John Lomax : biography
John Avery Lomax (September 23, 1867 - January 26, 1948) was an American teacher, a pioneering musicologist and folklorist who did much for the preservation of American folk songs. He was father to Alan Lomax, also a distinguished collector of folk music.
Texas Folklore Society
Around the same time, Lomax and Professor Leonidas Payne of the University of Texas at Austin co-founded the Texas Folklore Society, following Kittredge’s suggestion that Lomax establish a Texas branch of the American Folklore Society. Lomax and Payne hoped that the society would further their own research while kindling an interest in folklore among like-minded Texans. On Thanksgiving Day, 1909, Lomax nominated Payne as president of the society, and Payne nominated Lomax as first secretary. The two set out to marshal support, and a month later, Killis Campbell, an associate professor at the University, publicly proposed the formation of the Society at a meeting of the Texas State Teachers Association in Dallas.Porterfield, p. 141. By April 1910, there were ninety-two charter members.The 1910 promotional pamphlet for the society, prepared mostly by Leonidas Payne (and largely based on Henry M. Belden 1906’s pamphlet for the Missouri Folklore Society), explained the society’s purpose and suggested the following guidelines to workers:For the collector of Folk-Lore, the most important virtue is accuracy; and the value of any contribution is destroyed if it is not given just as it was told or sung or described, with no changes whatever, even when such change seems necessary to make sense. Second to accuracy, it is of great importance that full information be supplied, when possible, as to the source of the contribution, the informant, whence he has obtained the material, how long it has been current, and any other date that may be of aid to the student. Whenever it is possible, a transcript in the exact words of the informant is best – colloquialisms, meaningless words, mistakes, and all—and, in the case of ballads and much of the other work, such exactness is necessary. The following questions may be of use to the collector:
- 1. Have you recorded the material just as you found it, mistakes and all?
- 2. Where, when, and from whom did you get it?
- 3. Did you take it from recitation, from old manuscript, from singing, or write it out from memory?
- 4. When, where, and from whom did your informant get it? (Quoted in Francis Edward Abernethy, The Texas Folklore Society: 1909–1943, [Denton: University of North Texas Press, 1992, 1994], p. 30.) The Society's first annual meeting was held in 1911 on the University of Texas campus.
Lomax then used his prestige as a nationally-known author to travel the country raising money for folklore studies and to establish other state folklore societies. "He was among the first scholars to present papers about American folk songs to the Modern Language Association, the nation's leading organization of teachers of languages and literature. For the next several years he hit the lecture circuit, traveling so often that his wife, Bess Brown, had to help him with his schedules and even some of his speeches." His lectures on cowboy songs, ballads and poetry took him all across the eastern USA.Porterfield, p. 176–179. For example, in December 1911, Lomax made a successful performance at Cornell University, singing and reciting some of the cowboy songs he had collected.Porterfield, p. 143–144. Sometimes he would have a chorus of college students dress up as cowboys to add interest to his presentations.
Lomax's abiding interest in African-American folklore was also in evidence, for he had plans to publish another book containing black folk songs within a year. Although the book failed to materialize, he did publish (in the Journal of American Folklore, December 1912) "Stories of an African Prince", a collection of sixteen African stories, which he had obtained through his correspondence with a young Nigerian student, Lattevi Ajayi.Porterfield, p. 171–173. In 1912, with the backing of Kittredge, John A. Lomax was elected president of the American Folklore Society, with Kittredge (himself a former president of the society) as First Vice President. He was re-elected for a second term in 1913.See: Rosemary Levy Zumwalt, American Folklore Scholarship: a Dialogue of Dissent (University of Indiana Press, 1988), p. 36. Ballad scholar James Francis Child also served two terms as president, in 1888 and 1889; Kittredge had been president in 1904. The Journal of the American Folklore Society was edited then and for many years afterward by anthropologist Franz Boas, who was succeeded by Ruth Benedict. In
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