Delta State University, in partnership with various organizations, is committed to advancing community and economic development in the Delta region to improve the quality of life and raise the educational level of its citizens. Through The Delta Center for Culture and Learning and the University Archives Department – two collaborators on the Historic Lomax Mississippi Recordings project – Delta State continues to promote and celebrate the unique heritage of the Delta while also addressing the longstanding social, economic, and cultural challenges that inhibit advancement.
The mission of The Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University is to promote greater understanding of Mississippi Delta culture and history and its significance to the world through education, partnerships, and community engagement.
The Delta State University Archives Department supports the teaching, research, and public service activities of the University by collecting, preserving, and making accessible historical manuscript collections that document the history and culture of Mississippi in general, and the Mississippi Delta region, in particular. The collections are open to faculty, staff, students, visiting researchers, and the general public.
The Association for Cultural Equity(ACE) was founded by Alan Lomax to explore and preserve the world’s expressive traditions with humanistic commitment and scientific engagement. ACE was registered as a charitable organization in the State of New York in 1983, and is housed at New York City’s Hunter College.
Inspired by the example set by Alan Lomax, our mission is to stimulate cultural equity through preservation, research, and dissemination of the world’s traditional music, and to reconnect people and communities with their creative heritage.
Among the earliest recordings John A. Lomax and his son Alan made were those gathered in the state of Mississippi, during their first field trip in the summer of 1933. The pair visited the State Penitentiary at Parchman—the notorious Parchman Farm—to collect the work songs and hollers of the African American prisoners, both male and female. These recordings are the earliest aural documentation of African American traditional music. John A. returned to Mississippi, again with Alan in 1934, and with his wife Ruby Terrill in 1936, 1937, and 1940, making further recordings in Jackson, Natchez, Brandon, Piney Woods, Drew, the Oakley prison farm and again at Parchment. The work songs, blues, lyric songs, play-party material, children’s games, and plantation
tall-tales and narratives they documented represent a diversity of the black vernacular culture of a region undergoing fundamental social, occupational, and aesthetic change.
The lion’s share of material in the Lomax Mississippi collection was amassed in 1941 and 1942, under the auspices of a brilliant collaboration between the Library of Congress and Nashville’s Fisk University that was to investigate social and cultural change in the African American communities of Coahoma County, Mississippi, in the heart of the Delta, rapidly modernizing due to increasing agricultural mechanization and the industrial war effort. The key players were Fisk’s John Work, who served as the presiding musicologist; sociologist Lewis W. Jones, also at Fisk, and Lomax, folklorist and recordist, representing the Library. Lomax and Jones collected some 27 hours of it over three weeks in the late summers of 1941 and ’42. As their investigation was into both urban and rural, the black professional to the tenant farmer, the recordings ran the gamut: sacred and secular, old and new. Of the latter, two of their most fruitful discoveries were two young bluesmen, whose debut recordings they made: David “Honeyboy” Edwards and McKinley Morganfield, or Muddy Waters.
The Association for Cultural Equity, in partnership with Delta State University, received support from National Endowment for the Arts Artworks to digitally transfer, catalog, speed-correct, disseminate and repatriate the 40 hours of John and Alan Lomax’s historic 1933-1942 Mississippi recordings. In addition to providing linked lesson plans for educators, repatriating the collection to key cultural institutions in the state, presenting a series of lectures and performances of the material for Mississippi residents and connect with surviving artists or their heirs, ACE and The Delta Center for Culture and Learning provide free access to the complete digital collection through this collaborative website constructed and designed with our institutional partners. This media will be repatriated to the region through digital donations to Delta State University, the Mississippi Department of Archives and History, and the Blues Archive at the University of Mississippi.