The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Thursday, April 25, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Wilson Library presents lecture on Alan Lomax's journey

More than 50 years ago, one man traveled through six states on a journey to publicize the then little-known genre of folk music.

Wilson Library is presenting a lecture on “The Southern Journey of Alan Lomax,” a book of photos taken by Lomax during his journey through the South.

The event celebrates his life and work as a folklorist who was passionate about music.

The book of photography compiles images of Southern blues and folk musicians, church worshippers and workers from Lomax’s journey through Virginia, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, Kentucky and Tennessee from 1959 to 1960.

The lecture features a discussion with Anna Lomax Wood, Alan Lomax’s daughter, Grammy Award winner Tom Piazza and UNC professor Bill Ferris.

Ferris, a longtime friend and admirer of Lomax, penned the introduction to the book.

Ferris said Lomax had an attraction to blues because he felt it had a deeply emotional style.

“The blues struck him in his heart, and he could never forget it,” Ferris said.

“He went to these musicians’ homes and recorded and photographed them. He created a vision for studying music all over the world.”

The photographs featured in the book are black and white.

“They are portraits of musicians and singing,” Ferris said. “They give you a better sense of who these performers were than simply listening to the music. When you can see the face and homes, it gives context to the music.”

Lomax was sponsored by the Library of Congress to collect music from the South, Wood said.

“His idea was that at this point, African-American music had not been really recorded and properly researched,” she said.

“My father thought it would be important to go back to some of the places he knew from the South and see if this music was still alive down there.”

Wood said this was not the only journey Lomax took while searching for music.

“It was a lifelong passion,” she said. “He understood that music as a people doesn’t grow up in a vacuum — it comes out of a culture. It is an emotional cast that people instantly recognize they share in common.”

One picture from the book features people from the hill country of Mississippi. Sid Hemphill, a blind musician, is shown playing the quills, a type of panpipe.

“My father was very excited to come across that in Mississippi,” Wood said. “He described it as a very ancient African style. I think he always wondered why that existed there — that pocket of very African music.”

Wood said blues is still influential today.

“It is part of our history as a country,” she said. “It has influenced the music of the entire world as American music of this kind.”

Steve Weiss, curator of the Southern Folklife Collection at Wilson Library, said blues is still relatable.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.

“I think it is Southern folklore that really gives American culture its identity,” he said. “The range of emotions expressed in this music is very powerful and something people can relate to.”

Contact the desk editor at