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Library of Congress Unites Work of Alan Lomax

The Library of Congress unveiled today its latest acquisition: the archives of legendary folklorist Alan Lomax. The collection had been housed at a college in New York. Now — as NPR's Felix Contreras reports — it is united in Washington, D.C. with the work Lomax did with his father for the library in the 1930s and '40s.

Lomax's relationship with the library started in 1933 when he was 18 years old. He joined his father, John, for their first recording expedition under the auspices of the Library of Congress. Over the course of their travels, they recorded field workers, church singers, convicts, families — and future stars such as Leadbelly and Muddy Waters.

Lomax left the Library in 1942, resigning his position as head of the Archive of American Folk Song to turn his attention and microphones to folk cultures in the Caribbean and Europe. Lomax said the driving force behind his lifetime of collecting was a philosophy that folklore, music and stories are windows into the human condition.

The united Lomax collection includes 5,000 hours of recordings, 400,000 feet of motion picture film, thousands of videotapes, books, journals and hundreds of photos and negatives. The library now begins the enormous task of cataloging and eventually digitizing the collection.

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Felix Contreras is co-creator and host of Alt.Latino, NPR's pioneering radio show and podcast celebrating Latin music and culture since 2010.