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Feb. 02, 2012

Dreams Of A ‘Global Jukebox’

by Annette Heist

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Over his 70-year career, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax amassed thousands of sound recordings, piles of photographs, miles of film, and hours of videotape documenting traditional music and musicians from around the world. From his New York Times obituary (he died in 2002):
‘Mr. Lomax saw folk music and dance as human survival strategies that had evolved through centuries of experimentation and adaptation; each, he argued, was as irreplaceable as a biological species. “It is the voiceless people of the planet who really have in their memories the 90,000 years of human life and wisdom,” he once said.’
Lomax imagined a “global jukebox” where music and other recordings could be collected and easily shared, long before iTunes, or even the internet, existed. The items he collected are now housed at the American Folklife Center, where they’re being digitized, moving that jukebox dream further along.
 
Lomax’s personal recordings from 1947 on have been digitized and are available here. This week, to coincide with what would have been his 97th birthday, the Global Jukebox label is releasing The Alan Lomax Collection From the American Folklife Center. It features 16 tracks, collected between 1947-1982, including “Joe Turner” by Ed Young and Hobart Smith (below).
 
Lomax’s music legacy extends beyond Earth; he served as consultant to Carl Sagan for the audio collection that accompanied the 1977 Voyager space probe. For more on Alan Lomax, including an excerpt from his FBI file, check out the Association for Cultural Equity.

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About Annette Heist

Annette Heist is a former senior producer for Science Friday.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Science Friday.

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