|The following article appeared in Notes: Quarterly
Journal of the Music Library Association, June 1998, volume 54, no. 4,
and is reprinted here with permission of the editor.
THE CENTER FOR POPULAR MUSIC AT
The Center for Popular Music at Middle Tennessee
State University (MTSU) was established in 1985 as one of the "Centers
of Excellence" in Tennessee's public university system. The aim of
the Centers program was to create institutes that would foster advanced
research and scholarship in fields in which the various schools had existing
strengths. MTSU’s location in Murfreesboro, thirty-five miles from
Nashville, makes it a logical choice for a center related to popular-music
scholarship. The university’s Department of Recording Industry offers
a successful music-business training program; in fall 1997, the department
had an enrollment of approximately thirteen hundred majors. The MTSU
Department of Music offers a bachelor’s degree with emphasis in the music
industry, and several members of the MTSU faculty—notably Charles Wolfe
in the English Department—engage in scholarship related to popular music.
Another important factor is the prominent role that Tennessee has played
in the history and development of virtually all genres of popular music
in the twentieth century, making the state a marvelous laboratory in which
to study popular music.
In the meantime, we needed to expend the funds
that had been designated to establish the collection. We began with
the purchase of new books, in-print LPs, and current periodicals, and developed
a network of dealers in used books and sound recordings. A trip to
the 1986 Music Library Association meeting in Milwaukee was productive
in establishing contacts within the field that led to the identification
of available materials. I learned at the meeting that Brigham Young
University wished to sell duplicate holdings of approximately five thousand
pieces of mid-nineteenth-century sheet music. I also met Victor Cardell,
who had just been hired by the University of California, Los Angeles, as
archivist for their Archive of Popular American Music, a vast sheet-music
collection of over one-half million items that included several thousand
duplicates. I then learned that Ray Avery, a Los Angeles collector
and dealer who specialized in jazz and other forms of African American
music, was interested in selling much of his personal collection, which
included sheet music, records, photographs, various bits of music ephemera
and memorabilia, and manuscript collections related to Ferde Grofé,
Paul Whiteman, Johnny Mercer, and others. A trip to Los Angeles and
Provo in spring 1986 to inspect these collections ultimately led to the
purchase of the BYU sheet music, the Avery materials, and approximately
twenty-five thousand pieces of sheet music from UCLA, although over a year
passed before all the transactions were completed. The collection
of the Center for Popular Music now had cornerstones on which to build.
Similarly, research that I had done at the John Edwards Memorial Foundation (JEMF) at UCLA on the history of songs recorded by traditional country artists—such as the Carter Family and the Blue Sky Boys—made me acutely aware of the limitations of genre-based and media-based research collections. The JEMF has a wonderful collection of pre-World War II 78-rpm recordings of hillbilly music and excellent holdings of country-song folios, but relatively little of the collection is pertinent to the study of songs that are derived from Tin Pan Alley and earlier eras of mainstream popular song or that are rooted in various forms of vernacular religious music. For research into this material, I was forced to turn to other resources at UCLA to find sheet music, songsters, and shape-note hymnals. This entailed expending considerable time and energy traipsing from one collection to another, and access to some materials was often difficult, impossible, or denied.
It seemed that the situation called for a more inclusive and integrated approach—a popular-music research collection that would cut across genre lines, that would encompass all media in which music has been fixed and sold, and that would have considerable historical depth. It was also important to remember that scholars from a variety of disciplinary approaches would be making use of the Center’s resources. An essential step was to establish an intellectual underpinning to guide the development of not only the collections, but also future research projects, publications, and public programs.
What has evolved is a conceptual framework that draws in more or less equal measure from folklore, ethnomusicology, historical musicology, and communications. From folklore comes a recognition of the importance of the relationship between folk and commercial traditions. From ethnomusicology comes an awareness of the need to look at music in the context of the culture in which it thrives. From historical musicology comes the recognition that popular music is not confined to contemporary styles, but rather that popular music of one form or another has always occupied a significant place in American cultural history. To understand fully any genre of popular music, one must study it through time and alongside the other forms of music with which it coexists. From communications comes the recognition that popular music must be studied within the framework of the commercial and technological factors that shape its development.
Given all this, the pragmatic consideration of the scope of the collection remained a problem. In the best of all possible worlds, the ideal popular-music archive would possess one copy of every piece of sheet music, every song book, and every sound recording ever issued—something that would be neither possible nor practical, so limitations had to be devised while maintaining a sense of the overall picture of American popular music.
Partly because of my own increasing curiosity
about the early development of today’s musical forms, I found the opportunity
to build a collection that would include pre-twentieth-century material
particularly appealing. The history of popular music in America did
not begin with the Beatles, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Jelly Roll Morton,
Scott Joplin, or even Stephen Foster. Americans have always sung,
danced, and otherwise "consumed" music, and to set some arbitrary chronological
starting point for the collection seemed highly artificial. Thus,
we take as our beginning the introduction of European and African peoples
to North America.
What, then, within this fairly complex framework,
has the Center collected in the past twelve years? As of 31 December
1997, the collection consisted of approximately 14,600 books, including
nearly 7,000 special-collections items; 96,000 sound recordings in formats
from cylinders to compact discs; 56,000 pieces of sheet music, including
3,500 song broadsides; nearly 110 linear feet of manuscripts; 7,700 photographs
and other iconographic items; over fifty linear feet of clipping files,
and sizable holdings of playbills, trade catalogs, and microforms.
The Center currently subscribes to over 400 periodical titles, and has
partial backruns of an additional 1,100 titles.
The Center’s sheet-music collection is thought to be the largest in
the Southeast. Holdings grew quickly in the Center’s early years,
but we are now quite selective in adding items, with a focus on qualitative,
rather than quantitative, growth. The collection is divided more
or less evenly between large- and small-format items. Since the 1920s,
sound recordings have been the primary means by which popular songs are
fixed and sold, so we are more concerned with collecting sound recordings
than sheet music for the modern era. Current growth of the sheet-music
collection, therefore, is focused primarily on pre-twentieth-century material.
More than 100 items in the collection have been identified as pre-1800
imprints and more than 750 as 1801-25 imprints.
Southern imprints and songs with southern imagery are of particular interest to us. Songs from the blackface minstrelsy tradition are especially sought after, as are songs that reflect movements, events, and issues in social and political history—such as wars, political campaigns, reform movements, and inventions. Rags, blues, and early jazz items are also welcome, as are songs by African-American songwriters and by women. Musical theater is well represented, largely through the materials acquired from UCLA.
Kenneth S. Goldstein Collection of American Songsters and Song Broadsides
In the last ten years of his life, folklorist Kenneth S. Goldstein (1927–1995) assembled impressive collections of song broadsides and pocket songsters, dating primarily from the nineteenth century. Goldstein had become convinced of the importance of broadsides and songsters as the source and means of transmission for many of the songs in the repertories of the traditional folksingers with whom he worked. His personal collection of these items grew quickly to become perhaps the largest such private collection in the country, comprising approximately thirty-three hundred broadsides and fifteen hundred songsters. The Center acquired Goldstein’s broadsides in 1994 and the songsters in 1996, shortly after his death in November 1995. These are perhaps the most important individual collections owned by the Center. The broadside collection is, to our knowledge, the only sizable collection of broadsides in the South and is comparable to those of the larger, older libraries in the Northeast. The Goldstein songster collection was recently described as "the preeminent songster collection in the U.S."
Alfred Moffat Collection
The oldest materials in the Center’s collection were a part of the personal library of Scottish scholar Alfred E. Moffat (1863-1950) and formerly owned by the Forbes Library in Northampton, Massachusetts. Moffat compiled and edited numerous books of music from eighteenth-century Britain and Ireland; the eighty-five volumes acquired by the Center formed a sizable portion of Moffat’s working collection of source material. Included are several volumes of fiddle tunes compiled by the great Scottish fiddlers and composers Niel and Nathaniel Gow and William Marshall, numerous collections of Scots songs, a rare guitar tutor published by Robert Bremner, many song anthologies, and copies of various musical miscellanies and magazines.
Documents of Professional Musicians
The Center has been fortunate to acquire scrapbooks,
correspondence, and other ephemera and memorabilia from a variety of professional
musicians. Ruperto Marco Aurelio Chacon was a Chilean-born guitarist
and mandolinist who moved to the United States in the late nineteenth century
to capitalize on a surge of interest in the mandolin. He lived in
New York City and later in New Haven, Connecticut, and established himself
as a teacher and performer. He compiled a scrapbook of letters, concert
programs, reviews, and other items that chronicles the rise and ultimate
decline of his musical career. By extension, the scrapbook also documents
the introduction of the mandolin to American musical life and the decline
of its first period of popularity.
Robert E. "Mike" Doty enjoyed a long career
during the Swing Era as a sideman with Tommy Dorsey, Ray Noble, Bunny Berigan,
Fred Waring, and other band and orchestra leaders. A multi-instrumentalist,
arranger, and composer, Doty also led his own band, with which he recorded
for a time. He compiled several scrapbooks of items that document
his career and provide valuable insight into the professional life of a
journeyman musician of his era.
Tutors and Tune Books for Popular Instruments
The nineteenth century saw the rise of autodidacticism in music—the idea that individuals could, with a bit of help from an instruction book, become proficient at playing various musical instruments without formal instruction. Many tutors were published for violin/fiddle, flute, accordion, guitar, banjo, concertina, harmonica, fife, piccolo, cornet, and other instruments used to provide dance music and amateur entertainment. The tutors can often provide insight into instrumental technique of the times. Such books also typically contain many tunes to test one's newly acquired skills. Separately published books of tunes designed to be played on various instruments provide valuable documentation of repertory and the changes in musical style and taste through time. The Center owns more than four hundred instrumental tutors and tune books from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Manufacturers' catalogs for instruments, printed music, and phonograph records have long been important primary sounces for researchers. We have established a separate collection of trade catalogs that includes both older items purchased on the rare-book market and newer items obtained from current businesses. Also included are microfilm copies of phonograph-record catalogs from Columbia, Edison, and Victor held by the Library of Congress.
Posters, Programs, and Playbills
Items that document live performances in theaters and clubs are valuable primary sources. The Center maintains such materials in a separate collection, which includes many playbills from the nineteenth century and is especially strong in blackface-minstrel items.
The commonplace books or copybooks in which musicians have written down either their favorite pieces or tunes that they needed help in remembering are unique documents that provide extremely valuable insights into popular repertory. The Center has acquired more than two dozen such items, most from the early nineteenth century. Both instrumental music—such as fiddle and fife tunes—and vocal music are represented in these manuscripts.
Sacred Tunebooks and Gospel Songbooks
The library of Milton Grafrath forms the basis for the Center's print holdings in vernacular religious music. This library of approximately twenty-six hundred volumes includes nineteenth-century oblong tunebooks, Sunday-school books, gospel songbooks from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, text-only hymnals, and many modern denominational hymn books. Considerable material has been added to this core collection, particularly in the area of southern shape-note books—both the older four-shape oblong books and the more modern seven-shape gospel songbooks. The Center holds one of the largest institutional collections of southern gospel songbooks, from publishers such as James D. Vaughan, Stamps-Baxter, and Ruebush-Kieffer. Numerous songbooks from the African American gospel tradition have been added as well.
After several years in the cramped, makeshift
quarters in the LRC, the Center moved in spring 1992 into its permanent
home in the newly constructed John Bragg Mass Communication Building.
The new location features increased space for researchers and staff, climate-controlled
storage for archival materials, and a fully equipped audio restoration
lab. In addition to the director and secretary, the Center's staff
includes three full-time professionals, two permanent part-time paraprofessionals,
and two to five student assistants.