Skip to Main Content

American Folklife Center Collections: Mississippi

This guide provides access to ethnographic resources documenting expressive culture in the state of Mississippi at the Library of Congress.


Letter of Introduction by Librarian of Congress Archibald MacLeish. 1942. Alan Lomax Collection (AFC 2004/004). Library of Congress American Folklife Center.

American Folklife Center collections from Mississippi document expressive culture from nearly every corner of the state and span nearly a century. Beginning with Lomax family recordings made at Parchman Penitentiary in 1933 and continuing with StoryCorps interviews made today, AFC collections illustrate the rich variety of folklife in this cradle of American creative genius.

Particularly noteworthy are twenty-five years of recordings made by African American inmates at Parchman by the Lomaxes and others as well as similar musical traditions such as Delta blues and fife and drum repertoires in the Mississippi Hill country. The Center also has material culture documentation, vernacular religion, and occupational folklife in its Mississippi collections.

Alan Lomax Collection

The Alan Lomax Collection includes ethnographic field documentation, materials from Lomax’s various projects, and cross-cultural research created and collected by Alan Lomax and others on traditional song, music, dance, and body movement from around the world. Lomax conducted fieldwork in the Bahamas, the Caribbean, England, France, Georgia (Republic), Haiti, Ireland, Italy, Morocco, Romania, Russia, Scotland, Spain, the United States, and Wales from the 1930s-1990s.

Fieldwork and other activities in Mississippi wove throughout Lomax's long career and included the legendary 1941-1942 fieldtrip to the Mississippi Delta with John Work III and Lewis Jones. The team recorded sermons, tales, and especially bluesmen such as Son House and Muddy Waters. Lomax's autobiography Land Where the Blues Began centers on his experiences in Mississippi.

Additional Collections of Interest

The following materials link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to digital content are provided when available.

Blog Posts & Podcasts

Public Programming

James “Super Chikan” Johnson of Clarksdale is one of the Delta’s most distinctive performers. His grandfather, Ellis Johnson, played the fiddle in local string bands, and one of his uncles,“Big” Jack Johnson, is an internationally known blues musician. Super Chikan's first musical efforts came through building and playing a diddly bow, a one-stringed instrument popular among Delta blues musicians. He progressed to the guitar and bass, and by the time he was in his early twenties, he was playing in local clubs with his uncle Jack’s band. Johnson went on to play bass and guitar for a number of Delta blues bandleaders, including Frank Frost, Ernest Roy, Sr., Sam Carr, and Wesley Jefferson. He began writing his own songs and performing on his own soon after that, and is well known in blues circles. In recent years, Johnson has also become known as a visual artist.Taking lessons learned from his grandfather, who built instruments and made fishing lures, he began building his own guitars and other instruments. Johnson combined discarded guitar parts with old Army gas cans, creating “Chikantars,” fully playable guitars that he now plays at many of his performances. He also makes cigar box guitars, diddly bows, and other one-of-a-kind instruments. Johnson hand paints each of his instruments, decorating them with detailed scenes of the Delta. The instruments have become highly prized by collectors throughout the south. Read more about Super Chikan in this archived pdf flyer by Larry Morrissey.

Photographer and documentary filmmaker Michael Ford left graduate school and a college teaching position in Boston, Massachusetts, packed his young family into a van, and headed to rural Mississippi In the early 1970s, where he spent four years recording everyday life through interviews, still photographs, and film. The project took him to Oxford (in Lafayette County), as well as to Marshall, Panola, and Tate Counties, to a remote area north of Sardis Lake. His efforts resulted in the award-winning documentary film Homeplace (1975). In 2013 we acquired his Mississippi collections from the 1970s and invited him to talk about them at the Library. At that time, none of the still photographs from this time were published, but in 2019 he published a book-length photo essay through the Library of Congress, making those photographs available and offering a valuable window onto the rural, local culture of northern Mississippi at that time. Find several public programs with Michael Ford at this link.