Anyone with an abiding interest in American music will have heard of Alan Lomax. His travels around the U.S. and through other countries recording "folk music" was almost single-handedly responsible for how we think about Americana and world music both. But only a small amount of his recordings were available online, with few available for download. The Association for Cultural Equity is changing that.

His archives include "5,000 hours of sound recordings, 400,000 feet of film, 3,000 videotapes, 5,000 photographs and piles of manuscripts," according to the New York Times. By the end of February, 17,000 tracks will be available for free download. But today, a collection of 16 field recordings is being released for free download to celebrate what would have been Lomax's 97th birthday.

You can play the offerings on a featured player or download them for free.

Under the Global Jukebox label, Cultural Equity will continue to release more complete tracks and collections for free download.

Tracks are already available on the site for listening, but most are not downloadable, aside from the birthday sampler. Plans are also in the works to release CDs of some of these collections.

Global Jukebox gets its name from Lomax's recording mission, to assemble a global jukebox that allows listeners to understand what we have in common as a species through our musical undertakings, as well as understanding the different solutions we've come up with musically to adapt to our surroundings and answer the big questions of human life.

Lomax began recording on bulky tape machines around the South in the Thirties, visiting locally famous, but nationally unknown, musicians, like Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry, Woody Guthrie and Leadbelly, to capture the unique vocabulary of American music. He continued his recordings, as well as lectures and writing, until his death in 2002. For a large chunk of his life he was dogged by the F.B.I., who interpreted his devotion to cultural equity as an element of the Communist threat.

Photo of Alan Lomax recording in Dominica, 1962 by Antoinette Marchand from ACE.