The Western Folklife Center has been asked to produce a story for National Public Radio on the folk music collecting of John Lomax. This coincides with the 100th anniversary of the publishing of his first collection, Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads, in November of 1910. We are working with a New York folklife organization called City Lore and hope to produce other stories on the journeys of early folklorists to discover the soul of America through its folklore. On this week-long journey through Texas and Louisiana, we go to the place Lomax grew up and saw, first-hand, the cattle drives after the Civil War. We visit the Elephant Saloon at the Stockyards in Fort Worth where he collected cowboy songs and where Don Edwards sang those same old songs in the 1970s. As we journey along the same paths Lomax took we contrast the world he lived in with that of contemporary America.
We hope to produce a second story on Lomax’s collecting of musical traditions of African Americans. Lomax looked for singers in isolated communities and visited prisons to collect blues, gospel and work songs. He felt that cowboy music and the music of black America were two of America’s great musical traditions. We will end our travels this week at Angola—the largest prison in America—where we will document the rodeo and talk to musicians and singers in that prison.