike Yates found so disturbing? Yes, it is disturbing, but like Felipa I read it as Lomax's horrified account of routine brutality in the camp. Yet the programme makers, by insinuating the statement that 'reluctant subjects could be coerced' are effectively telling us that prisoners were forced to sing at gunpoint to Lomax's order, an outrageous suggestion.

Much is also made by Dwandalyn Reece and others of the intertwining of black and white music over many years, the implication being that Lomax was either unaware of it, or deliberately suppressed his knowledge of it. It's a good general point, but Lomax was the man who made recordings of Hobart Smith, of Sid Hemphill, and of Dock Boggs, for heaven's sake!

Finally, the remark that really made my eyebrows his the ceiling (again omitted from the transcript, but cropping up at 4' 37' in the audio): "Here's the real problem. Lomax's blind spot. He was in search of pure black music, not realising that, for the most part, it wasn't there." Anyone who's looked at folk music in any depth knows very well that looking for 'pure' anything is likely to be a fruitless task, and I doubt very much whether the above represents Lomax's own words. But should we believe that there was no distinctly African-American music during the period Lomax was collecting?

It's true that the programme makers pay lip-service to Lomax's huge contribution, and at least they got Dom Flemons along to provide a token balancing opinion, but overall this is highly prejudiced. I know it's healthy for the giants in the field – like Cecil Sharp himself – to have their methods and their conclusions held up to scrutiny, and perhaps Lomax had an unattractive side too, but this is just a demolition job.

More debate on this, please!




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Deckman
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 09:02 AM

Brian ... well done. I have also viewed, several times, the interview. If one opens his brain to it, there is a LOT of information. After I try to get some sleep, I'll post again about another aspect of the interview ... which is Lomax's comments regarding "popular music." He put,in very few words, the essance of my life long complaint. CHEERS, bob(deckman)nelson ((btw ... I enjoyed your concert in Seattle a little while back))




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 09:46 AM

Have you ever heard the proverb "The tall tree catches the wind"? It means that the person who stands above the crowd gets gossiped about.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 09:50 AM

I've heard it called 'Tall poppy syndrome' but, yes, that's apt.

Hi Bob Deckman!




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 11:08 AM

> 'How Lomax segregated music'.

Absolutely and insufferably absurd.

> Read his book, 'The Land Where the Blues Began'" to get a picture of both the man and the context.

The best advice. Even after growing up during the Civil Rights Era (Parchman Farm, cross-burnings, murdered Freedom Riders, slaying of Medgar Evers, the bombing of churches), I found Lomax's account of conditions in southern Mississippi in the '30s - in *and* out of prison - appalling almost beyond belief.

> He was in search of pure black music, not realising that, for the most part, it wasn't there.

Maybe what this means is that "pure black music" wasn't in the prisons. Overlooking the "pure," a lot of it obviously was: most of the black convicts (some of them elderly in the '30s) had grown up in a segregated and marginalized society mostly uninfluenced by Tin Pan Alley and supposedly "pure" white music.

From the article:

"This much is undeniable: right at the time the Civil Rights movement was trying to bring whites and blacks together in a common cause, Lomax drew a hard line between white music and black music that — with help from the record companies — helped keep us apart."

This is so vastly exaggerated as to be almost meaningless. Lomax certainly made an intellectual distinction between black and white *styles* and *preferences* because he saw such distinctions - as have most other people. A "hard and fast line"? Never. A look at the intro to "Folk Songs of North America" shows what malarkey that is. And the record companies had been segregating white- and black-style disks from long before Lomax appeared on the scene - in part to make it easier for buyers to find what they were looking for. (You mean there's no discernible difference today between "Country-Western" and "Rhythm 'n' Blues"? And is that difference segregationist and racist?)

As Bryan suggests, the "helped keep us apart" may be the most foolish statement of all. The actual evidence for that is...what? How many segregationists even heard of Alan Lomax? And if they did, how many said, "Black music? Blues? Thank God this Lomax guy has taught me to hate it!"




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 12:48 PM

I'm familiar with the name Karl Hagstrom Miller because he wrote a very poor book in which he selectively marshalled quotes from commentators on blues to serve the absurd notion that blues music did not arise as folk music. He showed so little familiarity with the history of folk music scholarship in that book that e.g. he pictured the use of the word "ballad" by a folklorist as evidence that the folklorist thought the song in question had a pop music association. (You know, "ballad"?)

The disassociation of early blues from folk music (which has zero actual merit -- all the guys W.C. Handy's age said the same thing Handy did, blues originated as folk music) has been popularized by the late Stephen Calt (because he was an unreliable eccentric who had a huge axe to grind with folkies) and Elijah Wald (because he was ignorant about early blues when he wrote his 2004 book, but had read Calt's Skip James book).




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 01:26 PM

Brian Peters. "More debate please".

Let me get the easy one out of the way first. Alan Lomax never recorded Dock Boggs. Boggs recorded commercially before the second world war, and for Mike Seeger and several others following his rediscovery. But not Alan Lomax.

More importantly, to call Lomax a segregationist is just plain ridiculous. Lomax in fact voiced his disgust at racism and at the Southern penal system in very passionate and highly eloquent terms on many occasions. For starters read the book everyone else has recommended, The Land Where the Blues Began. Also, read the sleeve notes to Murderers' Home, the LP of Parchman Farm prison songs which was issued in the 1950s. (Sorry, I can't remember whether they were incorporated into the either of the two CDs which Rounder made of Lomax's PF recordings, Murderous Home and Don'cha Hear Poor Mother Calling and I don't feel like getting off my butt to take a look.) Come to think of it, would Guthrie, Seeger and the rest of the New York radicals have had anything to do with him if he had been in favour of racial segregation?

In any event, the article is misleading in two respects. Firstly, Lomax never recorded in a black church in his early days because of the limitations of his recording equipment, not because of any antipathy towards the music. Secondly, Lomax recorded in at least one black college. I can't remember the details, but some of the results are on one of the Deep River of Song CDs.

For that matter, far from being a segregationist, Lomax was the man who encouraged the Georgia Sea Island Singers and Hobart Smith to record together, in an attempt to reconstruct the music of the anti-bellum American South.

Regarding what Lomax did or did not record, yes he was looking for what he regarded as the authentic music of America, and that precluded tin pan alley songs. But even if he had wanted to record everything there's a question of time and cost, and recording media in those days was hideously expensive.

Then there's the passage about "But when the Lomaxes were able to get the cooperation of a prison warden, their subjects could be coerced. "Presently the guard came out, pushing a Negro man in stripes along at the point of his gun," Lomax wrote about one session. "The poor fellow, evidently afraid he was to be punished, was trembling and sweating in an extremity of fear. The guard shoved him before our microphone.""

This is naive beyond belief. The whole point of the prison system is that it was intentionally brutal and Lomax, or any other collector would simply have had to go along with it. Indeed, had Lomax been this guy's lawyer - and yes, some Black arrestees did have lawyers – the guard would still have pushed the prisoner in at the point of a gun. That was simply the way Black prisoners were treated. No fault of Lomax's.

What infuriates me about this piece is that it seems to draw on the work of two folklorists, neither of whom I am familiar with. However, if either of them has made any criticisms of Lomax's collecting methods, I'm willing to bet they are a lot more balanced and objective than the piece of writing we're discussing.

Let's not forget who we are dealing with. Alan Lomax was, together with Hamish Henderson, the man who discovered Jimmy MacBeath and Davy Stewart. He was the man who helped to kick-start the English and Scottish folk revivals. He was also the person who first unearthed Fred McDowell and, while his father John Lomax deserves most of the credit, he was there when the two of them discovered Leadbelly.

He made the first in depth audio interview of any musician that I ever heard of, namely Jelly Roll Morton, and followed it up a couple of years later with a similar groundbreaking recording of Woody Guthrie. When he wasn't doing all that, he somehow found the time to conduct extensive field trips in Italy and Spain. This at a time when Spain was a fascist country and deeply hostile to Marxists like Lomax. Indeed, he spent much of his time in that country being hounded by the goons of Franco's police forces.

Add to that, his work in the Bahamas and his 1959 Southern Journey, and the wonderful array of recordings which came out of that, and we are face to face with the man who could justifiably claim to be the world's most important folk music collector - ever.

Alan Lomax's methods are not above criticism, and I have come across too many complaints of his hassling his informants for them to be ignored. Nevertheless, his is not a name to be trifled with, or to be abused in some shoddy article by some reporter or other who probably hasn't a clue what he is talking about.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 01:33 PM

Sorry folks. I just posted the above and realised I'd made a bollix of the following sentence. "Boggs recorded for commercial record companies and for Mike Seeger and several others following his rediscovery. But not Alan Lomax."

It would make more sense had it read, "Boggs recorded commercially before the second world war, and for Mike Seeger and several others following his rediscovery. But not Alan Lomax." The Seeger recordings were of course subsequently issued by Folkways.

Also, regarding Joseph Scott's comments about Karl Hagstrom Miller. That would figure, and probably explain why his name was unknown to me.

The sentence mentioned in your first paragraph was corrected in the post above, but since you made more comments this post is left in place. --mudelf




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 02:02 PM

Thanks, Fred.

> "Presently the guard came out, pushing a Negro man in stripes along at the point of his gun," Lomax wrote about one session. "The poor fellow, evidently afraid he was to be punished, was trembling and sweating in an extremity of fear. The guard shoved him before our microphone."

First of all, can anyone believe that Lomax was expressing his approval?

Second, black or white, the man was a convict in the rural South in the 1930s, and the guard was "pushing," not striking. (If he had been, Lomax would have said so.)

Third, the guy was probably trembling because he'd suddenly been summoned before a white authority figure. Did he keep trembling after he found that Lomax only wanted to hear songs?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 02:18 PM

From the show:

"There certainly were not a lot of people who were interested in African-American culture." After Newman White had written his '20s book that was more sensibly reasoned than anything Alan Lomax ever wrote? After Howard Odum's '20s books? After Dorothy Scarborough's '20s book? After Thomas Talley's '20s book? After Abbe Niles' section of Handy's '20s book? Krehbiel's 1914 book? E.C. Perrow? The Thomas brothers? Charles Peabody? Etc.?

"He imagined himself in battle with... the radio." No, he WAS in battle with the influence of the radio on folk music. No "imagination" was involved there at all, you patronizing...

Even when giving Alan "his due" they don't know what they're talking about.

Hagstrom Miller says Alan Lomax asked for "old-time folk songs." Oh no! He actually didn't do that as consistently as his father did, but in any case, wasn't that exactly the point of what he was doing? No one _needed_ to document what Lil Green sounded like for posterity, because Lil Green was being recorded commercially, because her style was current.

"He never recorded at black colleges." Fort Valley State College was a black college. Alan Lomax, 2/27/42 letter to Harold Spivacke: "I had definitely decided to go down [to record at the Fort Valley Folk Festival] when I noticed that John Work... who... is using our blanks for field purposes... might do the recording in my place and thus save the Library a considerable sum of money.... May I suggest that the following funds... be allocated to this project." This was the festival where e.g. Sidney Stripling b. about 1882 was recorded singing "Coonjine." (Which is definitely an old-time folk song, not Lil Green like Alan should have been trying to document for posterity.)

Hagstrom Miller or whoever it is saying that we don't have an opportunity to hear what middle-class and upper-class African-Americans were into. Gee, were those the people who could afford to buy more _commercial_ records than poor blacks could? By the likes of, say, Duke Ellington, whose 1930-1949 commercial studio recordings fill about thirty CDs?

Oh the scorn on the word "penitentiary." How relatively little-warranted (ask Leadbelly whether he wished the Lomaxes never existed). But how dramatic!

Alan Lomax said he wanted to "restore the balance," "cultural equity," with someone edited to respond, "That's a very complicated issue...." No, it's not. Alan's interest (however well carried out) in the meek getting more voice relative to the powerful in order to create "balance" for all individuals was virtuous and is not a complicated notion at all. Recording what Memphis Slim thought about whatever was giving voice to a relatively marginalized man while meanwhile the unmarginalized didn't need that.

Regarding reenforcing stereotypes: Did Alan Lomax ever claim to anyone that Cab Calloway or John Coltrane didn't make real black music? If so, I haven't seen it.

The music Alan Lomax recorded described by the narrator as "his music": here we go. Since when was that _Alan's_ music? Interesting, eh?

Alan was "trying" to collect true African-American cultural expression, the female interviewee says. Let's see, what _was_ Alan recording when he recorded the Pratcher brothers? Oh yeah, true African-American cultural expression. Who's "trying"?

All in all, I'd give the show an F.

I have plenty of criticisms of Alan Lomax (along with plenty of praise). He was a sloppy theorist. He was a romantic. People think e.g. that we have evidence that blues music originated in the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta (we have more that it originated in Louisiana) because... he felt like saying so. Sounded good to him (and it was a place _he_ had recorded relatively early, hmmm): reason enough to announce that to everyone for decades, if you're a sloppy romantic.

The use of the word "segregation" in summing up Alan Lomax's work is preposterous and offensive. Young whites who throw around interesting-sounding outright falsehoods about deceased whites because the market will bear it (and is more interested in falsehoods about _whites_ than in e.g. Fred McDowell, is there some irony there?) should be ashamed of themselves, and forgotten, and they will be.

One more: "It's possible that without Alan Lomax we wouldn't have had rock and roll as we know it."

Oh my God hahahahahaha! The rock and roll sound a la "Rock The Joint" by Chris Powell 1949 and "Rock That Boogie" by Jimmy Smith 1949 existed as of 1949 because black jump blues musicians got the idea to update mid-'40s jump blues to sound like gospel music as a sacrilegious joke. ("Rocking," deacons, etc. in the lyrics were references to "rocking in the bosom of Abraham" etc., and the prominent backbeat had not been in almost any mid-'40s jump blues and was brought over from black gospel to serve the obvious joke, which offended black parents, which pleased black kids.) The fully developed rock and roll sound a la late '50s Little Richard was already top ten nationally on the black charts in 1949 ("Boogie At Midnight" Roy Brown, etc.). That modernistic jump blues made for young blacks had NOTHING to do with researching old folk songs, it had to do with professional jazz-oriented black-pop-oriented black musicians putting a new (fairly slight, all and all) twist on the likes of professional jazz-oriented black-pop-oriented mid-'40s Louis Jordan, Roy Milton, etc. Roy Brown didn't know who Son House was at the time, because why would he want to? He was in the music _business_ and trying to get young blacks _interested_ in dancing to his music as of 1947-1949.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 02:22 PM

"First of all, can anyone believe that Lomax was expressing his approval?" Yes, when it's read by someone else in that snickering tone, the naive radio listener who is even younger than Dom Flemons can.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 02:45 PM

Whew! That's told 'em. Glad to see some people with heavyweight knowledge joining the fray.

"Alan Lomax never recorded Dock Boggs. Boggs recorded commercially before the second world war, and for Mike Seeger and several others following his rediscovery. But not Alan Lomax."

Yes, I have those recordings. It's just that Boggs sings 'Country Blues' on 'Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook' which I don't own but assumed consisted of AL's recordings. But perhaps not - you know more than I do, Fred.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 02:51 PM

"It's just that Boggs sings 'Country Blues' on 'Alan Lomax: Blues Songbook' which I don't own but assumed consisted of AL's recordings." Alan Lomax's name is routinely used in marketing recordings actually made by others. Which is arguably pretty much what Alan would have wanted. :-/




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 02:56 PM

OK, happy to be corrected by experts.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 03:20 PM

Fred,

Re Doc Boggs, without getting up and looking through my shelves to find a DVD I am certain that Lomax did film Doc Boggs. It was at one of the Newport Folk Festivals if my memory is correct, after Mike Seeger had persuaded Boggs to start playing again. I believe it was probably at the same festival that he recorded Hobart Smith with The Georgia Sea Islanders.

Just checked my shelf after all Three tracks by Doc Boggs filmed in 1966: Country Blues / Pretty Polly / I Hope I live. The Video was called Shady Grove not all of which was filmed by Lomax.

In 1940 Alan Lomax did assemble an RCA re-issue of commercially recorded 78's which included Doc Boggs and Blind Joe Taggart among others. But obviously they were not his recordings.

Apart from the book mentioned above I would also recommend the Lomax biography by John Zwed "The Man Who Recorded The World".

Whatever faults the man had we all have much to thank him for in his work.

Hootenanny




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 04:17 PM

Just to confirm that the Dock Boggs recording of "Country Blues" issued on the double CD "Alan Lomax Blues Songbook" (Rounder CD 1866-2) was, in fact, recorded by Alan Lomax at the 1966 Newport Festival. The booklet notes say that the track is "previously unissued".




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 05:14 PM

Quoting from the show's narrator: "This much is undeniable: Right at the moment when the civil rights movement was trying to bring blacks and whites together in a common cause, Lomax drew a hard line between white and black music -- one the record companies were happy to exploit -- that kept us apart."

A lot of phoniness here. "Right at the moment": Alan Lomax acted like himself in the '30s, '40s, '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s. But in this show it was at a particular "moment" -- oh the cheap fictional irony.

"trying to bring blacks and whites together in a common cause" Such as Alan Lomax encouraging whites to enjoy black music in hopes that that would bring whites and blacks together, which it generally did?

"Lomax drew a hard line between white and black music" Such as what white music and what black music? Alan's belief that folk blues was at first entirely developed by blacks isn't conflicted with by any real evidence.

"one the record companies were happy to exploit" Screwed-up chronology, or at least misleading (but close enough for government work?). In the '30s and early '40s the record companies were already in the habit of almost completely doing that, while meanwhile the Lomaxes were putting white folk songs and black folk songs in books together.

"kept us apart" What kept people apart? White and black people buying _Sounds Of The South_ in 1960 and on it hearing white and black people, such as E.C. Ball and Vera Hall one right after the other on Side One, or Sid Hemphill and Wade Ward one right after the other on Side Two? (What was Atlantic Records "exploiting" there?)

When Alan and Pete Seeger recorded Wade Ward performing "Chilly Winds" in 1939, was that because they didn't realize "Chilly Winds" was part of a family of songs mostly associated back in the day with black people? If Alan had realized that, would he have not wanted to record it?

Alan Lomax writing about bluegrass in _Esquire_ in 1959: "a sort of mountain Dixieland combo in which the five-string banjo... carries the lead like a hot clarinet...." That's Alan not giving into the notion some held that bluegrass was "pure" folk music, and instead, more accurately, associating it with the "hot clarinet" that readers of _Esquire_ in 1959 knew had largely been popularized by black clarinetists. This was keeping who apart from whom how?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 06:09 PM

"Just to confirm that the Dock Boggs recording of "Country Blues" issued on the double CD "Alan Lomax Blues Songbook" (Rounder CD 1866-2) was, in fact, recorded by Alan Lomax"

Even happier to be vindicated by experts...


Another good post, Joseph Scott.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Janie
Date: 10 Feb 15 - 09:00 PM

Not a Lomax scholar, nor a folk music scholar. Not inclined to elevate people to sainthood or see their personhood as iconic because of their body of work other contributions to knowledge, art, culture, etc. Can appreciate and admire and very grateful for any number of people's bodies of work or efforts in particular areas without needing for them to be more than normally human.

I thought that 13 minute clip pretty objective and balanced. Didn't slam Lomax. Didn't elevate him to sainthood. Acknowledged the benefit all of us have received from what he documented and recorded, noted the limitations and the caveats, including the thoughtful and nuanced observations and informed opinions of other scholars.

Unless one mistakes a song collector as a higher order of human being, I'm not sure what the ruckus is about.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 03:57 AM

You don't need to believe Lomax to have been a superior being to revel in the wealth of music he made available, or to recognize that his work is head and shoulders above most others in the field.

Accusing him of 'segregation' and mis-representing African-American musical culture, or of 'coercing' prisoners to give him songs, is about as serious as it gets. The programme is full of misrepresentation, unfair allegation and factual inaccuracy, mostly contained in the narrator's script rather than the academic contributions. Preceding that with a token acknowledgement of Lomax's great contribution does not equal objectivity.

Nothing to do with the sainthood of song collectors, just a regard for truthfulness. That's what the ruckus is about.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 05:54 AM

Apologies to various people who corrected me over the issue of Lomax recording Dock Boggs. Well hell, even I can't be rght all of the time. Just once every blue moon would be a good start.

Apologies also if smebody else has mentioned it already, but John Szwed's The Man Who Recorded the World; A Biography of Alan Lomax is an excellent book. If you want to understand Alan Lomax you couldn't do better.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 07:16 AM

Nothing fair and balanced that distorts both the good and the bad.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 08:23 AM

Just doing a bit of online browsing, I find that 'Goodnight Irene' originated in Tin Pan Alley. So it seems even the claim that the Lomaxes rejected TPA songs is questionable.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 10:00 AM

Brian. The Lomaxes probably didn't know that at the time. In fact Leadbelly said he'd got it from his uncle, so they probably took it as some locally composed song.

Even so, I've always found both Lomaxes to be more inclusive collectors than many others. After all could one imagine Sharp collecting Cajun songs, blues, and various other idioms that don't quite fit Sharp's view of folksong? I hardly think so, and I hardly imagine that, if Maud Karpeles had pointed out a Negro busking outside a piggly wiggly, she and Sharp would have legged it back to discover that the busker was none other than Blind Willie McTell, who'd had quite a career recording for commercial record companies in the previous decade? John and Ruby Lomax did though, and got some very important stuff.

Can't imagine anyone else of Alan Lomax's generation recording something like a three hour interview with Woody Guthrie either. Again, Guthrie would have been regarded by Sharp et al as something less than the real deal.

One might recall Maud Karpeles' comments to the effect that she and Sharp got into the Southern Appalachians in time to collect pure "English" folk songs, just before radio and records introduced the serpent of Hillbilly music into the region. two decades later, there's Alan Lomax recording hillbilly music in the Southern Appalachians.

And it's not just the SAs. Alan Lomax was recording urban blues and bluegrass well before either idiom became acceptable to American academia.

Equally, studying his Italian recordings, I am struck by how many were products, not of the Italian folk music tradition, but of folklore dance troupe revivalism. (I think ditto for the Spanish recordings, but can't be sure without digging them all out.) Not sufficiently authentic for Sharp's tastes perhaps, but bloody enjoyable none the less.

Come to think of it, how many people know that Home on the Range was written by a doctor and an ear, nose and throat specialist at that. Now that would have stopped John Lomax dead in his tracks. "Cain't collect that one boys. That's not an authentic folksong. Why, ah do believe it was the product of one of them there medical doctors."

Sorry to bash the ghost of Cecil Sharp about the head with the ghosts of the two Lomaxes. But there's somebody else, of whose methods we can be extremely critical, whilst recognising the enormous contribution he made to our knowledge of folksong.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 10:32 AM

Fred: I agree with much of what you say, including that Sharp set his aim more narrowly than Lomax, and would not have crossed the street for the sake of a black busker.

However, despite Sharp and Karpeles self-confessedly seeking 'English (sic) folk songs', they managed to note any number that Sharp surely knew were indigenous American ('Pretty Saro', 'John Hardy', 'Wild Bill Jones'), some that could be considered 'hillbilly music'('Old Joe Clark'), pieces from the Civil War ('Battle of Shiloh'), at least one chain gang song ('Swanannoa Town [Tunnel]'), several hymns - despite Sharp's distaste for them ('Sinner Man', etc) - and a number pieces that he noted were of 'negro' origin, although collected from white singers. Oh, and a clutch of fiddle tunes, too.

Karpeles actually seems to have used stricter criteria than Sharp when she travelled to Newfoundland after his death. Perhaps he wasn't quite the purist everyone believes.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 11:08 AM

Brian. Pretty Saro isn't indigineous American. It's descended from The Maid of Bunclody. Also, Old Joe Clark is only a hillbilly number if it's played in hillbilly style. Sharp probably heard someone singing it as an old time dance tune.

Also, there's a note somewhere, possibly in English Folksongs From The Southern Appalachians, to the effect that Sharp had previously included included The Sweet Sunny South (Roud 772 Take me back to South where I first saw the light. Not the other one about the civil war.), but removed it when he found it was a pop song.

Regarding the rest, they are probably exceptions which "proved the rule". IE., somebody sang one of them to him. He found it interesting and noted it down.

BTW., I'm not going to hang my arse over the side of the ship on this one, but are you sure Swannoah Tunnel was a worksong? It certainly has the feel of one. It's just that, in all my delvings through Negro worksongs, I've never come across anything which resembles it.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 11:53 AM

Fred: I'll take your word for 'Pretty Saro'.

'Swanannoa Tunnel' is a version of 'Nine-Pound Hammer' / 'I Got a Bulldog'. See this thread. The actual tunnel was constructed by convict labour in the 1870s.

"Old Joe Clark is only a hillbilly number if it's played in hillbilly style."

Yes, well that was a bit of mischief. It's also true that Sharp knew that Joe Blackett was a 'banjer-man' but chose to collect only his unaccompanied songs. But he did note down 'OJC' - and those fiddle tunes.

"somebody sang one of them to him. He found it interesting and noted it down."

Well yes - and isn't that just what a diligent collector should do? He could have told the singer that's not what he wanted and moved on. And he (or MK) wasn't obliged to include them in the book. I'm just saying that during his Appalachian trips C# began to develop the idea of recording a particular singer's repertoire, rather than just the 'English' ballads, and to make some notes about individual singers.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 11:57 AM

"Sharp had previously included included The Sweet Sunny South (Roud 772 Take me back to South where I first saw the light. Not the other one about the civil war.), but removed it when he found it was a pop song."

Just had an email from Jeff Davis (who is lurking here) to say that 'SSS' is in the 1932 edition of 'English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians', i.e. not removed during Sharp's lifetime.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 12:31 PM

Hi Janie,

I don't think Alan Lomax was more than human in the way you suggest -- and not even close. E.g., I'm a blues researcher and I think the way he misled people about where we have evidence blues music began is a (lasting) travesty of empty self-indulgence.

And also, this NPR show is a joke. I'll try to spell things out more clearly (or at least again) about the show, using some of the examples I've already given and adding more.

27:55 Interviewee says "There certainly were not a lot of people who were interested in African-American culture." This is simply wrong, and I can give many more examples than Newman White, Howard Odum, Dorothy Scarborough, Thomas Talley, Abbe Niles, Henry Krehbiel, E.C. Perrow, the Thomas brothers, and Charles Peabody if you like. She's giving Alan Lomax credit for something that happens not to be true (because this show is partly about giving Alan credit, whether or not you actually know what you're talking about, to balance it partly being about criticizing Alan, whether or not you actually know what you're talking about).

29:30 When the show says Alan "imagined" that radio was a threat to the continued existence of folk music, that's patronizing, contrived nonsense, because it was indeed a huge threat to it. That's not pretty "objective" at all, it's just contriving a pretend criticism out of thin air.

31:05 "Here's the real problem, Lomax's blind spot: He was in search of pure black music, not realizing that for the most part it wasn't there.... [B]lack and white cultures _had_ been mixing.... It was blacks who learned and then played the waltzes, jigs, and reels at white people's parties." Okay, letting us know what Alan didn't realize -- except when I open up my _Sounds Of The South_ booklet I see Alan writing this: "... [Blacks] had replaced white fiddlers as the musicians at plantation balls. They learned British jigs and reels...."

33:17 "'He asked for them to find songs that fit into his idea of old-time folk songs." He was collecting old-time folk songs. The implication that there was something wrong with him collecting them is baloney. Currently popular music was already being documented by the record companies. (And Alan Lomax had a far better idea what "folk" music was than the interviewee Hagstrom Miller does.)

33:51 He wasn't interested in recording at black colleges: Unfair because untrue, see my post above.

34:00 We don't get the chance to hear what relatively wealthy blacks were into: no, yes we do, on commercial recordings, because relatively wealthy blacks bought more records than poor blacks did and were catered to accordingly. And Alan Lomax was very aware of that. And Hagstrom Miller can't figure it out. His suggestion that because of Alan's interests we can't hear what "urban African-Americans" were into is hilarious: how many records did Lonnie Johnson make?

34:54 Alan Lomax's words are read by someone else as if Alan thought it was funny (there's an actual chuckle before "The poor fellow...") when a prisoner was frightened. Is that fair to Alan? Is adding that chuckle your idea of being "pretty" objective?

36:00 "That gets into stereotypes...." Was the interviewee even talking about Alan personally when she said this? The editing of the show is happy for us to think she was. "They're not smart." Is this the Alan Lomax who wrote publicly that Zora Neale Hurston was one of our greatest folklorists and wrote to her in 1935 suggesting they collaborate that we're talking about?

38:04 "Lomax drew a hard line between white and black music" Same booklet, describing "Jesse James," Alan says it has both "black" and "British" influences and is obviously excited about how the blend sounds. As with the _Esquire_ example I gave in another post, and many other examples I could give, that interest in blending is the _opposite_ of trying to enforce hard lines.

38:06 "kept us apart": Alan recorded e.g. the black fife player Ed Young with the white banjoist Hobart Smith because he was aware of commonality between black music and white music (contrary to to what the show would have us believe) and interested in bringing black and white people together (contrary to to what the show would have us believe), and did (contrary to to what the show would have us believe).

38:23 "He was trying to...." He wasn't trying to, he was. (Speaking of biases.)

Honestly, the show gets almost nothing right. Even down to its creative mush about how Alan might have had something to do with rock and roll arising (no).




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 02:16 PM

"Alan Lomax was recording urban blues... well before either idiom became..."

Well, he recorded Jelly Roll Morton. Jelly was older than the typical urban blues pianist (e.g. about 15 years older than Pete Johnson and Roosevelt Sykes) and I think that's part of the reason Alan was interested in him, he was after old folk songs such as "Alabama Bound" and "Funky Butt" and potential roots of early blues.

I'd say in general Alan wasn't interested in recording urban blues as such. E.g. Sampson Pittman wasn't what Detroit really had to offer in the way of urban blues, he was largely ruralish in style. Even when he recorded pianists, Alan was interested in doing so in places more like Clarksdale, not places more like Memphis. As mentioned in other posts, of course there was little point anyway in someone non-commercially documenting the playing of a Roosevelt Sykes type when the record companies already were documenting his playing.

Not that I think there was as much difference between Clarksdale piano and Memphis piano as Alan seems to have believed. On a related note, I think Forrest City Joe made urban blues, given that he was an emulator of the real Sonny Boy Williamson, who made urban blues, but I think Alan recorded Joe despite that, not because of it. Alan was dismissive of the Butterfield Blues Band in part because they were rock-influenced, which they were -- Bloomfield said himself in about 1966 that he started out in the '50s with rock and roll -- but also I think because he wasn't that interested in urban blues anyway.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Jeff Davis
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 03:18 PM

All, Any hope of the producers of the program seeing any of this discussion? None?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 04:31 PM

Any hope of them caring? Judging from the show, no.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 04:35 PM

I sent the following tweet:
Critical review of @Studio360show "Black Mirror" & Racist Stereotypes/Alan Lomax http://bit.ly/1EZ8jSA @MudcatCafe http://bit.ly/1KKjfE3

That links all of the parties and a shortened link to the page. See what happens.

SRS




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Mrr at work
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 05:34 PM

Thanks for the detailed analysis! I *knew* this was the right place!




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Janie
Date: 11 Feb 15 - 09:55 PM

Hi Joseph,

Like I said, I'm not a Lomax or a folk music expert at all. I read the posts that preceded my post, then went and took a listen to the segment regarding Lomax before I posted.

While I have spent a fair amount of time listening to his recordings of African-American music and certainly know how important the collections of recordings he and his father made are, I really don't know much else about either of them.

I suspect my limited knowledge is similar to the vast majority of listeners to NPR (or Mudcat would have an even larger membership than it does:>). And coming from that place, I did not interpret the broadcast to have been slamming Alan Lomax, nor to have called him a racist or segregationalist. I heard it as offering some different perspectives regarding effects on his work, largely stemming from the great stature that work has. I think different perspectives have validity and found the piece interesting but not derogatory of the man or of his work.

The passionately worded defenses of him and his work posted by several folks here are startling to me, as I did not consider the broadcast to be attacking him. But I am a just a hillbilly git and don't know much and maybe my hearing is wrong.

Will also say that while I have read nothing so far that helps me understand why so many people appear to be taking offense to that NPR piece, I still enjoy and appreciate the knowledge, research and perspective many are posting about song collecting and collectors. It is clear that such endeavers do involve passion, so perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised, even if I think the reactions are a bit irrational.

Thanks all.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 07:06 AM

Brian Peters. 'Swanannoa Tunnel' is a version of 'Nine-Pound Hammer' / 'I Got a Bulldog'. So it is. Sorry, but my brain box gets more and more dysfunctional with each day that passes.

"Well yes - and isn't that just what a diligent collector should do?" Of course and it's worth remembering that Sharp collected some songs from an Irish singer in Marylebone workhouse. We know that Sharp's stated aim was to revitalise the musical proclivities of the English - and give them an English voice with which to do it. However, as I previously said, he doubtless came across stuff in the field, which he felt to be significant for one reason or another and noted it rather than let it be lost for evermore.

"Just had an email from Jeff Davis (who is lurking here) to say that 'SSS' is in the 1932 edition of 'English Folk Songs from the Southern Appalachians', i.e. not removed during Sharp's lifetime." Again, one of the vagaries of memory. I may be thinking of another song. Also, I think I was quoting MK, so where she said it, if she said it all is anybody's guess. Anybody know?

Joseph Scott "Well, he recorded Jelly Roll Morton." Yes, but it's important to take Lomax's own feelings into account here. Morton was rediscovered working in Washington, by a group of jazz enthusiasts, including the BBC's Alistair Cooke. When they asked Lomax to record him, he didn't want to know, saying he wasn't interested in jazz. To be fair, that probably reflects Lomax's ignorance of jazz at the time. This was the thirties after all, when the airwaves were awash with big bands and slick arrangements and crooning singers that were a million miles away from the down home sounds he'd been recording. In fact I'd think it quite possible that all Lomax knew of jazz was the music of the likes of Glen Miller and Benny Goodman, and hadn't realised this older stuff existed. In fact, I've always found Lomax's relationship with jazz problematic. He recorded JRM, compiled a book about him, and got him some recording dates, but that's about it. He was, after all, only a couple of years away from the New Orleans revival when, spearheaded by Bill Russell, a group of enthusiasts started documenting what was left of early new Orleans jazz. So perhaps he felt safest leaving that area of music up to them.

Where was I? Oh yes. The point is that Lomax was prepared to venture into pastures new when he could see a reason, his recordings urban blues and bluegrass being cases in point. Even so, it's important not to see him as too much of a trailblazer in that respect because American academia had also begun to waken up to the fact that a musician like Clarence Ashley played a lot more than just those old-time mountain ballads. Even so, whilst we can see that Sharp wasn't quite the insular collector of pure English songs that he cracked himself up to be, I would find the idea of Sharp recording someone like Forrest City Joe bizarre to put it mildly.

Anyway isn't it amazing, and doesn't it make a strange comparison with a certain thread about Ewan MacColl, that we've got this far without anybody hurling insults and blackening the name of the thread's subject with all kinds of ill founded and irrelevant codswallop.

Jeez. It's grand to be among civilised company.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Azizi
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 07:15 AM

I'm popping in to thank Joseph Scott for his comments.

I am an African American female and I've had mixed feelings about Alan Lomax since I read comments about what I (and some others) considered patronizing attitudes and actions toward Lead Belly (for instance, Lomax pressuring Lead Belly to perform songs wearing a prison uniform). My feelings were mixed because I didn't like what I thought was Alan LomaxI had mixe feelingsAt the same time, I was and still am very appreciative of the many African American songs and children's rhymes that Alan Lomax collected. I admit that I've not done any research on Alan Lomax, and Joseph Scott's comments were new information for me and have helped me know more about Lomax with regard to African American music.

I posted an excerpt of Joseph Scott's comments about that NPR show (his comment debunking the interviewee's point about there may not have been rock and roll music where it not for Alan Lomax)on this post of my pancocojams blog:

http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2015/02/three-recordings-of-rock-joint-by-jimmy.html
Three Recordings Of "Rock The Joint" by Jimmy Preston, Chris Powell, & Bill Haley

I also posted another excerpt of a comment from Joseph Scott about the rhyme "Down By The Banks Of The Hanky Panky" on http://pancocojams.blogspot.com/2012/05/song-sources-for-down-by-banks-of-hanky.html "Song Sources For Down By The Banks Of The Hanky Panky"

[I published that post because my long running cocojams website is no more and therefore the pages about "Down By The Banks Of The Hanky Panky" that I had on that cultural website aren't accessible.]

Thanks again Joseph Scott.

-Azizi Powell




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Azizi
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 07:37 AM

My apologies for my poor job of editing my comment.

Here's the corrected portion of that comment:

I am an African American female and I've had mixed feelings about Alan Lomax since I read comments about what I (and some others) considered patronizing attitudes and actions toward Lead Belly (for instance, Lomax pressuring Lead Belly to perform songs wearing a prison uniform). At the same time, I was and still am very appreciative of the many African American songs and children's rhymes that Alan Lomax collected. I admit that I've not done any research on Alan Lomax, and Joseph Scott's comments were new information for me and have helped me know more about Lomax with regard to African American music.
-snip-
One good thing about curating my blogs is that I can correct typos and my bad cut and paste mistakes, since I am still so prone to them :o)




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 07:52 AM

Azizi,

Re Leadbelly performing in prison stripes: I think that this was probably John Lomax (Alan's father)who was to blame. The "March of Time" programme with him and Huddie was embarassingly awful with Leadbelly doing a Step 'N Fetchit routine. Makes me shudder whenever I see it.


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Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Joe Offer
Date: 21 Feb 15 - 11:50 PM

Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 08:10 AM

Considering the general treatment of blacks in the South in the 1930s. "patronization" was a step forward.

Lead Belly's prison stripes - or his performances sitting a on a cotton bale in denims and a straw hat - look ridiculous and patronizing today, even offensive and racist. But back then such costumes were intended to emphasize to an ignorant audience the authenticity of the singer and the songs, and the fact that both were coming from a very different place than the pop music of the day. In the same manner, white country musicians were expected to dress on stage like cowboys or hillbillies.

I'm not saying any of this was a good idea - just that the intention and widely perceived meaning wasn't necessarily bigoted or demeaning, though Lead Belly (like anyone else) was certainly justified in his resentment of having to impersonate a stereotyped version of himself.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 08:21 AM

Re Azizi's comment about the prison stripes, I'd always been disturbed by the story too. However, according to the Cultural Equity website, it's a myth. Cut and paste follows:

Did John A. Lomax make Lead Belly perform in stripes?
Legend has it that John A. Lomax forced Lead Belly to perform in stripes. Lomax himself refers to Lead Belly as performing in his prison clothes, that is, the clothes he wore when he was released, these would have been overalls such as farmers wore, not stripes. All descriptions of Lead Belly's performances for John A. Lomax refer to him as wearing overalls with a bandana around his neck to disguise a scar. The publicity photo that appeared on the cover of the Lomaxes' book, Negro Songs as Sung by Lead Belly, showed him in this outfit, barefoot, sitting on a bale of hay. Country blues and country and hillbilly music was marketed in this way, with white performers presented in overalls as well, even as late as the 1960s TV show "Hee Haw." In his later career, Lead Belly, who was always an elegant dresser, established a new image for folksingers by performing while wearing a suit. Lead Belly's own stationary in later times, after he had become estranged from John A. Lomax, shows two photos of the performer, one on the left, in overalls and the other on the right, wearing a tuxedo and top hat. The image of Lead Belly in prison stripes was diffused through a newsreel film made by Time magazine and by a theater piece that Lead Belly had arranged to appear in for several weeks in Harlem after his association with John A. Lomax had ended.

What is the source of the prison stripes story?
On January 8, 1935, John Lomax and Lead Belly appeared on Time magazine's March of Time radio show featuring reenacted news (news was not yet be recorded in real time.) The radio dramatization told how Lead Belly was released from prison and featured some of his songs. It was broadcast nationwide and heard in millions of homes. Soon after, Time initiated production of filmed newsreels, also consisting of reenacted stories, to be shown in movie theaters. The story of Lomax's discovery of Lead Belly was the second one of these, and was made over a two-day period in February 1935. John A. Lomax is credited with assisting in writing the screenplay — though Alan Lomax actually wrote a first version which was overridden — and both John A. and Lead Belly appeared in it. In the first scene, Lead Belly wore stripes to dramatize the occasion of their meeting in Angola. This scene was to be balanced with depiction of Lead Belly's marriage to Martha Promise (in which the singer is shown wearing a suit) and his singing of "Goodnight, Irene." The final scene featured an orchestra playing "Goodnight, Irene" in the background as Lead Belly's songs are deposited in the Library of Congress along with the Declaration of Independence, a copy of which was shown.

John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax's purpose in collaborating on this film was to convey that music created by the Black working people of the United States was an unjustly neglected national treasure, as important to our heritage as our founding documents. Unfortunately, the final movie was edited in a way that focused on the sensational part of the story and deemphasized the final scenes. Shown in theaters nationwide, the newsreel made Lead Belly a celebrity, and it was through it that the image of the singer wearing stripes was imprinted on the public mind. Though the film was not under the Lomaxes' control — Alan Lomax in fact hated it and it had been a huge mistake for them to entrust themselves to mass media —it has been cited as evidence of John A. Lomax's degradation of Lead Belly. On the other hand, however, the film was significant in presenting Lead Belly as an artist whose work was valuable and relevant to American audiences of every ethnicity in an age when Jim Crow and racist market segmentation were the norm."

Here's a clip of Lead Belly performing in prison, stripes and all, and speaking with John Lomax. Get a load of that circular strumming pattern!




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 08:28 AM

I sometimes find discussions like this often fail to take into consideration the times in which these events took place.
I remember reading John Lomax's 'Adventures of a Ballad Hunter' and getting a great deal of pleasure from it, while at the same time, cringing a little at some of the attitudes reflected.   
I Found this a pretty interesting description of Alan Lomax
CULTURAL EQUITY
Favourite story of him has always been of the time he was collecting with Seamus Ennis in the Hebrides, when the women 'waulkers' extemporised a bawdy, verging on obscene song on his masculine attributes in Scots Gaelic.
Ennis, perfectly aware off what was going on, didn't explain the subject of the songs and it was shipped off to the BBC, who apperently didn't understand it either




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 08:46 AM

Thanks, Brian, for the clarification.

> Favourite story of him has always been of the time he was collecting with Seamus Ennis in the Hebrides, when the women 'waulkers' extemporised a bawdy, verging on obscene song on his masculine attributes in Scots Gaelic.

Fascinating, Jim. Can you elaborate? Were most waulking songs bawdy? Why did Lomax become a target? Was he being obnoxious?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Derek Schofield
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 08:52 AM

Having looked at the video clip mentioned in Brian's email above, I must say that John Lomax had a very poor short-term memory!!
derek




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 09:13 AM

"Were most waulking songs bawdy? "
Not as far as I know - they were made up on the spot to provide a rhythm for the 'fulling' (stretching) of the newly woven Tweed cloth, which was soaked in urine.
The work was done by women sitting around a table in the open-air and singing to prove a rhythm for the work, sort of like shanty-singing.
I understand that by the time Lomax and Ennis did their recording, sometime in the early 1950s, the practice had ceased in that particular area and ws revivd for the recordists   
Nice reproduction here:
WAULKING
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 09:20 AM

Thanks, Jim. If the songs weren't usually bawdy, the targeting of Lomax is especially remarkable.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 10:07 AM

"the targeting of Lomax is especially remarkable."
Both Ennis and Lomax (Ennis in particular) were said to have been extremely attractive to women in their younger days - could never see it myself!
Another story - also attributed to Vance Randolph - tells of a group of students and researchers assembled to meet and interview one of the great field singers (both Aunt Molly Jackson's and Sarah Ogan Gunning's names are bandied about).
It was said that they gathered in Lomax's New York apartment (in the version I heard) and sprawled about the room at the feet of the singer, who was said to also have a reperoire of very bawdy Jack Tales, which she refused to tell in the presence of a tape-recorder, but agreed to tell just for entertainment that evening.
One of the company hid his microphone in the air-conditioning vent and left his machine running - the ruse lasted only a short time, until somebody decided the room was too stuffy and turned the a/c system on.
As I said, an apocryphal story
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 11:11 AM

Jim's story about Aunt Molly Jackson reminds me of something that Hoot once told me about the Virginian bluesman John Jackson. It seems that John's wife kept a book of bawdy stories by the frontdoor. When annyone came to listen to John she would firstly show them the book. If they laughed they were invited in. If not, they were shown the door. On another occasion I was told that a fiddle player in North Carolina only let me record him because of what I said when he offered me some moonshine. I think that I said something like, "Great...is there any more?" Apparently, had I refused and said that I did not approve, then I too would have been shown the door!




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 11:56 AM

"I remember reading John Lomax's 'Adventures of a Ballad Hunter' and getting a great deal of pleasure from it, while at the same time, cringing a little at some of the attitudes reflected." John Lomax was born in 1867 and Alan Lomax was born in 1915. So it's not surprising that they differed in their progressiveness.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 12:26 PM

The elder Lomax was born in Mississippi in 1867 and raised in Texas from 1869. That you cringed at only "some" of his attitudes says something about even John Lomax's relative progressivism.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 12:41 PM

"That you cringed at only "some" of his attitudes says something about even John Lomax's relative progressivism."
Absolutely - the point I was making was about the times and surroundings these people were living in not being taken into consideration
Sharp's language when talking about 'n****r" instruments is often taken as a reason to denigrate his work (I hope I'm not getting that wrong Mike!).
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Mrrzy
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 01:18 PM

Patronization is an ambiguous term, since it means both going to their restaurants and talking down to them... Sorry for the pedantry but it's an important difference given the topic.
I wonder what the Studio 360 people think about our conversation about their piece. I wonder if they are reading it.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 01:40 PM

I sent another tweet.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 02:45 PM

I have mentioned Cecil Sharp's attitudes to black people in my Musical Traditions article "Cecil Sharp in America". Jim is right to say that we have to take into account the fact that times have changed and, with them, attitudes. I was a student in Manchester in the early 1960's and my grandmother once came to stay with me. My next-door neighbours were Africans from Ghana (the father was studying to be a doctor, I recall) and once, when we left the house, the family's young daughter was playing outside by the door. My grandmother went up to the girl, patted her on the head, and said, "What a beautiful picanninie." Not a word that I would have used, but to somebody brought up in the late 1800's when such words were in every-day usage, I suppose that I have to accept that she was only using a word that she felt was appropriate.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 03:04 PM

Sharp generally referred to African-Americans as 'negroes' - which I understand was an acceptable term at that time. He used the more offensive term Jim alluded to when describing a visit to Winston Salem, and that passage doesn't make for comfortable reading. Wishful thinkers might prefer to imagine that he was adopting the language of a white acquaintance on that occasion. I also recall coming across a passage in his diary (possibly before leaving New York for the first mountain expedition) where he expressed derision at the notion that black people might make 'folk music'. Of course, given Sharp's narrow concept of 'folk song', that may not be surprising. He also expressed a distaste for ragtime.

Definitely not acceptable by today's standards. How forgivable it is in the context of Sharp's era is something to debate.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 04:31 PM

I can confirm Mike Yates's story above regarding John Jackson's wife Cora but she did invite us in before producing the book which in fact was a compiliation of her own bawdy tales which someone had collected from her and put into print. Once we passed the test she related some more. She had a great sense of humour and was a lovely lady and served up a great supper and breakfast.

Re your piccaninny story Mike it is a generational thing, common among my parent's generation too. My mother and sister and others in the tailoring trade also used the term n---er to describe a shade of brown in coats and dresses. It was a common term.
PC changes much quicker these days and to be honest I don't know the acceptable term right now. Only last week an English film actor got in the neck from the press for using the "wrong" term.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 04:57 PM

> I don't know the acceptable term right now.

Ask enough people in the US, and you'll discover that *no* term is universally acceptable.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 05:06 PM

"I also recall coming across a passage in [Sharp's] diary... where he expressed derision at the notion that black people might make 'folk music'. Of course, given Sharp's narrow concept of 'folk song', that may not be surprising." Well, Chapter Two of Dorothy Scarborough's 1925 book showed that he wouldn't have a leg to stand on there no matter how narrow he was supposedly being.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST
Date: 12 Feb 15 - 09:43 PM

Brian and Fred...The song you refer to "The Sweet Sunny South" ...you mentioned a few times "the other Civil War version"....just to say that the "other version" is in fact, a totally different song...It's a Confederate song called "The Bright Sunny South".




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: meself
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 12:05 AM

"Sharp generally referred to African-Americans as 'negroes' - which I understand was an acceptable term at that time."

I should think so - it was acceptable, if not preferred, where I lived (beside Detroit) well into the 1970s, as I recall. In fact, I don't think it has ever been considered derogatory - just baggage-laden.

I wonder if we can get past the pearl-clutching at the politically-incorrect lingo and even sentiments of the giants of a hundred years ago? There seems to be this assumption that we all would have been so much more enlightened had we lived back then - and would have done folksong-collecting RIGHT!




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 03:09 AM

I grew up in a strongly anti-racist household, and would have been shown the door had I expressed racist views, yet members of my family would enthusiastically join in and sing 'Lilac Trees', which involves a "curly-headed piccanniny" being told to "stay in his own back-yard" - I believe they got the song from Paul Robeson.
As a babe-in-arms, I understand I was handed to Paul Robeson by my mother to be kissed, when he spoke at an anti-fascist meeting on a piece of waste ground in the centre of Liverpool.
Different language for a different time.      
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 04:08 AM

I think most people are missing the point of this article/piece. That's partly the fault of its vague/sensational title, and the off-track comments of Don Flemmons at the end, followed by the use of Reece's softening comments on how "we are all biased" (or something to that effect). (It seems possible that Flemmons also did not quite get the points the critics were raising either, or his statements were quoted from a tangential part of the interview conversation -- hence the non sequitur appearance of remarks.) This evident desire to defend Lomax's legacy (picked up on by Janie) just keeps taking it off track even more—on to Cecil Sharp, on to What Black People Were Called Back in My Day (a "favourite" Mudcat subject), yada yada.

The point of interest is that how Lomax represented Black Americans directly and, more so, how he indirectly represented them through his focus, selection, and presentation of their music, contributed to (although was certainly not solely responsible for) how successive generations of people would come to view the landscape of American music. That this view is at odds with certain evidence of a reality in which "Black" and "White" musical practices were not marked so sharply is cause to flag Lomax's activities, so extensive as they were, as one notable influence.

One of the things behind Lomax's less-than-ideal representation was the concept he had of "folk" music. The narrative of "authenticity" and "purity" runs through Lomax's work, even up to his Cantometrics days when he used the fear of "cultural grey out" to garner support for his impossibly broad conclusions, and when he'd go on about "Pygmy" music being the most pure and primitive/origin music or whatever. (This is why Flemmons' comment about how he himself doesn't care about authenticity makes no sense in this context. It's not Flemmons' idea of authenticity that's at issue, but rather Lomax's.)

The issue is not whether Lomax was negatively prejudiced against Black people. Clearly he was not in any substantive way. So defense of his character in that respect is unnecessary. If anything, he was someone who could fit into the hipster/"White Negro" scene…if only jazz wasn't so damn elitist and inauthentic! And yes, those people were often patronizing (inadvertently), but so what? Indeed, it was a different time.

The issue is that this concept of "folk" —the Sharp-variety, pseudo-scholarly concept of folk-- was a lens with which Lomax was carrying on. It's a distorted lens, and so even when he looked at Black people's music with the best of intentions, the view was liable to get distorted. I think the critics in this article would rather Lomax studied/documented the music of Black Americans. But what Lomax actually studied was folk music, and, along with other peoples, Black Americans were subjected to his folk framework.

What makes the case of Lomax of particular interest is that, whereas Sharp's looking through the "folk" lens biased him in favor of English/White people, Lomax's view biased him in favor of African-Americans. Both of these "folk" paths contributed to racializing / essentializing people and music traditions as a BY-PRODUCT of the activity. The American path (Lomax) favored a narrative of "authenticity" that privileged Black people as models of authentic music-making since (as Jon Cruz notes) Frederick Douglass urged abolitionists to listen to the songs of enslaved African-Americans. So the claim that Lomax "segregated" (a horrible choice of word) music is not a smear of Lomax as an anti-Black racist but an observation of the effect of his activities, however intentioned.

Here are two videos of Lomax in action that serve to remind how clumsy he could be at times—it goes without saying that these are cherry-picked, and they don't invalidate the rest of his lovely work, OK, dudes?

This first is just pure silliness. It seems he is trying to get these fellows to recreate what they once used to do, and yet… what was it that Don Flemmons said about "dignity"?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzZbPADXD_4

The second, if judged by academic standards, is a straight breach of ethics. Listen to Lomax, when we get to minute 2:14, tell the performer to "Roll over again." The gaze of the camera really seems to delight in seeing Black bodies writhe on the ground. Luckily, the fifer is on board with this whole "folklore preservation" thing and he, as smoothly as possible, tells his compatriots (2:22) something like, "Hey boys, it's time to roll over again!"

http://youtu.be/fwvGlBymhGs?t=48s

Lomax telling Black musicians to roll over in 1978. Need anything more be said?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Mike Yates
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 04:15 AM

Thought that this quote, by Alan Lomax, might be worth repeating here. It comes from Marybeth Hamilton's book "In Search of the Blues", Basic Books, New York. 2008, 151 – 52.

"It is a folklorist's illusion that folklore communities are pure, that the pure old tradition is the one most worth studying."




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 04:35 AM

"Lomax telling Black musicians to roll over in 1978. Need anything more be said?"
There's an assumption that the instruction came from Lomax and that was not how the musicians chose to perform - is there any evidence that this was the case?
MacColl used to tell the story of accompanying Lomax to Genoa on one of his trips and sitting in a cafe with a group of tralaleri singers.
The language barrier on that occasion was proving a bit of a problem and Alan was asking one old man what his song was about.
The old man desperately tried to communicate the meaning and, failing to get his message across, stood up, took his penis out and pointed - that's what it was about.
It's interesting to speculate what the reaction would be if the incident had been filmed and circulated!
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 06:10 AM

If the NPR programme had presented its arguments as clearly as Gibb Sahib has done, then perhaps we would not all have 'missed the point'. Instead it chose to cloak its academic contributions in a fog of ill-judged sensationalism (segregation, coercion) and the kind of inaccuracy and jaundiced commentary that Joseph Scott nailed so comprehensively at 12.31 on Feb 2.

Cecil Sharp isn't actually 'off the track' at all, since Lomax clearly shared some of his assumptions. When I mentioned Dave Harker in my first post here, I'd already guessed that at least part of the programme's agenda, however crassly expressed, was an attack on the very concept of 'folk music'. That's been kicked around many times on Mudcat, in the context of the English folk revival, but it's interesting to see the same issues cropping up in North America.

However, the argument that '"Black" and "White" musical practices were not marked so sharply' (which, as we've seen, wasn't news to Lomax) seems now to be heading towards the view that a distinctive African American musical tradition didn't exist ("it simply wasn't there", as the programme tells us). Are we now to believe (to use Harker's phraseology) that the Blues is nothing more than 'Fakesong'?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 07:21 AM

Nice elucidation, Gibb, but Brian is right. If the story was so set up that even we missed the *real* point, what would it have sounded like to the average person who, let's face it, has never even heard of Alan Lomax?

It makes him sound, to me, like a short-sighted, racist bungler who did as much harm as good to musicology and who even played a role in the continuance of racist attitudes.

The best explanation is NPR's ignorance of the Lomaxes and of folksong research generally. And possibly a few other things.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Vic Smith
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 08:09 AM

Here are the opening sentences of Chapter 21 of Shirley Collins' book America Over The Water which in the main is about the famed 1959 Southern Journey collecting trip through America's southern states conducted by Shirley with Alan Lomax:-
THE DRIVE DOWN THROUGH ARKANSAS, MISSISSIPPI, ALABAMA and Georgia to reach our last destination of the field trip, St Simons, one of the Georgia Sea Islands, made me aware again how very far from England I was. I saw sights that I never would at home. There were fields full of cotton, snowy white and beautiful to look at, but so painfully thorny to pick. We took a day's sightseeing at the Okefenoke Swamp, we saw further KKK signs outside many towns, we ate, to my shame, in segregated restaurants, swam in segregated pools, and in Georgia we came across a convict chain-gang working at the side of the road.

These sentences were also part of the show which toured extensively and which I was involved in as tour manager and sound man, so I heard then many times. One night, we were driving back home (or to our hotel) and I was reflecting on these words and quoted them back to her and asked her if there was any alternative to a segregated lifestyle in those states at that time. She thought about it for some time then answered, "No. Vic, I don't suppose there was."




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 10:16 AM

"As a babe-in-arms, I understand I was handed to Paul Robeson by my mother to be kissed, when he spoke at an anti-fascist meeting on a piece of waste ground in the centre of Liverpool."

The incident to which Jim Carroll refers happened just after WW2 (1947, I think). It wasn't an anti-fascist meeting as such, although if any fascists had turned up they would have been given very short shrift. What happened was that Robeson was touring the UK and naturally wanted to do a concert in Liverpool. Nobody, in this wonderful enlightened city of ours would give him a theatre. He therefore staged a free concert on a bomb site, along with his pianist. I've no idea where they got the piano from, but it must have been one hell of a job muling the thing over all that rubble.

Personally I've never been too fussed over Robesons' singing, it was a bit too polite for my liking. But what an inspirational figure! Would that we had a hunndred more like him around today.

BTW., Tayo Aluko, a Black African who lives right here in Liverpool will be touring a one man show about Paul Robeson in April, I think. More details here. . I saw it a couple of years ago and it was brilliant and very moving.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Jeff Davis
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 10:47 AM

It is as shame that we couldn't have done Lomax's work for him, or for Sharp, Creighton, Flanders, Fife--all of them. Our work would have been so much more complete, detailed, unprejudiced, unblemished, and unassailable, and unworthy of criticism. Oh, yes, and more energetic.

Pardon me for a lifetime while I get up from the desk, put the instruments in their cases, the books on the shelf, abandon the fine warm house, the consoling relationship to go find, effortlessly, some unheard of music in some far away place and make a stunningly perfect perfect job of it.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 11:24 AM

Thanks Fred
You've just filled a huge gap in my family history
Don't suppose you know about the Mosely rally in Liverpool where my grandmother was arrested for throwing a brick at him which, she said, hit him?
She was a devout Catholic, and it was a family story that she claimed that the brick was "guided by the hand of god".
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,leeneia
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 12:17 PM

Thank you, Jeff Davis.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Good Soldier Schweik
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 12:47 PM

Cecil Sharp was a Fabian socialist, in my opinion it is doubtful that he was a racist.
I would be very much surprised if either of the Lomaxes were either




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 01:13 PM

Brian and Lighter,

I am happy to agree that the program/article is flawed and quite so. I suppose I am thinking more of the people whose ideas were surveyed to create it. Just as we can understand that Lomax's thinking was not all black-and-white (no pun intended)—of course it wasn't—we can also be a little more generous with the museum people and academics whose ideas are quoted. This, indeed, would have been the purpose of why they put the quotes from the Smithsonian person at the end, a sort of disclaimer. By then, however, the hackles were already raised! :-)

Brian, you might be right that these people have an issue with the concept of "folk music." I do (if that's not obvious!). That's very different, however, from claiming that the music traditions that a person might view as folk do not exist. I believe blues exists and that English ballads exist. I don't think the so-called "scientific" concept of "folk" (to use Sharp's language) is a necessary or productive way to study those musics. I think the concept is a product of the modern era, a meta-narrative inspired by other modern ideas like nationalism and natural selection (Darwin mis-applied) and anti-urbanization. And I feel that this concept of folk—although not necessarily the word "folk" itself, with other casual/practical use—is not compatible with scholarship. Similarly, the evolutionist ideas of the early "comparative musicologists" (antecedents to ethnomusicology) are not acceptable to current scholarship—even if they did get the ball rolling and worked with a lot of recordings, for which we are grateful. (Lomax was a bit of a throwback to the old comparative musicologists, which is one reason why his ideas did not catch on with many contemporary American ethnomusicologists—as they had gone through a painful process of digging themselves out from the Comparative Musicology mold and trying to gain some disciplinary credibility by disassociating with its assumptions.

The program notes that the critics are all about the same age, and I suspect that I am roughly in their generation, too. It is no surprise that we all tend to be wary of the narratives of the modern era. We can't really help it :-)

Brian's statement, "it's interesting to see the same issues cropping up in North America. [as in England]" is, in my opinion, exactly where the interest does lie in this topic. Whether or not you subscribe to the folk concept, you can get something out of seeing out it played out in U.S. vs. U.K. I don't think one can deny that application of this concept, which drove several Modern Men, created a new musical landscape (rather than just helping to describe/understand it -- the preferred goal of scholarship).




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: RTim
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 01:37 PM

Brilliant Jeff Davis - as always!

Tim Radford




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 02:40 PM

Hi Gibb (and Felipa),

Authenticity isn't pretend. Things are authentically whatever all the time. E.g., "Hop Joint" is authentically a song John Hurt learned before 1910 from another amateur musician, while his "Let The Mermaids Flirt With Me" isn't. There is nothing intrinsically suspect about being interested in authenticity.

To give another example: was jazz authentic old-time music? It was not. Anyone who noticed that jazz was not old-time music, such as Alan Lomax, was noticing right.

Can you explain to me why I should think Alan trying to collect what I call folk music, and in fact collecting what I call folk music, had (what) negative to it which involved anyone's concept of "folk music"?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Oh, For Crying Out Loud......
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 03:28 PM

"Only last week an English film actor got in the neck from the press for using the "wrong" term."

Indeed -- and the term he used was "Coloured". Now, just remind us, please: what does the C stand for in NAACP?

Are they planning to change their name, anyone know?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Phil
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 06:22 PM

Euro-American history of Africana and Euro-American historians of Africana will be revised. Permission or approval is neither required nor particularly desired.

"For Lomax, the locus of authentic black expression was best found in prisons. "The black communities were just too difficult to work in with any efficiency and so my father had the great idea that probably all of the sinful people were in jail," Lomax once said"

Translation: Slaves are cheaper and easier to stereotype than free men, (Americans check your state constitutions for prison slavery exemptions viz emancipation.) Lomax was a Federal employee. The guards were State employees. Most blacks still view prisons as government plantations. The inmates are not sinners. They are slaves. Corvée was still in practice in the south and by the USMC in Haiti.

As I write, the John Muir name is just about resigned to the trash heap of history. Chickens coming home to roost, like the man said.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Stilly River Sage
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 07:49 PM

To not let this go too far afield, the NAACP was founded in 1909 by a liberal group including W.E.B. DuBois (probably the best known of that group today), using a term in use at the time and the group has seen fit not to alter. The mission statement of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is "to ensure the political, educational, social, and economic equality of rights of all persons and to eliminate race-based discrimination." It isn't actually just for African American/Black participation, though that is the majority defacto membership at this time. That could change, and that said, it represents many colors.

Back to the topic at hand.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Gibb Sahib
Date: 13 Feb 15 - 08:04 PM

Jim,

There's an assumption that the instruction came from Lomax and that was not how the musicians chose to perform - is there any evidence that this was the case?

The video *is* the evidence. (?) You can see Lomax go over to Napoleon and shout in his ear, "Roll over again."

Jeff,

"Nobody's perfect" is true, but that is no reason not to engage in *constructive* criticism. You can't really expect scholars to just chill and not criticize--it's part of the process of what they do.

***
A milestone in the critique of past ethnographers' work was the publication (ca. late 1960s) of Polish-British anthropologist Malinowski's field diary of decades earlier. The story roughly goes that Malinowski was idealized by many as a model ethnographer, who was particularly sensitive to the people and culture he studied. However, his diary contain some candid expressions of how felt about people he worked with. Instead of anthropologists caving in and denouncing Malinowski as "racist," etc., they vowed to think a bit more carefully about how their biases influenced their work, to be more open about them.

This is the blessing of the post-humous access made to Lomax's material. Scholars will continue to benefit from Lomax's documentation, but they will be more conscious of the fact that if a guy shook his ass in the camera and rolled over on the ground -- gestures that seem to confirm stereotypes about "Black" sexuality, abandonment, and so forth -- it may have been because Lomax had selected and influenced the set up of such scenes. Non-scholar performers are completely free to continue to get enjoyment and inspiration from these (edited) scenes, and the sphere of activity will go on developing according to people's expectations of what is genuine, what is "Black," what is "White," etc. You go your way and people with other goals -- such as those interested in revising the representation of Black Americans, or distinguishing constructed ideas of "Blackness" from African-American people -- will do their thing.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 14 Feb 15 - 03:03 AM

"You can see Lomax go over to Napoleon and shout in his ear, "Roll over again."
It really doesn't prove that Lomax created something that wasn't already happening.
I can remember being very disturbed and also, very moved by a magnificent T.V series back in the 70s/80s entitled 'Beats of the Heart', which showed world traditions at their best and sometimes at their worst.
It is to be deplored if Lomax actually created and filmed something that didn't already exist - it is quite another if he sought to get the best filmed examples of what was already happening.
It's like the old Joe Heaney argument about whether MacColl and Seeger put words in Joe's mouth when they interviewed him back in the sixties.
Joe's account of how he approached traditional singing was so powerful and so important that the MacColl knockers and the "free as birdsong" crowd suggested that MacColl choreographed the interview to make a point.
Not long before he died, we spent some time with Heaney and found that not only was the interview an accurate view of his attitude to singing, but we were left with the impression that he was the last person in the world to allow himself himself to be manipulated by a collector.   
I'm not suggesting that you do so, but it's somewhat patronising to suggest that musicians and singers lay themselves open to being depicted as trained monkeys for the benefit of the camera or the microphone.
Over the thirty-odd years we spent collecting, particularly from Irish Travellers, we recorded a number of things we believed didn't show our friends (that's what many of them became) in a particularly good light.
We took the decision not to use that material publicly (sometimes after a discussion with the people involved), but to archive it with a proviso that it should not be made public without our permission.
There is a well-known example of collectors publishing material they have recorded from an informant (rotten word), only to find that it gave offence to other members of that community
The collectors were accused of faking the information in order to get the original informant out of a spot.
Parts of John Cohen's impressive film of Dillard Chandler, 'End of an Old Song' is, to say the least, controversial - there's no suggestion that he faked it.
Whether he should have used everything he was given is a different argument altogether.
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Mike Yates.
Date: 14 Feb 15 - 05:59 AM

Agree with Jim. I held onto a good version of the song "Old Johnny Bigger", one that I recorded from a singer in Oxfordshire 40 odd years ago, but could never bring myself to issue it because of its use of the word which rhymes with "bigger".




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Vic Smith
Date: 14 Feb 15 - 09:58 AM

The changing uses and implications of "coloured" and "black" are just one of many examples of how the meaning of words alter - even within living memory. I'll give you a personal example:-
My wife, Tina, had long been singing Gathering Rushes. Then she seemed to stop singing it and I requested her to sing it again because I always thought that she made a good job of it.
She said that she had stopped singing it because she was having difficulty with the lines which are from the angry father.
"Well, was it by a black man,
Or was it by a brown?.....
I told her that I remembered a conversation between two of my aunts in Edinburgh when I was very young. One of them is trying to describe a man that she feels she should know, She is asked:-
"Is yon man a brown man or is he black?"
My ears pricked up; we did not see people from different countries in our part of Edinburgh and my interest had been caught.
"Naw, naw!" came the answer. "he's completely bauld!"
I told Tina that I had always thought that was what the lines in the song meant. Soon she was singing the song again with the lines now:-
"Well, was it by a black-haired man,
Or was it by a brown?.....

.... and when I was a wee laddie in Edinburgh a person that was gay was bright, cheerful and happy.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,HiLo
Date: 14 Feb 15 - 10:28 AM

"The past is a foregin country , they do things differently there." L. P. Hartley. All I can say on the subject.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 14 Feb 15 - 12:19 PM

"Are we now to believe... that the Blues is nothing more than 'Fakesong'?" Only if you're talking to a pseudointellectual handwaver.

Black folk songs about having the "blues," some of them in 12-bar form, were around by 1907 and 1908 (Howard Odum, Antonio Maggio).
The publication of blues songs began in 1912.

Although the idea that blues music might have been developed on modest stages and then taken up in the streets is interesting to imagine, thorough research by the likes of Lynn Abbott, Doug Seroff, and Henry Sampson had turned up no actual support for that idea. People who were old enough to know, people about W.C. Handy's age, didn't suggest that pros who worked in tent shows and the like were involved in the earliest blues, they recalled blues as arising among, as Handy put it, "the underprivileged... class."

There were many black-run periodicals (yes, there were many black-run periodicals) and other print sources that routinely mentioned e.g. ragtime during the years before 1909. In contrast, the earliest reference to blues as a type of music in print is from 1909 (in Louisiana). At that time Maggio had _already_ heard a black guitarist on a levee perform a 12-bar piece the guitarist called "I Got The Blues" back in 1907 (in Louisiana), Emmet Kennedy had already heard a variant of "Poor Boy Long Ways From Home" sung by blacks in the streets (in Louisiana), and Buddy Bolden had already reportedly played the tune that is sometimes known as "2:19 Blues" (in Louisiana). There is plenty of real evidence supporting the idea that blues music arose as folk music, and no real evidence that blues music arose as anything but folk music.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Lighter
Date: 14 Feb 15 - 01:08 PM

> when I was a wee laddie in Edinburgh a person that was gay was bright, cheerful and happy.

And let's not forget "The Streets of Laredo":

"Once in the saddle I used to go dashing,
Once in the saddle I used to go gay."

No longer singable.

"Don we now our gay apparel" is now sung in U.S. elementary schools as
"...fine apparel."




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 14 Feb 15 - 01:49 PM

re Jim Carroll's request for information about the bricking of Oswald Mosley. I have no direct information about this incident, beyond the fact that I know it happened.

Somewhere I have seen a series of newsreel shots, which show Mosley stepping out from the back of his van, being hit with a brick, and collapsing like a house cards. I can't give a definite source for that, but the most likely one is probably Robert Skidelsky's biography of Mosley. I'm glad that I was once able to satisfy a veteran anti-fascist on that point, after he'd declared to me that he'd never known whether it was true or not.

I know this might sound vindictive, although not to anyone who knows how violent the blackshirts were, but I wish there was an annual commemoration of the event. However, that I'm afraid, is par for the course in a city, which has such an appalling Labour administration. For example, you can walk right across the city of Liverpool in any direction and you will not find a single memorial to James Larkin. All we have to remember the greatest labour leader Liverpool ever produced is a back street in Kirkdale, which was named after him. It's called James Larkin Way.

Imagine the smell of soiled underwear if Jimmy Anderson, our so-called 'Labour' mayor woke up one morning to find that the masses had taken to streets, demanding an end to his austerity programme.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 14 Feb 15 - 04:04 PM

Good posts, Gibb Sahib. Good discussion all round, in fact.

"I don't think the so-called "scientific" concept of "folk" is a necessary or productive way to study those musics. I think the concept is a product of the modern era, a meta-narrative inspired by other modern ideas like nationalism and natural selection (Darwin mis-applied) and anti-urbanization.

To some extent this is now a historical issue. Do even the most steadfast defenders of the 'folk' concept believe it has nationalist connotations? You don't hear a lot any more about the evolutionary analogy either, although the conflict of 'continuity' versus 'variation' still has its uses IMO. Personally I view 'folk music' simply as music that untrained people make for their own pleasure and entertainment. Opportunities for collection (at least in our two nations) are shrinking anyway.

However, the NPR programme (and we all agree on its shortcomings) did more than criticize Lomax for partial adherence to flawed Sharpian concepts. It suggested that, in playing down the commonality between white and black vernacular music, and stressing the importance of blues music in particular to African American culture, Lomax misrepresented that culture. When I asked whether certain critics regard blues as 'fakesong' I was asking whether there is a strand of US academic opinion that believes that, for every Son House and Fred McDowell, there were a hundred African Americans serenading their peers with 'By the Light of the Silvery Moon' and 'Happy Days are Here Again'? It was a serious question.

Thanks to Joseph Scott for information on early blues that tells me it wasn't all got up by Lomax.

Lastly, I've looked at the two Youtube clips linked by Gibb a few posts ago, and have difficulty interpreting them in the same way.
The men 'rocking the load' seem to be in a set-up no different from retired sailors, presented with a block and tackle, and asked to demonstrate hauling up the mainsail to the accompaniment of a shanty. Neither do I see the fife player in the 'roll over' clip 'shaking his ass' or presenting a sexual display. Just goes to show we can look at the same thing and not see the same thing.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Hootenanny
Date: 15 Feb 15 - 06:40 AM

Personally I view 'folk music' simply as music that untrained people make for their own pleasure and entertainment.

A sentiment with which I agree wholeheartedly. Too much bullshit written by too many "academics".

Argue as much as you wish about various collectors and their methods but just be thankful that they did collect what they did and we have a chance to hear it




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Vic Smith
Date: 15 Feb 15 - 06:59 AM

Argue as much as you wish about various collectors and their methods but just be thankful that they did collect what they did and we have a chance to hear it
Of course this statement is totally correct and where would we be without their vastly important work. However, in some cases, with some individuals, feelings about their legacy has been affected by the morality of their approach and methods.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Feb 15 - 07:51 AM

"Personally I view 'folk music' simply as music that untrained people make for their own pleasure and entertainment. "
Simply not the case on both counts - there are indications that cultures with a strong folk tradition had their own methods of training their singers and storytellers.
As far as music and dance was concerned, that training was formalised by the existence of 'dancing masters' who taught both dancing skills and mastery of instruments - this area had two of them withing the living memory of singers we recorded.
The cultural baggage that song brings with it makes it far too complex to write off as simply "entertainment".
One of the great problems with drawing conclusions about the part that song played in the lives of the communities is that we have very little real information from the point of view of the singers - very few collectors recorded anything other than the songs.
I don't know how available the interview Lomax and MacColl did with Harry Cox, but there really is very little to compare with it in importance.
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 15 Feb 15 - 08:10 AM

'untrained'

Point 1 taken, Jim. I was thinking of formal musical training, but certainly in the case of instrumental music there were village musicians two hundred years ago well capable of reading dots. Not too many singers, though, I suspect. I could have said 'non-professional' but there are problems with that, too. I should know better than to get sucked into the definition game.

Point 2 - doesn't 'entertainment' include cultural baggage anyway? Maybe we don't know enough about the opinions of singers, but most of the traditional singing that I've heard seems designed to 'entertain', in the broader sense of the word (= 'diverting', 'holding the attention' etc).




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 15 Feb 15 - 09:09 AM

"Point 2 - doesn't 'entertainment' include cultural baggage anyway?"
Depends - I would rather put it the other way round and say cultural baggage includes entertainment.
The songs we have been dealing with among Irish singers certainly include 'entertaining' pieces, but they also include laments, nationalist rallying cries, outcries of anger at evictions, the Famine, forced emigration, items of local and national history... a whole host of other subjects, alongside Child ballads, songs from the English and Scottish rural repertoires, Irish made pieces picked up from ballad sheets.....
One of the subjects we have never fully come to terms with is the locally made repertoire, a large body of almost entirely anonymous songs made locally and never moving outside the immediate area of this small, one-street town.
One 94 year-old singer summed it up perfectly lat year when he told us; "if a man farted in church, someone made a song about it".
Sure, these are "entertainment, but they were much more than that to the people who learned them (some didn't even sing them, they just wrote them down)
Today, I firmly believe they are an important part of local social history, often unrecorded elsewhere.
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 16 Feb 15 - 02:38 PM

"When I asked whether certain critics regard blues as 'fakesong' I was asking whether there is a strand of US academic opinion that believes that, for every Son House and Fred McDowell, there were a hundred African Americans serenading their peers with 'By the Light of the Silvery Moon' and 'Happy Days are Here Again'? It was a serious question."

I can't think of a single U.S. academic who likes to go on about how compromised black folk music was by pop music who... really knows black folk music (!). (By that I mean, who could tell you e.g. that the first-person songs similar to "Hop Joint" seem to have been transitional between the 1890s 12-bar third-person songs and the first-person songs of about 1908 mentioning quote "blues," for instance. Which I bet you some people like Newman White or Abbe Niles _had_ noticed by 1930, and I bet you the likes of Norm Cohen or Peter Muir has ever thought about. Because it's not exactly that hard to notice if you're actually interested in black folk music -- an interest that for about a half century now _isn't_ all that fashionable relative to anything involving both (1) blues and (2) white people.)

Maybe someone else can think of someone, though.

Making a show of doubting your forebears, without revealing the other thing that you've figured out really happened (because you don't know what really happened) has been fashionable in the last couple decades. With big vocabulary words. A number of books will mention that Alan Lomax, for instance, skewed our perceptions about music, without really saying how, because that's a lot more difficult to figure out than just making that vague claim.

It was normal for a black Southerner to be interested in both folk music and published pop songs. If a person knew, say, both "Railroad Bill" and "After The Ball," are we supposed to believe that that compromised "Railroad Bill" as folk music somehow? I don't.

Regarding folk blues, let me give you a concrete example of how rich blues was a folk tradition independently of the influence of published blues songs or recordings of black blues singers. Lemon Jefferson's "Wartime Blues," e.g., is an example of a 16-bar blues with AAAB lyrics. Sixteen-bar blues had chord progressions similar to I-I-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-V-I-I. That is, very similar to typical 12-bar but extended with one extra line of lyrics in there.

AAAB was the most common lyric form for 16-bar blues with that chord progression, but other forms such as ABBB were sometimes used. The sixteen-bar blues chord progression was also popular in instrumentals.

We know that 16-bar blues peaked in popularity overall some time in the 1910s, because we know that blues in general weren't all that popular yet as of 1909, and we know that 12-bar had managed to dominate 16-bar tremendously by 1920. (Newman White born 1892 suggested, apparently rightly, that the two most common forms of lyrics in blues as of the 1910s were AAB and AAAB.)

Examples of musicians who were familiar with the 16-bar blues form are Blind Lemon Jefferson, Rev. Gary Davis, Leadbelly, Peg Leg Howell, Mance Lipscomb, Bo Carter, Furry Lewis, Charley Jordan, Robert Hicks, Big Bill Broonzy, Henry Thomas, Jesse Fuller, William Moore, Elvie Thomas, Walter Vinson, Pink Anderson, Reese Crenshaw, Thomas Burt, Jim Baxter, Will Shade, Daddy Stovepipe, Skip James, Robert Wilkins, Thomas Shaw, Henry "Rufe" Johnson, John Bray, Bob Coleman, Bobby Grant, Richard Williams, Elester Anderson, Freeman Stowers, and Wiley Barner, among many others.

These musicians typically performed 16-bar blues in an extremely similar fashion to 12-bar blues.

Sixteen-bar blues never caught on among pro songwriters (Handy had little interest in them, and other pro songwriters copied him). Recording black blues singers only became fashionable in 1920 and 1921.

Thus, all those names above point to an era, the 1910s, when 16-bar blues were massively popular among Southern blacks but the pro entertainment industry, which hadn't invented 16-bar blues, wasn't yet taking much interest in 16-bar blues, and never would. An era when _folk_ blues -- by people who acted as though it didn't matter much whether a blues was 16-bar or 12-bar and often mixed both in the same piece -- were massively popular in the South.

(What all that has to do with Mr. Son House, who by his own account got interested in blues music in about 1920 and took up the guitar in about 1925, is not as much as some writers on Son House would like you to believe.)




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Brian Peters
Date: 17 Feb 15 - 06:53 AM

I think that goes some way towards anwering my question, JS.

"It was normal for a black Southerner to be interested in both folk music and published pop songs. If a person knew, say, both "Railroad Bill" and "After The Ball," are we supposed to believe that that compromised "Railroad Bill" as folk music somehow? I don't."

No more than music hall songs in an English traditional singer's repertoire would have compromised his or her Child ballads. Though Jim Carroll has explained before on this forum that singers he knew did draw a distinction between the older and newer songs in their repertoire.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Feb 15 - 08:43 AM

"Though Jim Carroll has explained before on this forum that singers he knew did draw a distinction between the older and newer songs in their repertoire."
An interesting incident regarding this when we were recording the travellers
We recorded a singer (Brian knows who he is) with a repertoire of ballads and narrative songs in a somewhat run-down sean nós style, - he had learned his songs and picked up the singing style from his father.
His brother sang Country and Western songs, but had also picked up his father's songs, which he sang like his C & W stuff, so you got The Outlandish Kinight and The Grey Cock sung in true Hank Williams renditions.
Oe night we were in a pub with a crowd of Travellers and the subject of the brothers' singing came up - the room divided into which had the "best renditions" and the room divided into two opposing (and somewhat vehement) parties
All more-or-less agreed that the singer who sang like his father had "the Traveller" style - the argument was largely about taste.
We were asked to adjudicate, and somewhat hastily declined.
Blind Travelling woman, Mary Delaney, gave us well over 100 songs, most of them narrative and several Child ballads among them.
She could have easily doubled that number with Country and Western songs, but throughout the five years or so we knew her, she refused point-blank to sing them, telling us; "they're not what you are looking for; I only sing them old things because that's what the lads ask me for down in the pub"
What we would call traditional, she described as "my daddie's songs - when we recorded her father, he gave us six songs - she was referring to the type of song, not their source.Not discriminating between different types of song appears to be a sign of deterioration in the oral tradition, in my opinion.
Jim Carroll




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Vic Smith
Date: 17 Feb 15 - 09:20 AM

Amongst the 50-odd songs recorded by us from Jane Turriff in the 1970s:-
"Mill o'Tifty's Annie", "I Belong To Glasgow", "Billy Taylor", "Will The Angels Play Their Harps For Me", "The Battle o'Harlaw", "Keep Right On To The End of The Road", "Bonny Udny", "Dowie Dens o' Yarrow", "A Wee Deoch an Doris", "The Derby Ram".

What Jane loved to sing was "guid sangs" and I would say those ten all fall into that category.




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Jim Carroll
Date: 17 Feb 15 - 11:06 AM

"Good" is a matter of personal taste and little use in to understand the relevance of these songs in the cultures which made and disseminated them.   
I love Edith Piaf's singing, I'm quite partial to Peggy Lee and early Frank Sinatra, and am even happy to listen to Count John with a warm glow of nostalgia, but I wouldn't claim that they all came out of the same stable.
Jim Carroll


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Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Joe Offer
Date: 21 Feb 15 - 11:51 PM

Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Fred McCormick
Date: 17 Feb 15 - 11:33 AM

Vic. 50-odd songs from Jane Turriff! Wow. What condition are they in, and do you intend making any of them commercially available?




Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 17 Feb 15 - 12:37 PM

Imo a counterpart to the singer who thought "The Outlandish Knight" sounded best a la Hank Williams would be Josh White. If you listen to black guitarists born before 1895, e.g., they didn't compromise the folk sound remotely the way Josh did.


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Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: Mrrzy
Date: 22 Feb 15 - 06:03 PM

Thank you for bringing this one back, too!


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Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 23 Feb 15 - 11:44 AM

"It seems he is trying to get these fellows to recreate what they once used to do....

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kzZbPADXD_4 "

It does say in the description, "(... re-enact) 'rocking the load' off the steamboats."

Benjamin Botkin, 1955: "The stevedore's jerky trot or waddling run across the gangplank, with as much side as forward motion, became known as 'coonjining'...."

I was never interested in physics, but I suppose side motion lets your leg muscles take turns. When I had to carry deceased people in a team of two people as part of one of my jobs, if we had someone about 300 pounds on the tray, we certainly were _not_ rocking side to side, although we tended to have strong arm muscles relative to our leg muscles I guess, and it may have been different with the river roustabouts. (?)

When the guy in the hat decides he wants to start dancing, that's not on A.L.'s initiative, that I know of: It's just such a good song...


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Subject: RE: Alan Lomax: Racist stereotypes&all/NPR
From: GUEST,Joseph Scott
Date: 15 Jun 15 - 03:00 PM

"The elder Lomax was born in Mississippi in 1867 and raised in Texas from 1869. That you cringed at only 'some' of his attitudes says something about even John Lomax's relative progressivism."

Excerpt from a letter to John Lomax:
"Your friend Family sends love
Henry Truvillion"


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