In the Footsteps of John Lomax: Austin and Houston

John Lomax, impresario and folklorist.

John Lomax grew up on a farm hearing the songs of cowboys on the trails and also the songs of freed African American slaves. Something in those two experiences guided him through a life of preserving and valuing those two particular traditions. He was a man of his times, so his attitudes may not jibe with how we see race today; nevertheless, Lomax never wavered from believing that these two musical traditions were essential to the American character. We spent the morning at the Lomax collection at the University of Texas at Austin with John Wheat and folklorist Roger Renwick. They both have studied extensively the life and times of John Lomax and we were able to have a really interesting conversation and interview about the man and his work. 

John Wheat is the curator of the Lomax collection at the University of Texas at Austin, and has been a great resource in understanding the life and times of John Lomax.

On the drive from Austin to Houston we listened to archival radio shows that were recorded by the Library of Congress narrated by John Lomax. The series The Ballad Hunter brilliantly and unabashedly laid out a rationale for the importance of folk creativity and what it means to a democratic nation to value the voice of the people. It’s an inspiring radio show that in our cynical world everyone today should hear.

Downtown Houston is not fun to drive into after the lovely Texas countryside full of spring blooming wildflowers. We checked into a big impersonal hotel and made our way to the offices of the Houston Press, a weekly hip tabloid. There we sat with the great grandson and namesake of our subject, John Nova Lomax. At 40 years old, Lomax is the past music editor for the paper and feels a deep connection to the Lomax name. He loves his city in all its diversity and creative talent and works to bring out the finest talent of Houston. He also has a keen interest in social justice and combines all to carry on the Lomax name.

John Nova Lomax is a journalist for the Houston Press and writes extensively on the new music of Houston and the complexities of one of the most dynamic cities of our century.

Hal Cannon

One response to “In the Footsteps of John Lomax: Austin and Houston

  1. Thanks for the articles and the NPR show on John Lomax without whom the field of folklore would be very impoverished as there would not have been his son, Alan, either. I first heard one of THE BOUNTY HUNTER radio programs on an old time radio show on KVMR, 89.3, Nevada City CA in late 2009. The producers of the show, David and Linda Breninger have a large collection that includes the original 16″ transcription discs of this program about which I could find little on the Internet until I stumbled onto your reference to the American Folklife Center, Library of Congress, from which I just ordered the program on cassette as it appears not to be on CD. I very much agree with your comments about the program. At 68, I remain just a listener to folk music, not a researcher or reader, so I was very taken with THE BOUNTY HUNTER as I come from a time and milieu where one is inclined to believe folk music was not discovered until 1960 when it became popular on a fairly wide scale for the first time I guess. I was very surprised that Mr. Lomax’s show even existed, let alone that it was broadcast on commercial radio which I doubt would happen today.

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