Famed record producer donates archives of African American music (Released: 7/18/00)
By Alison Thompson, Office of University Communications
STORRS, Conn. -- For more than half a century, Samuel Charters has traveled the globe in search of African American music. Along the way, the renowned music historian, author and producer has amassed an extraordinary collection that includes everything from recordings and sheet music to field notes and musicians' contracts.
In October, Charters and his wife and collaborator, University of Connecticut English Professor Ann Charters, will bequeath their unparalleled collection to UConn's Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. A daylong conference, co-sponsored by the Institute for African American Studies, the center and the department of music will commemorate the gift.
"The Charters' treasure-trove of musical history will become the nucleus of a growing resource that represents one of the most comprehensive collections of its kind available today," says Robert Stephens, interim director of the institute. "While some university collections include more music or memorabilia of specific types, the Charters' collection arguably covers the broadest scope of African American music of any university collection in the nation."
The collection includes every type of recording from Ethiopian piano melodies printed as sheet music in the 1840s and the precursors of American blues to contemporary rap and hip-hop. It also includes recent music videos. In addition, the collection includes extensive recordings of Caribbean musical forms, Stephens says.
The collection is remarkable for its thoroughness, Stephens adds. The more than 1,700 recordings of traditional jazz vocalists from the 1930s through the 1950s, which Samuel Charters examined and helped bring to the university, are an almost complete record of the major African American jazz singers of the period. The collection also contains a virtually complete collection of the African American music released by the Arhoolie Records label.
Ultimately, the archives speak not only about music but about the African American experience.
"A remarkably complete representation of the evolution of African American music during the last 150 years, the collection opens doors that afford often intimate views of the evolution of issues and ideas affecting the African American community as reflected in the words and images of many of the community's premier artists," Stephens says.
In addition to donating the material, Samuel Charters has also created an annotated catalog of the materials. Blues Faces, a book of photos from the archives, will be published later this year.
A Grammy winner and member of the Blues Hall of Fame, Samuel Charters is considered a highly respected writer on blues and jazz. He is the author of The Day is so Long and the Wages so Small: Music on a Summer Island; the award-winning The Roots of the Blues; and the novel Louisiana Black, which was made into a feature film.
The conference to celebrate the arrival of the archival material will run from the evening of Oct. 19 through Oct. 20. Highlights include lectures by jazz drummer Max Roach, gospel expert Horace Boyer, UCLA Professor of Ethnomusicology Anthony Seeger, and author and Village Voice columnist Nelson George. Blues guitarist Otis Rush, and guitar and harmonica duo John Cephas and Phil Wiggins are scheduled to perform.