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Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana

The 1934 Lomax Recordings

424 pages / 7.00 x 10.00 inches / 12 halftones

ebook available

Music | Literature - Folklore | Regional Studies

  Hardcover / 9780807152010 / November 2013

Alan Lomax’s prolific sixty-four-year career as a folklorist and musicologist began with a trip across the South and into the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country during the height of the Great Depression. In 1934, his father John, then curator of the Library of Congress’s Archive of American Folk Song, took an eighteen-year-old Alan and a 300-pound aluminum disk recorder into the rice fields of Jennings, along the waterways of New Iberia, and behind the gates of Angola State Penitentiary to collect vestiges of African American and Acadian musical tradition. These recordings now serve as the foundational document of indigenous Louisiana music. 

Although widely recognized by scholars as a key artifact in the understanding of American vernacular music, most of the recordings by John and Alan Lomax during their expedition across the central-southern fringe of Louisiana were never transcribed or translated, much less studied in depth. This volume presents, for the first time, a comprehensive examination of the1934 corpus and unveils a multifaceted story of traditional song in one of the country’s most culturally dynamic regions.
Through his textual and comparative study of the songs contained in the Lomax collection, Joshua Clegg Caffery provides a musical history of Louisiana that extends beyond Cajun music and zydeco to the rural blues, Irish and English folk songs, play-party songs, slave spirituals, and traditional French folk songs that thrived at the time of these recordings. 
Intimate in its presentation of Louisiana folklife and broad in its historical scope, Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana honors the legacy of John and Alan Lomax by retrieving these musical relics from obscurity and ensuring their understanding and appreciation for generations to come. 
• Complete transcriptions of the 1934 Lomax Field Recordings in southwestern Louisiana
• Side-by-side translations from French to English
• Photographs from the 1934 field trip and biographical details about the performers

Joshua Clegg Caffery, author of Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana, is a native of Franklin, Louisiana, and is currently a visiting professor in folklore at Indiana University in Bloomington. He was a founding member of the Red Stick Ramblers and a longtime member of the Louisiana French band Feufollet. In addition to being nominated for a Grammy for his work on the Feufollet album En Couleurs, he served as the 2013–14 Alan Lomax Fellow in Folklife Studies at the John W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress.

Praise for Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana

“The book’s inherent value lies in getting the Lomax materials out of the archive and into broader circulation while providing a navigable roadmap to the 1934 recordings. . . . An essential reference for understanding Louisiana’s vernacular soundscape during the Great Depression. This volume will appeal to Cajun music aficionados, vernacular music scholars, and folklorists.”—American Music

Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana is a map to a buried treasure. . . . Caffery’s book, however, doesn’t just point the way; it exhaustively and thoughtfully itemizes, analyzes, and contextualizes the collection’s contents, revealing an astounding diversity of Louisiana folk culture and confirming the Lomax recordings as a crucial document of the richness of American vernacular expression.”—Nathan Salsburg, curator, Alan Lomax Archive

“Groundbreaking and thoroughly insightful. . . . By systematically presenting examples of the sources and song variants, including parish, place, and participant lineages, Caffery has woven a never-before-told story of the foundation of the unique history of our Creole French, Acadian, and Anglo musical heritage. This work is not merely an academic exercise intended to fuse an intended outcome, but it more distinctly humanizes the data, bringing into focus the ‘diamond in the rough’ elements that provide the ground for a uniquely creative and transcendent Louisiana musical society.”—Michael Doucet, Grammy Award-winning musician

“With a craftsman’s care and a scholar’s vision, Joshua Clegg Caffery examines the complete yield of the Lomax collecting expedition of 1934. The result is a major contribution to the history of folklore scholarship, and, more importantly, a rich survey of the ‘wild and dynamic diversity’ of coastal Louisiana’s tradition of music and song.”—Henry Glassie, College Professor Emeritus of Folklore, Indiana University

Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana: The 1934 Lomax Recordings treats its subject with the seriousness that it deserves and provides a way for this wonderful material to reach a much wider audience. It is one of the largest single-volume collections of folk songs, and one of the best documented. The translations alone are enough to make this a significant work. Traditional Music in Coastal Louisiana fills in a major gap in American regional culture and history.”—John Szwed, author of Alan Lomax: The Man Who Recorded the World

Botkin Lecture (Library of Congress)

Watch Joshua Caffery speak about the Lomax Recordings on the Library of Congress YouTube channel. A transcript of the lecture is available on LOC's website.

John and Alan Lomax in Louisiana, 1934

An online archive of all the recordings made by John and Alan Lomax in 1934.

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