American musician and musicologist Alan Lomax (1915 - 2002) (second right) and musician and political activist Pete Seeger (r
John Cohen

Famed music archivist Alan Lomax—who recorded musicians around the world from the '30s to '90s and introduced people to incalculably influential artists like Muddy Waters, Lead Belly and Woody Guthrie— left behind a massive collection of American folk, blues, country and bluegrass songs when he died ten years ago. He always wanted to share his vast audio and video depository with the world, and thanks to the web, that pre-Internet dream is now a reality.

Just this week, 17,000 of Lomax’s recordings of songs and interviews dating back to 1946 went online for public perusal. At first, it’s easy to miss the importance of this, but take a second and think about it this way—this free digital library spans six decades of American music history. Much of it comes from artists in the Deep South and Appalachia who helped invent blues, country, bluegrass and folk—some of whom you’ve heard of before, and other who changed music without achieving any national recognition.

You could spend the rest of your life sifting through this library, but if you’re feeling impatient, the Internet, as always, has your back. There’s an AlanLomaxArchive YouTube channel with a constantly replenishing supply of vintage audio clips and film reels of stunningly incredible performances like these:

R.L. Burnside – “Poor Boy Blues”

And stuff like this:

[Unidentified gospel band] – “I Got A New Walk”

As you can tell from the above video’s lack of attribution, even those privy to Lomax’s notes aren’t sure what group delivered this killer rock ‘n’ soul-infused gospel tune back in 1978. And that’s part of what makes this so exciting. We have 17,000 recordings from under-reported artists, many of which haven’t been heard in decades.

There’s a lot of room for intrepid music fans to start sifting and winnowing to find some unjustly-forgotten classics.

So head here, bookmark the page and let us know in the comments when you find something we should check out. Seriously!