Arts: The Bill Doggett Race and Early Sound Performing Arts Archive

This Archive is a treasure chest of “Race Records”, a marketing sales term of record companies beginning in the 1920s to focus sales for Black consumers and admirers of “Jazz and Blues” music.

I had the distinctive pleasure of keeping in touch with an old media pal, Bill Doggett in California. Bill had some great news to share with me and I am sharing with you all.

He does a lot in the way of performing arts and his work truly matters in our narratives. He is the first recipient of color to receive this grant, and for that I am indeed proud to know him.

The Grammy Museum has awarded a 2022 Preservation Assistance Grant to The Doggett Archive on Race and Performing Arts.

The archive represents one of the most significant independently held and purchased documents of African American performing arts history. By an African American recorded sound and performing arts historian intended for educational outreach and public access.

The Doggett Archive does not receive major institutional, foundation or endowment underwriting like museums. And the need for assistance was pressing as the housing and lack of temperature control of it put it at risk.

The combination of both is why it was selected for Grant Award by The Grammy Museum.

The grant to Doggett is ostensibly one of the first given to a Black owned Archive. Because historically these grants go to institutions not involved in the specialization in race and early recorded sound.


Within this focused archive, you will find hundreds of items relating to Early Recorded Sound 1900-1924. That document the idea of race and race consciousness. At the dawn of the new technology known as the cylinder/phonograph record.


Notable relating to the Archive’s collection of dawn of Recorded Sound is a focused documentation of  African American Theater 1895-1914. And the songs of early 20th century Black theatrical composers/performers: Bob Cole & J Rosamund Johnson, Will Marion Cooke, Henry Creamer& Turner Layton.


Their songs were recorded by white artists such as Collins and Harlan. Due to blacks not being allowed to record at the dawn of recorded sound. With the limited exceptions of Black Vaudevillians, Bert Williams and George Walker and the black whistler, George W. Johnson. 


The Archive is rich in rare related sheet music and is bejeweled by an extraordinary pair of 1904-1910 Season. Hammerstein’s Theater of Varieties scrapbooks filled with rare playbills documenting the world of Black Vaudeville Theater at the dawn of the new century.

Also notable is an important collection of the first recordings of Negro Spirituals and Black Preacher Sermons and Singings. Which were on rare labels such as Paramount, Black Swan, the ultra rare QRS label, Columbia and Columbia privately pressed labels, Gennett and others.


 Within the Spirituals collection is a related extension of The Spirituals. The early 1939-47 Black Gospel song sheets: first edition printings of many of the iconic Gospel-hymns of Thomas A Dorsey.

As well as, Chicago based Kenneth Morris and Sallie Martin, Doris Akers and underknown Evangelists.  


The Archive contains a  noteworthy Black “News-eum”. A museum of 1795-1915 historic newspapers relating to The Black experience in slavery and emancipation. Many Abolitionist era newspapers 1830-1859 and a small group of 1804-05 Charleston newspapers.

Moreover, its bold display ads advertising the arrival of Slave Ships and “Auctions of Africans” while still on ship.  


There are very rare and important are a series of  1890s-1914 Indianapolis “The Freedman” newspapers: extremely brittle copies of the first post Civil War African American newspaper. These are full of important editorials and amazing advertising especially as it relates to entertainment of the time.

That will require digitization as soon as possible as just handling them with white gloves, the highly acidic newsprint begins to crumble.


Of special note is a wonderful showcase of the world of Ragtime and Early Jazz. Both Black and White including a collection of first sound recordings of the  WC Handy Orchestra, James Reese Europe Orchestra, Pirons New Orleans Orchestra, Jelly Roll Morton and Louis Armstrong.


 And then there is the important 1922-28  Columbia Records sound document of  Women of the Blues. From the iconic Bessie Smith to a wide range of underknown Women of The Blues. Accompanied at the piano by the young Fletcher Henderson, Clarence Williams and others.


 There are first edition music scores, books, sheet music, ephemera and still photographs relating to Silent Film with African American actors and a  focused collection representing the  world of  Black Tin Pan Alley Composers 1912-1930 *including early and first edition song sheets and sound recordings, * i.e. Andy Razaf, Maceo Pinkard, Shelton Brooks et al.


This Archive is a treasure chest of “Race Records”. A marketing sales term of record companies beginning in the 1920s to focus sales for Black consumers and admirers of “Jazz and Blues” music.

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