January 25, 2017

Ethnomusicologists have continued to do necessary and significant research, both in the field and beyond, but it’s difficult to muster up a modern analogue for Lomax. No other single figure is as invested in the American musical canon, or as influential. In part that’s the result of a global shift towards self-mythologizing: we all maniacally catalogue and broadcast our lives now, ensuring our legacies to both transcendent and humiliating ends. Who needs Lomax when we have YouTube?

January 21, 2017

One of my tasks as curator of the Alan Lomax Archive is to manage its YouTube channel. Several years ago, I noticed a particular strain of commentary recurring on the five clips that compose the recorded output of an utterly obscure and equally affecting singer-guitarist named Belton Sutherland, whom Lomax met in rural Madison County, Mississippi, in 1978.

February 11, 2016

Bessie Jones nurtured a prodigious repertoire of songs—hundreds of them, for work, play, worship, instruction—as both a rite and as a vocation. Her vision was one of radical egalitarianism, inspired by the enduring collective, expressive folk traditions—occupational, recreational, spiritual—of the black rural South and her ardent faith in a kind of ecstatic liberation theology, which found activist application in the civil rights movement.

January 30, 2015

It’s nighttime in the country. A woman slips out of bed and looks in the mirror. She hears Bonnie Montgomery’s new album on the radio. An old prisoner swears he ain’t gonna work on Parchman’s farm no more.

April 27, 2014

Texas Island isn’t an island, nor is it in Texas. It’s a vague peninsula around which wraps Moon Lake, an oxbow formed by an abandoned meander of the Mississippi River, twenty miles north of Clarksdale off Highway 61, near the hamlet of Lula.