The folklorist and ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax was a prodigious collector of traditional music from all over the world and a tireless missionary for that cause. Long before the Internet existed, he envisioned a “global jukebox” to disseminate and analyze the material he had gathered during decades of fieldwork.
A decade after his death technology has finally caught up to Lomax’s imagination. Just as he dreamed, his vast archive — some 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts, much of it tucked away in forgotten or inaccessible corners — is being digitized so that the collection can be accessed online. About 17,000 music tracks will be available for free streaming by the end of February, and later some of that music may be for sale as CDs or digital downloads. (NYT)
Photo: Mississippi Fred McDowell, Alan Lomax/Association for Cultural Equity
David “Honeyboy” Edwards, the son of a sharecropper, the grandson of a slave and — for an extraordinary 80-plus years — the voice of the Delta blues, died Monday at his home in Chicago, said his longtime manager, Michael Frank. He was 96 and had been in declining health with heart problems.
Edwards picked cotton and pulled corn on Mississippi Delta plantations from age 9, living the hard life that the blues were created to address. As a young man, he hoboed across the South with a guitar on his shoulder, rode the rails, got thrown in prison for vagrancy and on various trumped-up charges and, along the way, made music with the founders of the art form: Robert Johnson, Charlie Patton, Son House, Tommy McLennan, Sonny Boy Williamson and Big Joe Williams.
“Honeyboy — that’s the end of the line,” said veteran Chicago blues musician Billy Branch, who recorded and performed with Edwards. “He’s the last of the bluesmen from his generation. He was that direct connection with the fabled Robert Johnson, and with [Edwards’ death] it is the end of that particular style.”
“You could play the blues like it was a lonesome thing — it was a feeling,” he said in a 1997 interview with the Chicago Tribune. “The blues is nothing but a story…. The verses which are sung in the blues is a true story, what people are doing … what they all went through. It’s not just a song, see?” (LAT)
Hear songs from artists covered in Devil Sent the Rain. Tom Piazza’s collection of essays features pieces on several musicians whose songs and personae conjure, as he puts it, “the bottom of the American ladder.” (NPR)
ARTISTS IN THE MIX:
Big Bill Broonzy
Big Maceo Merriweather
Big Mama Thornton
Blind Lemon Jefferson
Blind Willie McTell
Jelly Roll Morton
Jelly Roll Morton & His Red Hot Peppers
John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson
Merle Haggard and the Strangers
The Rolling Stones
Photo: Muddy Waters in 1979. (Paul Natkin/WireImage)
Even as I recognized his strong presence in the style of some of my favorite musicians — and even as I was drawn to his cutting, mournful wails while my toes tapped along to his tales — it was harder to put my finger on exactly what Johnson had to say to me all these years after he first sat down to put these songs on record in the 1930s….
But then his voice would reach out from under lost cultural touchstones and crackling records and grab hold of me.