John Avery Lomax (September 23, 1867 - January 26, 1948) was an American teacher, a pioneering musicologist, and a folklorist who did much for the preservation of American folk songs. Lomax's son, Alan Lomax continued the work and became a respected musicologist.
The Lomax family originally came from England in the 18th century when William Lomax settled in a colony in North Carolina. John Lomax was born in Goodman, Mississippi, USA to James Avery Lomax and Susan Frances Cooper. In December 1869, the Lomax family traveled by ox cart from Mississippi to Texas. John Lomax grew up in central Texas, just north of Meridian in rural Bosque County. His father raised horses and cattle and grew cotton and corn on the 183 acres of bottomland he had purchased near the Bosque River. The cowboy songs he was exposed to during his childhood influenced him in such a way that his future choice of career already seemed confirmed. About 1876, the nine-year-old Lomax met and became close friends with Nat Blythe, a former slave who had just been hired as a farmhand by James Lomax. The friendship, "which perhaps gave my life its bent," lasted three years, and was crucial to Lomax's early development. Lomax, whose own schooling was sporadic because of the heavy farmwork he was forced to do, taught Blythe to read and write, and Blythe taught Lomax songs like "Big Yam Potatoes on a Sandy Land" and dance steps like "Juba." When Blyth was twenty-one, he took his savings and left. Lomax never saw him again and heard rumors that he had been murdered. For years afterward, he always looked for Nat when he traveled around the South.
When he was about to turn twenty-one, and his legal obligation to work as apprentice on his father's farm was coming to an end, his father permitted him to take the profits from the crops of one of their fields. Lomax used this, along with the money from selling his favorite pony, to pay to further his education. In the fall of 1887, he attended Granbury College in Granbury and in May 1888, he graduated and eventually became a teacher. He began his first job as a teacher at a country school in Clifton, southeast of Meridian. As time went on, he grew tired of the low pay and country-school drudgery and he applied for work at Weatherford College in the spring of 1889. He was hired as principal by the school's new president, David Switzer, who previously had been president of Granbury College until it was closed down and he was transferred to Weatherford. In 1890, after having attended a summer course at Eastman Business College in Poughkeepsie, New York, Lomax returned to Texas where he became head of the Business Department of Weatherford College. Each summer, between 1891 and 1894, he also attended the annual lecture-and-concert series at New York State's Chautauqua Institute, which pioneered adult education (and where Lomax himself would later lecture). According to Porterfield, "There he improved his mathematics, struggled with Latin, listened to music that stirred him (opera and oratorios, light 'classics' of the day), and learned, for the first time, of two poets—Tennyson and Browning—whose work would soon become an integral part of his intellectual equipment."
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