Thousands of legendary recordings from folklorist Alan Lomax will be available for streaming soon

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Folklorist Alan Lomax spent his life making priceless recordings of some of the most important early figures in American music — from his famed recordings of Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter to Jelly Roll Morton, from Muddy Waters to Woody Guthrie. Now, that entire collection — some 17,000 tracks — is being digitized for online streaming.

Lomax often spoke of creating a kind of “global jukebox” to share his work, according to a new piece in The New York Times, but it took a decade after his death at age 87 for his dream to being to take shape.

“This project has evolved as the technology has evolved,” said Lomax’s daughter Anna Lomax Wood, president of The Association for Cultural Equity. “This also involves the biggest private collection of dance film anywhere, and from everywhere.”

In all, there are around 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and countless pages of manuscripts. All of it will be available online, and much of it for free. Digital transferring is set for completion at the end of this month.

The Association for Cultural Equity and Global Jukebox are leading this digital project.

Here’s a look back at our recent thoughts on Huddie “Lead Belly” Ledbetter and Muddy Waters. Click through the titles for complete reviews …

MUDDY WATERS – HARD AGAIN (1977): This was appropriately titled and marked the kind of comeback you expect from the great ones. Any coach can tell you the best way to break out of the slump is surround yourself with good talent and get back to the fundamentals and Muddy did just that. Great musicians are all over this record: the late Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, just for starters. Blues guitar monster Johnny Winter served as producer for this album and serves up some of his patented nasty guitar licks and some great vocals — maybe, it’s more like screeching, whooping and hell yeahs!

HUDDIE “LEAD BELLY” LEDBETTER – BOURGEOIS BLUES (1997): Ledbetter was a man of sweeping appetites, for songs, for drink and for life. This made his music rugged and true, but also got him into his share of big trouble. Very big. Ledbetter, born in 1885 on the Jeter Plantation near Mooringsport, La., would spend several stints in jail, once reportedly lived as a recluse from the law under an assumed name, and was known to resolve every-day conflict with violence right up until his early passing in 1949. Thing is, he tore into musical pursuits with the same furious abandon, picking through all that came before and carrying it across the country. Lead Belly’s original compositions, and his arrangements of traditional songs, would become one of the structural supports upon which popular American music was built.

SOMETHING ELSE! INTERVIEW: MUDDY WATERS GUITARIST BOB MARGOLIN: “I had the opportunity to learn like an apprentice to a master for playing blues, unlike more modern forms of education,” Margolin said of his time with Waters. “I learned a lot from being around Muddy and the other older players in his band socially as well as musically. One of the big lessons was letting go of anger after expressing it, then moving on — “forgive and forget.” Muddy wanted to treat me well and give me a valuable opportunity to learn. I wanted to learn as much as I could and use it both to give him what he wanted on the bandstand as well as for myself.”

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