US folksong scholar. Assisted by his son Alan Lomax, he travelled mostly throughout the American South and West. He replaced the old horn-and-cylinder recording machine with a battery powered microphone and disc-cutting machine, and over the years the Lomaxes recorded some 10,000 songs, eventually deposited in the Library of Congress Archives of American Folksong, of which he was named the first curator. Among his many discoveries were such songs as ‘Home on the Range’ and ‘John Henry’, and in 1933 the singer Leadbelly. His American Ballads and Folk Songs (1934) and Our Singing Country (compiled with his son, 1941), popularized folk music and inspired the folksong movement of the following decades.
Lomax was born in Goodman, Mississippi. He was raised in Texas, where as a teenager he began writing down cowboy songs. He taught and worked while earning his BA from the University of Texas (1895) and then got MAs in English from the University of Texas (1906) and Harvard University (1907). Encouraged by the Harvard faculty and enabled by Harvard fellowships, he began systematically collecting cowboy songs at a time when most academics looked down on such an interest. His Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads (1910) was a landmark compilation. In order to support his family, for 20 years he moved back and forth from work in university administration to investment and banking institutions, but he continued to collect and lecture on folksongs. In 1932 he finally began to receive adequate financial aide so that he could take to the road full-time.