Have old 78s and other old music media lying around? New York-based Archive of Contemporary Music wants your old Greek records. And Keith Richards is in on it. Here’s why.
Archive of Contemporary Music: Preserving Greek music & more
The Archive of Contemporary Music staff was very busy during the first week of February unpacking a donation of 20,000 records for their “Great 78” project. It’s part of their ongoing effort to locate and digitize as many 78 rpm records as they can. So far, they have cataloged 250,000.
A lot of Greek music, mainly folk and dance, was recorded on 78 rpm records. Though sometimes, it gets lumped into the category of Balkan music, according to B. George, director and co-founder of the archive. Seventy-eights date back to the turn of the last century and were most popular through the 1940s, when they were gradually replaced in popularity by 33-1/3 rpm LPs and 45 rpm singles.
Seeking a way to archive this music and more, B. George and David Wheeler founded Archive of Contemporary Music (ARC), a nonprofit music library and research center, in New York City in 1985. In four decades, it has amassed more than 3 million sound recordings, making it the largest archive of contemporary music in the world.
In contrast, the Library of Congress and the NYC Public Library have comprehensive catalogs of classical recordings, which include opera, Broadway show tunes, and folk music. But, they don’t have the extensive recordings of rock, rap, blues, and other types of popular music that people can find at ARC.
That, in fact, is the reason B. George and Wheeler formed the archive. Mr. George had been a DJ for the BBC, and musical acts from around the world were sending him their records in hopes of garnering on-air playtime. He ended up with 48,000 records, which he had hoped to eventually donate. Since no organizations, private or public, accepted popular music at the time, they decided to start their own archive to preserve this music.
Greek music & more in the Archive
Some of the most important Greek music artists represented by the archive, are Mikis Theodorakis, Nana Mouskouri, Giorgos Zampetas, and Vangelis. Several modern US-based bands are included in the archive, like annabouboula, DERVISI, and THE BYZAN-TONES. As a couple of these artists suggest, the archive does collect contemporary classical recordings.
Greek music is but one of the special donated collections at ARC. They represent various types of world music, including Brazilian, Cuban, Haitian, French pop, Irish folk and Jewish heritage.
ARC’s collections are not limited to recordings. They have several other categories of music-related items. The books and periodicals feature songbooks, sheet music, music magazines, and fanzines. The paper ephemera compilation includes press kits, hand bills, flyers, posters, and newspaper clippings while the 3D memorabilia features buttons, record totes, clothes with logos, gold records, and awards. There are also approximately 50,000 photographs in the archive, which include original works from photographers Lynn Goldsmith and Laura Levine, as well as many promotional photos that came in press kits for musical artists.
Accessing the Archive
Most of the year, the archive is not open to the public, with the exception of when they hold sales of duplicate items in its collections. The archive by record companies and museums. Plus, ARC staff helps individuals conducting research projects.
According to B. George, record companies often approach them when they are reissuing music. Sometimes they need scans of the original album covers. Other times, original recorded tapes have been damaged, lost or stolen, and they need to recreate the music from the vinyl records.
The most recent such project was scanning covers to help Universal BMG with its reissue of the music of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, an African-American singer, songwriter, and guitarist popular in the mid-20th century, who will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this spring.
Mr. George noted that they have also worked with the Grammy Museum Gallery at the Musicians Hall of Fame in Los Angeles by providing them with album cover scans and other items for exhibits.
ARC does their work with a staff of four and up to eight interns at a time. It relies on support from private foundations, individual members and its board of advisors, which includes Jonathan Demme, Keith Richards, Todd Rundgren, Martin Scorsese, and Paul Simon.
Also among the most prominent and generous donors is the Jaharis Family Foundation. The late Greek-American businessman and philanthropist, Michael Jaharis, and his wife Mary, started their foundation in 1986 and in more than 30 years have supported numerous cultural projects and Greek causes.
Individuals and organizations can support ARC as well, by becoming a member (same as being a friend) for an annual fee, adopting records, donating materials, creating a special collection, sponsoring events, and volunteering.
Anyone can donate to the Archive of Contemporary Music. B. George stated that they accept all items regardless of condition.
“We have no interest in quality. We take anything.”
Or, as the ARC website states:
“We believe all forms of popular music are culturally important. Not only do they entertain, they reveal to the world a great deal about a people and their values.”
Just as with their 78 records, the archive staff digitizes the 33-1/3 and 45 rpm vinyl records, as well as compact discs they receive, to preserve popular music electronically as well as physically, so it will be available for years to come.
Interest in archiving music and the popular culture of the times is growing. Mr. George added that Bowling Green University in Ohio now also has a popular music archive. It contains almost 1 million sound recordings, making it the largest of the academic collections in North America.
If you have old Greek records, CDs, or even cassettes, don’t throw them away! The Archive of Contemporary Music wants them! Not only do you keep them from the landfill, but you’ll help preserve the music for the ages.
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