Samuel Charters has been documenting African American music for over 50 years, starting as a field recorder for Folkways Records in 1954. A prolific writer and poet, he has published many books about the blues and the musicians who played the blues. In the field, he often collaborated with his wife Ann, a writer, literary scholar, photographer, and pianist. Their quest to document and preserve African American music took them to the American South, the Caribbean, and Africa, and culminated in a working archive that provides researchers with a complete experience of African American vernacular music.
In 2000, the couple donated the Samuel & Ann Charters Archive of Blues and Vernacular African American Musical Culture to the Thomas J. Dodd Research Center. This exhibit displays selected highlights from the archive. The collection contains sound recordings of a full range of African American music: African, gospel, the blues in all forms, Cajun and zydeco, early New Orleans jazz, ragtime, Caribbean, reggae, and rap and hip-hop music. It also includes a host of reference sources, including monographs, sheet music, original research materials, photographs, and video recordings.
The archive has more recently added a jazz component, including extensive recordings by artists such as Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, and Jelly Roll Morton, plus three avant-garde jazz labels: Nessa Records, Silkheart Records, and Gazell Records. Charters also negotiated a significant donation by Bill Belmont of Fantasy Records of re-releases of their original Jazz Classics Series, as well as Latin jazz, covering the late 1940s and early 1950s. In addition to the jazz materials, a collection of books, scores, and recordings documenting the work of African American composer William Grant Still is now available for research and study.
October 23 – December 30, 2005