These are documentary sound recordings of rural Kentucky music and lore made for the Library of Congress by John Lomax and his son Alan together and separately over about a four year period in the 1930s and early 1940s. The earliest recordings were made by John and Alan Lomax in Harlan County in 1933. John was back once more in 1939. The bulk of the recordings are the result of Alan's work during three more visits in 1937, 1938, and 1942. He collaborated in Bell County with New York University folklorist Mary Elizabeth Barnicle. Kentucky recordings that she made separately are also included in this online resource.
Making these many hours of recordings required travel over often poor roads in twelve eastern Kentucky counties. Additional locations included Northern Kentucky for soldiers at Fort Thomas, Cincinnati for Kentuckians living in Ohio performing at the Ohio Valley Folk Festival, and New York City for recently arrived Bell and Harlan countians.
Alan Lomax believed that a chief result of his and his father's efforts for the Library of Congress was that "for the first time America could hear itself." For this benefit to endure he cautioned that "...folksongs should not be buried in libraries as they are in Washington and in universities over the country."
This online effort seeks to realize Lomax's vision of meaning and accessibility for the present day. It is made possible through the partnering of Berea College and the University of Kentucky with the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress and the Association for Cultural Equity.