Alan Lomax was arguably the most important musicologist and folklorist of the twentieth century. His groundbreaking fieldwork with his father, John Lomax, in the 1930s, introduced American folk music, particularly the neglected and ostracized "race" music into the mainstream of American popular culture.
The emergence of blues as a rural, artistically viable counterpart to jazz was in large part due to the pioneering efforts of Lomax. When the Mississippi cotton picker Muddy Waters was discovered and recorded by Lomax in 1941, American popular music stood on the brink of change. Waters went north to Chicago, electrified his blues and influenced the rise of rhythm and blues, rock and roll, and basic conventions of rock music ever since. African-Americans like Little Richard, Chuck Berry, Sam Cooke, James Brown and many others found a place as mainstream popular artists. The democratizing influence of popular music, in large part due to the crusading influence of Lomax, profoundly influenced advances in civil rights for African Americans in later decades.
Lomax's work as a field collector of folk music from around the world underscored his belief that music (and dance) were universal expressions of human creativity and capable of breaking down barriers of prejudice. His lifetime work to bring recognition to unknown and unacknowledged folk art traditions has had a lasting impact on society's understanding and appreciation of our multicultural world.