Today, were he still alive, Alan Lomax would have celebrated his 97th birthday.
I confess that I wasn’t familiar with Lomax until after I got married. The long and the short of it: Alan Lomax was a folklorist and an ethnomusicologist. He took his recording equipment around, and recorded people performing the music they performed. He recorded them talking. He taped their dancing. He worked to document and preserve cultures, both within and without the U.S.
His prodigious legwork provided the first recordings of, among others, Woody Guthrie and Muddy Waters. He met and recorded Leadbelly in jail. He didn’t really create folk music culture, but he certainly introduced it to those of us who otherwise wouldn’t know it. In the end, the New York Times tells me, he collected 5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs, and all sorts of memoirs.
The Church is amazing (though not unique) in its attraction of people from all sorts of cultures, countries, and regions. In my ward, we have Utahns, Idahoans, Midwesterners, Easterners, Californians. We have immigrants from Central America, refugees and immigrants from West Africa, members from Korea and Mongolia. We have people whose history intersects with the Church for generations, and people whose history intersects for months.
In 1997, speaking at BYU, President Hinckley said, “Bring all the good that you have and let us see if we can add to it.” It seems to me that this is a call for us, as church members, to become amateur folklorists and ethnomusicologists. Through our fellow-saints, we can learn and experience other cultures, and in our ward families, we can preserve the cultures the mix by virtue of geographic, and not self-selected, boundaries. And, by doing so, we can benefit from the good that people bring with them on Sundays.