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John Lomax’s Historic 1934-1940 South Carolina Recordings Available Online (Free)

The American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, the Association for Cultural Equity, and the Charles Joyner Institute for Gullah and African Studies at Coastal Carolina University are pleased to announce that the entirety of John A. Lomax’s historic South Carolina recordings—made between 1934 and 1940 under the aegis of the Library of Congress’ Archive of Folk Song—are now freely available online via the Lomax Digital Archive. [Access the collection here.] This collaboratively produced catalog* provides free access to more than 12 hours of historic audio, accompanied by extensive descriptive metadata, documenting a diversity of Black and white folk and vernacular music in the Palmetto State: spirituals, hymns, blues, lullabies, ballads, children’s game songs, work songs, as well as stories and personal narratives. Only a fraction of these recordings have ever been published or otherwise made available publicly.
[The new episode of ACE’s “Been All Around This World” podcast surveys the collection. Listen here.] John A. Lomax visited South Carolina several times as a guest of folklorist Genevieve W. Chandler in coastal Murrells Inlet, S.C., who introduced him to some of the renowned singers in the Gullah community there: among them Zackie Knox, Lillie Knox, and “Mom” Hagar Brown. Also representing Gullah traditions of the region in these recordings are Caesar Roper and the Wadmalaw Island singers who participated in Rosa Warren Wilson’s “Plantation Echoes” program, which Lomax recorded in Columbia in 1937. White singers also contributed to the sessions at Chandler’s home with children’s songs, contemporary hillbilly numbers, and ballads. Lomax recorded incarcerated men and women—at the Reid Farm in rural Kershaw County; at the state penitentiary in Columbia; and in a “convict camp” in Anderson County—singing group work songs, sacred pieces, and the occasional blues. Two WPA ditch-digging crews appear in these recordings, one from the Murrells Inlet area and the other from Clemson; this latter group Lomax recorded at the home of South Carolina journalist and memoirist Ben Robertson.


*The Murrells Inlet and Wadmalaw Island material was processed with the support of a National Historic Publications and Records Commission grant with Coastal Carolina University. 

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