- Lost Delta Found: Rediscovering the Fisk University-Library of Congress Coahoma County Study, 1941–1942
The immediate attraction of Lost Delta Found is the inclusion of John W. Work III (1901–1967) among the authors. His American Negro Songs and Spirituals (New York: Bonanza, 1940) sold well on its initial publication and may still be found in many music libraries. It remains in print as American Negro Songs through Dover Books. That collection was the product of a talented mind with a wide interest in many kinds of southern African American music and a facile skill in music transcription. Having been raised within a distinguished African American musical family and being on the faculty of Fisk University in Nashville, Tennessee—home of the internationally famous Fisk Jubilee Singers—placed Work in an advantageous position to view, listen, and report on the music of his people, region, and time. Any additional research of his should be of high interest. That presented in Lost Delta Found is cause for celebration and careful, responsive study.
Three studies by Work and two other Fisk African American scholars, Lewis Jones and Samuel C. Adams, are presented here. All were products of a series of field trips to Coahoma County (including its seat Clarksdale) in the Mississippi Delta in 1941–1942, undertaken in collaboration with white researcher Alan Lomax (1915–2002) of the Library of Congress (LC). The main purpose of the research was to study the rural African American residents of the Delta, recording their "traditional" ways and expressions, and then to assess the retention of such traditions when people moved to towns and cities. Sound recording was a means to the fieldwork, yet the blues performances captured by the field technology, especially those by Son House, Muddy Waters, and David "Honeyboy" Edwards, have nearly overshadowed the reasons why the Fisk/LC team came to the Delta. The Library of Congress initially issued selections of their blues during the 1940s and 1950s, and reissues of the same music on the Flyright, Biograph, MCA/Chess, and Document labels have continued through the present day. In his account of the 1942 trip in his memoir The Land Where The Blues Began (New York: Pantheon, 1993; winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award), Lomax focused on the blues, to which he made cultural and musical associations with the other types of African American music he had heard. Yet the scope of the Fisk/LC recordings encompassed more than just blues, and the social classes of the recorded African American performers included not only the poor on cotton plantations but [End Page 991] also the lower and middle classes in Clarksdale. A basic check of the listings for these field recordings, issued and unissued, in Robert M. W. Dixon, John Godrich, and Howard Rye's Blues and Gospel Records 1890–1943 (New York: Oxford University Press, 1997) shows that the number of field discs devoted to church services (including sermons and sacred music), children's game songs and chants, and women's home songs greatly exceeds that of blues. Such a broad scope suggests that the Fisk researchers (if not also Lomax) felt at the time of the field trips that there was much Mississippi Delta musical culture in general to collect, assess, and discuss.
Work, Jones, and Adams prepared their individual studies of the 1941–1942 fieldwork and duly sent them to LC where they were misplaced. Plans for publication were then set aside. The location of the studies remained unknown if not uncertain for many years. As it turned out, copies of the Jones and Work text portions were kept in Lomax's archives at Hunter College, New York City. The Franklin Library at Fisk University contained Work's microfilms of his music transcriptions and indexes, and Adams's M.A. thesis. These documents were located and...