Born January 31, 1915, in Austin, Texas, he was the son of John Avery Lomax, a onetime banker who became the preeminent collector of cowboy songs and Southwestern American folklore.
Growing up in Texas, the younger Lomax listened to his father’s many findings and became a confirmed advocate of America’s true music. Along with his brother John, Jr., and sisters Bess and Elizabeth, young Alan often acted as an assistant, and learned his trade firsthand on many expeditions with his father.
During this period he also published the groundbreaking anthology Folk Songs of North America (New York: Doubleday, 1960), which signaled his growing interest in the relationship of folk song style and culture. This deepening preoccupation grew into a massive program of research into expressive behavior running from 1961 through 1995, housed first at Columbia University and later at Hunter College.
Lomax and colleagues — including musicologist Victor Grauer, anthropologist Conrad Arensberg of Columbia University, Irmgard Bartenieff and Forrestine Paulay of the Laban Dance Notation Bureau — developed Cantometrics, Choreometrics, and Parlametrics, methodologies for the comparative analysis of song, dance, and speech.
The initial results were published in Folk Song Style and Culture (Washington, DC: American Association for the Advancement of Science, Publication No. 88, 1968; reprinted by Transaction Books, New Brunswick, NJ).
Throughout the seventies and eighties, Lomax published journal articles and teaching materials and films based on his work on expressive style. Cantometrics: An Approach to the Anthropology of Music, first published in 1976, represented a new and democratic approach to the study of world music.
Three teaching films, Dance and Human History, Step Style,and Palm Play, produced in the 1970s, introduced students to Choreometrics. The Longest Trail (1986) combined historical data and Choreometric movement analysis to point out cultural continuities between Siberian peoples and Native North and South Americans.
In 1989, Lomax and a team of developers began compiling his most ambitious project, the Global Jukebox, a multimedia interactive database that looks at relationships between dance, song, and social organization. It was originally inspired by the Urban Strain, a 1980s study of twentieth-century popular music undertaken with jazz musician Roswell Rudd and dance ethnologist Forrestine Paulay.
Lomax intended the Jukebox to serve both as a medium for scientific research into human expressive behavior and as a tool for social science, arts, and humanities education. With it, Lomax hoped to further the concept of cultural equity, which Lomax understood as the importance of giving all cultures a valid forum in the media and in educational curricula for the meaningful display of their arts and values.
Funded by numerous grants Lomax continued to travel the world, documenting music in Spain, Africa, France, the Caribbean, the West Indies, and various prisons around the world. The results of these trips have been steadily released by the Rounder label in what may be a series of 100 plus albums.
In 1966, he began dabbling in film and accumulated enough footage to fill several documentary films, including the 1990 PBS series America Patchwork . Always innovative and forward thinking, he proposed the idea for the Global Jukebox, an interconnected database of music and dance cultures from all over world, so that people may more easily study them.
Unfortunately, the idea, which is being carried on by the Association for Cultural Equity, was nearly stopped cold when Lomax suffered two strokes at the age of 80. Yet, working with his daughter Anna, he was somehow able to continue his many works until his 2002 death. In 2004, PBS told the story of some of his extensive travels with their documentary Lomax the Song Hunter .