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Take the Archive Challenge

Calling All Performers…

-- download info document here

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the American Folklife Center (AFC) at the Library of Congress. The Center incorporates the AFC Archive, which was established at the Library in 1928, and which is an unparalleled collection of sound recordings of traditional music. In the AFC Archive, you’ll find everything from the first wax cylinder recordings of Native American song, to John and Alan Lomax’s pioneering disc-era recordings, to recent digital documentation of folk concerts of all kinds. Best known performers in the Archive include Muddy Waters, Pete Seeger, Honeyboy Edwards, Woody Guthrie, Aunt Molly Jackson, Lead Belly, Doc Watson, Bill Monroe, and Jean Ritchie… but there are millions of great songs, tunes, and stories from thousands of performers you’ve never even heard of!

To celebrate, Folk Alliance International joins the American Folklife Center for conference attendees to perform there own version of a field recording from the AFC Archive on the American Folklife Center 40th Anniversary Stage at FAI’s upcoming conference in Kansas City, February 17-21, 2016.

All spots are full, but please join us to watch others perform. 


How to Find Songs & Tunes in the AFC Archive

Searching through a digital archive to find great material can be like panning for gold… but with some patient sifting, you’ll be rewarded with a gold nugget! 

To find great material collected by folklorists such as John and Alan Lomax, Zora Neale Hurston, Herbert Halpert, Stetson Kennedy, Alan Jabbour, and many others too numerous to mention, go to the American Folklife Center’s Online Collections page at

There you’ll find a menu of AFC Archive collections that we have digitized for your use. Browse the descriptions of each collection to see which ones interest you the most, then dive in! From songs and stories of Dust-Bowl-era migrant workers to Ohio canal songs, African-American gospel, Spanish-language hymns from New Mexico, work songs from the railroad gangs and turpentine camps of late 1930s Florida, and Virginia fiddle tunes… there’s sure to be something that floats your boat.     

Learn a song or tune from a contemporary performer in one of AFC’s Homegrown Concerts! The benefit to this method is that you’ll be watching videos of the performances instead of just listening to the recordings. Every genre you can imagine, including Gospel, Old-Time, Irish, Conjunto, Blues, Polka, Rockabilly, Bluegrass, Klezmer, Western Swing, Scandinavian fiddling, Cowboy Songs and Poetry, and much, much more! Webcasts of concert performances from 2002 to 2015 are archived here:


Alan Lomax Collections

Three large collections of Alan Lomax’s Library of Congress disc recordings are available online in audio form. 

For Lomax’s 1938 field trip to Michigan and Wisconsin, in which he recorded songs and stories from twelve different ethnic groups, plus the occupational folklife of loggers and lake sailors, go to:

For Lomax’s 1934 field trip to Louisiana, in which he recorded both English-language ballads and blues and French-language Cajun and Creole music, go to:
For Lomax’s rural Kentucky music and lore collected between 1933 and 1942 -- including ballads, play-party ditties and comic pieces, topical and protest material, fiddle and banjo tunes, hymns and sacred songs, children's games and lullabies, jokes, and tall tales -- go to

Visit the Association for Cultural Equity (ACE) website at, for recordings from the rest of Alan Lomax’s long career. ACE’s website contains over 17,400 digital audio files you can listen to online... beginning with Lomax’s first recordings onto (newly invented) tape in 1946, and tracing his career into the 1990s. Once at the ACE website, you can click on links for sound collections, video collections, and radio shows to find songs, tunes, stories, jokes, and sermons (you are not limited to performing only music on the 40th Anniversary Showcase!) Choose from blues, Cajun, calypso, Appalachian songs and stories, old-time string band tunes, music from Scotland, Ireland, and so much more!  

Go to the Alan Lomax Centennial page on the American Folklife Center’s website at:

There, you can click on the link “Iconic Song List” -- a list of over 100 "classic" folk songs and traditional tunes that the Lomaxes documented through their field recordings, or increased public awareness of through commercial recordings, publications, radio programs, and concerts. Chances are, you know one or two of those songs already (though we’d love for you to dig even deeper, and learn a new or rare one!)


Learning Songs From Musical Notation on Printed Page 

If you prefer learning your songs from musical notation on the printed page, you can go to your local library or bookseller and find a copy of one of the Lomaxes’ published song collections:

American Ballads and Folk Songs. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1934. Reprinted 1935, 1941–1943, 1946, 1953, 1964. Reprinted, New York: Dover Publications, 1994.

Our Singing Country: A Second Volume of American Ballads and Folk Songs. Ruth Crawford Seeger, music editor. New York: The Macmillan Company, 1941. Reprinted 1949. Reprinted with Introduction by Judith Tick, New York: Dover, 2000. Preface reprinted in Alan Lomax: Selected Writings, 1934–1997, ed. Ronald D. Cohen, 59–66. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Folk Songs of North America. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Co., 1960.

Books from other collections in the AFC Archive:

Leary, James P. Folksongs of Another America: Field Recordings from the Upper Midwest, 1937–1946. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2015.

Lindahl, Carl. American Folktales: From the Collections of the Library of Congress. New York: Routledge, 2003.

Walton, Ivan H. and Joe Grimm. Windjammers: Songs of the Great Lakes Sailors. Detroit, MI: Wayne State University Press, 2002.

Warner, Anne. Traditional American Folk Songs from the Anne and Frank Warner Collection. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 1984. 

Folk Alliance International, 512 Delaware Street, Kansas City MO 64105 • 816-221-FOLK (3655) •

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