Grant Aids Creation of Berklee Archive

By 
Adam Renn Olenn

Sofia Becerra-Licha
Archivist Sofia Becerra-Licha
Image Credit: 
Adam Renn Olenn

Recently, Berklee received a two-year, $125,000 grant from the National Archives and Records Administration to establish a historical archive. The grant was funded through the program Documenting Democracy: Access to Historical Records Projects. It supports projects that promote the preservation and use of America’s documentary heritage essential to understanding American democracy, history, and culture. “What this means,” says Berklee grant writer Mary Hurley, “is that the National Archives has deemed Berklee’s archival materials to be of national significance, and worthy of preservation.”

In October the college used a portion of the grant to hire professional archivist Sofia Becerra-Licha. “One of the things that attracted me to this position,” she says, “is the emphasis on making this a living archive that documents our history and invites contributions from students, faculty, staff, and alumni.” To that end, Becerra-Licha and Director of Library Services Paul Engle are encouraging members of the Berklee community to contribute memorabilia related to the college. (Berklee welcomes inquiries at archives@berklee.edu.)

Becerra-Licha has begun by taking an inventory of materials held by college departments and cataloging them. Materials already catalogued include the Don Bacon collection, which documents the jazz scene in Boston from the mid-1970s through the mid-1990s, and the John LaPorta collection.

The late LaPorta made significant early contributions to the development of the Berklee curriculum. For instance, he and guitarist Jack Petersen developed an approach for teaching jazz improvisation using modes and chord scales. LaPorta previously played clarinet and saxophone with iconic bands such as those led by Woody Herman and Charles Mingus.

“[LaPorta’s] family was very generous,” Engle says. “We basically have his whole career here: manuscripts, correspondence, entire high-school methods. The family gave us the rights to publish everything online. It would be phenomenal to have all that stuff available for a high-school jazz ensemble to download and play. John would love that.”

Engle and Becerra-Licha are overseeing the digitization of photographs documenting performances, master classes, and Berklee student interactions with historic figures in contemporary music, including Duke Ellington, Stan Kenton, Chick Corea, and others.

“We’ll be writing grants to sustain the digitization efforts and increase access to our materials,” Engle says. “For example, we have Reggie Lofton’s videotapes from Berklee Performance Center shows going back to the eighties. We’d like to digitize those so that we can share them internally— or externally when rights allow that.” Engle notes that many groups have expressed interest in Berklee’s holdings, including the National Endowment for the Humanities.

“Berklee offers a unique perspective as an institution and because of our connection to the Boston music scene,” Engle says. “We’re finally able to add to the history being documented by the Boston Symphony Orchestra archives and the Boston Public Library because, for the first time, we’re able to preserve Berklee’s history in a way that’s consistent with standard archival practices.”

Engle and Becerra-Licha intend for Berklee’s archive to become a primary resource for scholars and historians. “Scholars are turning their sights to popular music,” Engle says. “Ultimately, we would like [the Berklee archive] to be the resource for popular music in this country.”