Preserving Cultural History

September 1, 2017

In 2012, the Stan Getz Library received a National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) grant to establish the Berklee Archives. Administered by the National Archives, the NHPRC program promotes the preservation of materials that document American culture and history. The grant recognized the key role of Berklee in promoting and sustaining America’s musical heritage.

The funds enabled us to solidify and protect the archives’ foundational collections, which consist of Berklee-created materials together with collections of manuscripts, recordings, memorabilia, and other artifacts donated by significant musicians. Some of the notable materials include a collection of the published and unpublished compositions, teaching materials, and other artifacts of longtime faculty member John LaPorta; the Frank McGinley collection of memorabilia related to Duke Ellington and the rise of swing; Lawrence Berk’s personal papers and notebooks on the Schillinger system; and Jazz in the Classroom, an innovative collection of scores and recordings developed at Berklee from 1957 to 1980. A full listing of available collections can be found at the archives website:

Some of the most heavily requested items are from the extensive collection of campus event recordings. They include recordings of commencement concerts and ceremonies from 1969 to the present. In May we were awarded a Grammy Foundation grant to help preserve this collection. The funds will help digitize commencement speeches and concerts from the years 1985 to 2001, which now exist on fragile VHS tape. These commencement-related recordings capture legendary musicians imparting wisdom in commencement speeches and often performing onstage with Berklee students. Some of the featured musicians include Sting, Billy Joel, David Bowie, Dave Grusin, Chick Corea, Pat Metheny, and Bruce Lundvall. After David Bowie’s death in 2016, the video of his 1999 commencement address received more than 150,000 views on YouTube.

Another exciting development for the archives is the recent acquisition of the personal collection of saxophonist David Liebman, a 2011 recipient of the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Masters Award. Liebman’s extensive performing career spans more than four decades and he has appeared on more than 350 recordings. Liebman, also a noted educator, has enjoyed a long affiliation with Berklee and is a graduate guest artist for the Berklee Global Jazz Institute. The David Liebman collection will house published and unpublished manuscripts, recordings, photographs, and a significant amount of memorabilia such as concert posters, scrapbooks, reviews, and even set lists. We are excited to acquire this collection, which constitutes another milestone in establishing the Berklee Archives as an important national resource documenting key developments and figures in the history of contemporary music—especially jazz—in America.

While some archival collections can be accessed only on campus, several digitized collections can be fully accessed via the web. One such collection is the Berklee Oral History Project (BOHP), which documents the rich and diverse history of Berklee and the Boston music scene from those who lived, shaped, and defined it. Interviews are available with such Berklee notables as Don Puluse, Herb Pomeroy, Dean Earl, Gary Burton, Joanne Brackeen, Toshiko Akiyoshi, and David Mash, who recently retired as Berklee’s senior vice resident of strategy and innovation after 40 years of service. You can see the BOHP collection at interview-collection/bca-011-bohp.

Another current project is the integration of the collections of the Boston Conservatory at Berklee and the college’s archives. The conservatory’s materials document the 150-year history of the institution through documents, photographs, scores, and recordings. A portion of the materials were used in the new book celebrating the Conservatory’s 150th anniversary: 150 Stories: Celebrating 150 Years of People, Places, and Events that Defined Boston Conservatory. Future generations will benefit from the glimpse at the past that these archival resources offer.

This article appeared in our alumni magazine, Berklee Today Fall 2017. Learn more about Berklee Today.
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