American Folklife Center collections from Haiti and the Haitian diaspora document the diversity of the nation's expressive culture. Among the Center's unique materials are Melville Herskovits' and Alan Lomax's early audio recordings as well as more recent interviews from the diaspora in the Center's StoryCorps collection.
In late 1936 the Library of Congress dispatched Alan Lomax to document music and vernacular religious expression in Haiti. The official Library of Congress travel voucher shows that Alan left Washington December 5 for New York and sailed for Port- au-Prince December 10, likely arriving December 14 and returning March 8, 1937. Alan's typewritten index shows that he created 58 ten-inch and 236 twelve-inch discs capturing 1,500 Haitian songs and drum rhythms, and 350 feet of motion picture film. The materials are found in both the Alan Lomax Haiti collection (AFC 1937/010) and the Alan Lomax collection (AFC 2004/004), the latter of which are online.
Alan made his first report to the Librarian on December 21, a week into the trip. It previewed topics that dominated his Haiti correspondence--problems with the disc recorder and later the film equipment, financial woes, and delays in official permission to record ("I have spent most of my time in ante-rooms and in taxiing from office to office to keep my white suit as unwithered as possible."). Yet Alan's enthusiasm for the culture remained undimmed.
I have, however, looked about enough to be sure this is the richest field I have ever worked in. I hear fifteen or twenty different street cries from my hotel window each morning while I dress. The men sing satirical ballads as they load coffee on the docks.
Alan closed by assuring the Librarian that, barring catastrophe, he would return with valuable recordings for the Library's collections. More than seventy-five years later that confidence seems amply justified.
The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.
Gage Averill discussed the significance of Alan and Elizabeth Lomax's collection and documentation of a wide variety of Haitian classical music, dance music and vodou music in 1936-1937, and related work by Zora Neale Hurston, Katherine Dunham and others. He discussed the process of repatriating the recordings following the 2010 Haiti earthquake.