John Lomax's East Texas Tour

Tour curated by: Amy Bertsch

Follow "Ballad Hunter" John Avery Lomax (1867-1948) on his travels through East Texas as he searched prison yards and company towns for authentic folk songs. Between 1933 and 1940, Lomax toured the American South collecting songs shared by tradition and common culture rather than by formal education, church, or the new medium of recorded popular music. First assisted by his son Alan and later by his wife Ruby Terrill, Lomax sought out songs by workers, convicts, and others with a shared cultural experience. Often relying on a car battery to power his recording equipment in the field, Lomax documented scores of songs in East Texas that are now part of the Library of Congress collections, including several featured on this tour, along with photos and stories of those who performed them.

Locations for Tour

Folklorist John Avery Lomax toured prisons in the South to record the voices and music of those who were incarcerated there, particularly African American inmates or as his records indicate, "Negro convicts." Lomax and his son Alan, a…

As part of their Southern States Recording Trip in 1939, John A. Lomax and his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax attempted to expand their catalog of folk music by incorporating a wider variety of genres, and the contributions of Huntsville resident Grace…

To collect authentic, undocumented folk music, John A. Lomax and his son Alan specifically sought out "made up" songs, ones that had been created and developed by everyday people. In 1934, while searching for the local and secular music of…

In his pursuit of folk music, John A. Lomax visited penitentiaries throughout the South specifically to document the music of African Americans that, because of racial segregation and the isolation of prison life, remained pure or relativity free of…

John A. Lomax first met Henry Truvillion, an African American in his mid-40s, in the company town of Wiergate in Newton County. Truvillion worked for the Wier Long Leaf Lumber Company which operated a large logging business in the East Texas…

During their field recording sessions in fall 1940, John A. and Ruby T. Lomax visited the Lufkin area collecting songs that ranged from gospel music to blues to popular 19th century tunes. In Keltys, a lumber mill town then just outside of Lufkin,…

In 1933 and 1934, folklorist John A. Lomax and his son Alan visited the Darrington prison farm to record the music of African American convicts. At Darrington, they captured not only the vocals of inmates who sang as they worked in rhythm, but also…

Searching for authentic folk music, John A. Lomax made multiple trips to the Sugar Land area in the 1930s. First in 1933 and 1934, he and his son Alan visited the Central State correctional facility to document work songs of African American inmates.…

While seeking folk songs in African American communities, John A. Lomax and his wife Ruby visited two schools for black students in Newton County in May 1939. They first recorded at Liberty High School in the emancipation community of Liberty and…

In April 1939, John A. Lomax and his wife Ruby Terrill Lomax visited Ramsey State Prison Farm near Otey with the hope of documenting more songs by African American prisoners after disappointing visits to Darrington and Central State where inmates…

In fall 1940, folklorist John A. Lomax and his wife Ruby visited Jasper where a friend introduced them to an elderly African American man they referred to as "Uncle Billy McCrea." Documented in most other records as Bill McCray, he had been…

During his Southern States Recording Trip in 1939, folklorist John A. Lomax sought out songs by African American performers and inmates. Accompanied by his wife, Ruby Terrill Lomax, John visited Clemens State Prison Farm in mid-April 1939. The couple…