Louisville’s Nathan Salsburg knows old-time Kentucky music. He’s the curator for the archive of work from musicologist Alan Lomax, who in 1937 made 32 hours of music recordings from people in nine Eastern Kentucky counties.
Lomax made the recordings for the Library of Congress—and the sounds of Eastern Kentucky musicians has been digitized. These days, Salsburg is cataloging the recordings. Among the goals is the creation of an online digital database through a partnership with the the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center and the University of Kentucky, he said.
Salsburg speaks Friday at the Clifton Center about the recordings. It’s part of a “pay what you will” two-day event that also includes music, films and more.
He recently spoke with WFPL’s Jonathan Bastian about the 1937 Eastern Kentucky recordings.
Salsburg said another goal is to take the recordings on a tour of the nine Eastern Kentucky counties where they originated, “basically retracing Lomax’s steps between August and October of 1937, visiting the counties and the places where he recorded, and sort of reintroducing the music from those communities to those contemporary communities.”
He told Jonathan that the recordings offer intriguing music not found in commercial recordings made before Lomax’s venture to Eastern Kentucky.
“The interesting thing about these recordings is that they were made, in 1937, a pretty solid 12 to 13 years after the first old time Kentucky musicians made commercial records,” Salsburg said.
“So the idea is that it’s not as though these were the first documents of east Kentucky music, but they’re certainly the most diverse. The commercial recording companies were mostly interested in things like fiddle tunes, love songs. But they didn’t go so much after the old-time ballads.”