From the Mississippi Delta to Cuba and beyond, Alan Lomax documented a vast array of distinct and disparate varieties of regional music for over sixty years, creating a vast and priceless collection of audio, video, and photographic recordings along the way. I recently stumbled upon the Association for Cultural Equity’s Video Collections — archival footage from places like New Orleans, the Mississippi Hill Country, Appalachia, and the Carolinas. Most of which were featured in Lomax’s PBS Series, American Patchwork. Enthralled, I spent the weekend with Lomax as my guide. I watched R.L. Burnside’s young sons do the Hambone and dodged splinters while R.L. chopped wood, sang and hollered. I talked to Joe Savage, once an inmate on Parchman Farm. I partied with Algia May Hinton on the front porch of her house in Johnston County, in my home state of North Carolina. I danced as a young Dirty Dozen Brass Band performed “Bongo Beep” at the Glass House in New Orleans.
And that was only the beginning of my experience. The aforementioned clips and the following highlights are needles in the massive haystack that is Lomax’s archive. So dig in, pay attention and pass it along, as this vault of cultural history does well to illustrate how connected we as Americans all are, even in our differences. Enjoy.
1978: Mississippi Delta & Hill Country
“R.L. Burnside plays [‘Poor Black Mattie’] at a picnic outside Como, Mississippi.”
“Done Died One Time (Ain’t Gonna Die No More),’ performed by Boyd Rivers and his wife Ruth May [in Canton, Mississippi].”
“A performance of [‘I Got A New Walk’] by the Rising Sons of Senatobia, Mississippi, at an unspecified A.M.E. church in Arkabutla, Miss. (Please bear with us for the first 45 seconds or so. It’s worth it.)”
1982: Holly Springs, GA
“Idumea’ (#47b), also known as ‘And Am I Born to Die?’, sung by the 1982 Holly Springs Sacred Harp Convention; led by Mark Brown.”
1982: New Orleans, LA
“Big Chief Jake Millon and the White Eagles Mardi Gras Indians rehearse ‘My Big Chief’s Got the Golden Crown’ at Darrell’s Lounge, 7th Ward, New Orleans.”
1983: Johnston County, NC
“John Dee Holeman, James ‘Junior’ Thomas, and an unidentified man sing ‘Wade In the Water.’”
1983: Johns Island, SC
“Bertha Smith and the Moving Star Hall Singers (including Ruth Bligen, Janie Hunter, Esau Jenkins, Mary Pinckney, Benjy Bligen, and others unidentified) sing ‘Eli, Eli (Somebody Call Eli).” words/ j steele