Lomax - not an anthropoligist, but a rip-off artist

I meant to blog on Sunday about the New York Times lionizing Alan Lomax, proclaiming him as king of American folklore because he "discovered" blues musicians such as Leadbelly and Muddy Waters. And he did do some excellent research. But he was also less than honest and had little integrity. He hated the rise of folk rock not because, as he claimed, it was inauthentic (never mind that music is SUPPOSED to evolve), but because people listening to the new folk would no longer listen to the old folk music as much and therefore cut way into his income stream. Plus, he could no longer set the rules.

So I was interested in Dave Marsh's article in Counterpunch: Alan Lomax: Great White Fraud.

As a veteran blues observer wrote me, "Don't get too caught up in grieving for Alan Lomax. For every fine musical contribution that he made, there was an evil venal manipulation of copyright, publishing and ownership of the collected material."

The most notorious concerns "Goodnight Irene." Lomax and his father recorded Huddie "Leadbelly" Ledbetter's song first, so when the song needed to be formally copyrighted because the Weavers were about to have a huge hit with it, representatives of the Ledbetter family approached him. Lomax agreed that this copyright should be established. He adamantly refused to take his name off the song, or to surrender income from it, even though Leadbelly's family was impoverished in the wake of his death two years earlier.

Lomax believed folk culture needed guidance from superior beings like himself. Lomax told Bochan what he believed: nothing in poor people's culture truly happened unless someone like him documented it. He hated rock'n'roll--down to instigating the assault against Bob Dylan's sound system at Newport in '65--because it had no need of mediation by experts like himself.
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