No Red, No White, Just Blues: Alan Lomax and the Fisk Ethnographer's 1941 Trip to the Mississippi Delta

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Title: No Red, No White, Just Blues: Alan Lomax and the Fisk Ethnographer's 1941 Trip to the Mississippi Delta
Author: Koshland, Ben
Advisor: Friedman, Andrew
Department: Haverford College. Dept. of History
Type: Thesis (B.A.)
Issue Date: 2011
Abstract: In the summer of 1941, Alan Lomax and a team of ethnographers from Fisk University travelled to Clarksdale, Mississippi as a part of a joint project between the Library of Congress and Fisk University. The purpose of the trip was to record and document the folk music of the Delta for the Library's archives. For Lomax, Assistant Curator of Folk Song at the Library, the trip represented an irresistible chance to record one of his favorite genres of folk, Delta blues, a music of the region's black working class. Originating in the Delta at the end of the 19th century, by the 1940s the Delta blues had come to personify the region. Its gritty tones coupled with satirical lyrics took on issues of class and race within a region known for its intense racial oppression. While Lomax believed the Delta to be a one of America's greatest folk cultures, the project reflected a very different picture of the region. Demonstrated by the findings of Lomax and his colleagues from Fisk, the 1940s Delta was region undergoing serious socio-political reforms. With the nation mobilizing for war and the Delta experiencing its own regional changes, the 1940s was a moment of transition and transformation with both the Delta and the nation. Through the three varying perspectives of Alan Lomax, the Fisk ethnographers, and the Delta bluesmen, I argue that this project's history is essential to understanding the relationships between southern working class blacks and issues of labor, race, and nationalism. As a white popular front leftist from the nation's capital, Alan Lomax conceived the trip as a chance to collect a music he believed essential to voicing the plight of America's working classes. At the same time, his Fisk colleagues John W. Work, Lewis W. Jones, and Samuel C. Adams Jr. of the southern black middle class, saw the trip as a means of studying and canonizing working class black music into the American mainstream. Finally, the bluesmen represented the voices of the Delta through their music. The combination of these three differing histories on the same story demonstrates the fragmentation within the black community in a period where blacks began to mobilize throughout the nation towards a unified black community and eventually a common front of the civil rights movement.
Subject: Blues (Music) -- Mississippi -- Coahoma County
Subject: Lomax, Alan, 1915-2002
Subject: Fisk University
Subject: Lomax, Alan, 1915-2002 -- Travel -- Mississippi -- Delta (Region)
Subject: Ethnomusicology -- Mississippi -- Delta (Region)
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Koshland, Ben. "No Red, No White, Just Blues: Alan Lomax and the Fisk Ethnographer's 1941 Trip to the Mississippi Delta". 2011. Available electronically from

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