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Posts from the ‘Musicians’ category

Vivian Perlis  Preserving the Voices of American Music

Used with permission. Photographer unknown.

Perlis, Copland. Photo credit: David Walker

I have to say I am especially looking forward to sitting down with and recording Vivian Perlis.  I’ve known her personally for more than 30 years and admired her deeply since the day we met. Vivian is an historian in American music.  She is widely known for her publications, lectures, and recording and film productions.  In addition, she is a groundbreaking oral historian.

Vivian Perlis is the founder and former director of the Oral History of American Music (OHAM) project at Yale University.  OHAM is known to be the preeminent project in the field of music dedicated to the collection and preservation of oral and video memoirs of the creative musicians of our time.

Her story begins:  In 1969, while working as a reference librarian at the Yale School of Music, Vivian started a project of tape-recording interviews with those acquainted with the composer Charles Ives, a Yale graduate. Her work – thorough, methodical, and revealing – culminated in 1974 with the book: “Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History,” for which Vivian was awarded the Kinkeldey Prize of the American Musicological Society.  Hailed “a vivid memory portrait of an enigmatic American composer, told in the voices of the people who knew him best.”

Beginning with her pioneering work in 1969 and extending through to the present day (via OHAM), there are “thousands of recordings and transcripts accessible to a wide range of users including scholars, musicians, students, arts organizations, and the media.”*

From the OHAM website: Following the Ives Project, it was evident that no systematic scholarly research was in progress to document creative musical figures by means of tape-recorded interviews. Several composers had spoken about Ives, and in so doing, about themselves as well. (It is not a good idea to ask a celebrated composer to talk only about someone else.) These formed the nucleus for a broader-based project, Oral History of American Music (OHAM). Included were Elliott Carter, Lou Harrison, Nicolas Slonimsky, and Dane Rudhyar. Through the decades since the founding of OHAM, composers have continued to be the project’s primary focus.  

Perlis, Bernstein, Copland. Used with permission. Photographer unknown.

Perlis, Bernstein, Copland.
Used with permission.
Photographer unknown.

A list of interviewees can be found at:

In 1984 Copland: 1900 through 1942 was published.  Perlis and Copland co-authored this “enduring record of an American maestro’s explosively creative coming of age.”  The book garnered a Deems Taylor/ ASCAP award.

A review upon its release: Aaron Copland is one of America’s most beloved musical pioneers, famous for Appalachian Spring, Billy the Kid, and Lincoln Portrait, as well as the movie scores for “Our Town” and “Of Mice and Men,” and numerous orchestral and chamber works. This candid, colorful memoir begins with Copland’s Brooklyn childhood and takes us through his years in Paris, the creation of his early works, and his arrival at Tanglewood. Rich with remembrances from Leonard Bernstein, Virgil Thomson, and Nadia Boulanger, as well as a trove of letters, photographs, and scores from Copland’s collection.

In 1989 Copland Since 1943 was published, again to much acclaim.

In 2013 The Complete Copland was issued, combining the earlier two books into one volume.

Other works include:

Composers’ Voices from Ives to Ellington, co-authored with Libby Van Cleve, includes two CDs and is derived from interviews in the OHAM archive.

Among her productions are recordings of the music of Leo Ornstein and Charles Ives, and television documentaries on Ives, Eubie Blake, Aaron Copland, and John Cage.

Honors and awards received include: The Charles Ives Award from the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1972); a Grammy nomination for “Charles Ives 100th Anniversary” (1974); the Harvey Kantor Award for excellence in the field of oral history (1984); a Guggenheim Fellowship (1987); and the Irving Lowens Award for distinguished scholarship in American Music from The Society for American Music (1991).

In 2010, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the archive, Vivian was honored at both Carnegie Hall and Yale’s Zankel Hall.  She stepped down as the director of OHAM the same year; however, she remains active and ever-influential. She continues to serve as a senior research scholar at Yale University.


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Stories Matter

An Upcoming Conversation with Singer/ Songwriter Tom Rush

Tom Rush is credited by Rolling Stone Magazine as the musician responsible for ushering in the age of the singer / songwriter.

tr-about_2012_symFrom his bio:

Tom Rush’s impact on the American music scene has been profound. He helped shape the folk revival in the ’60s and the renaissance of the ’80s and ’90s, his music having left its stamp on generations of artists.

James Taylor told Rolling Stone, “Tom was not only one of my early heroes, but also one of my main influences.”

He is a gifted musician and performer, whose shows offer a musical celebration…a journey into the tradition and spectrum of what music has been, can be, and will become. His distinctive guitar style, wry humor and warm, expressive voice have made him both a legend and a lure to audiences around the world.

Country music star Garth Brooks has credited Rush with being one of his top five musical influences. Rush has long championed emerging artists. His early recordings introduced the world to the work of Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne and James Taylor, and in more recent years his Club 47 concerts have brought artists such as Nanci Griffith and Shawn Colvin to wider audiences when they were just beginning to build their own reputations.

Tom Rush began his musical career in the early ’60s playing the Boston-area clubs while a Harvard student. The Club 47 was the flagship of the coffee house fleet, and he was soon holding down a weekly spot there, learning from the legendary artists who came to play, honing his skills and growing into his talent. He had released two albums by the time he graduated.

Rush displayed then, as he does today, an uncanny knack for finding wonderful songs, and writing his own – many of which have become classics re-interpreted by new generations.

We will be recording Tom in November.

Click to hear Tom play No Regrets:

Photo Credit: Thomas White



Stories Matter

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Mighty Sam McClain

Vocalist Mighty Sam McClain is a Southern soul-blues singer who carries on in the tradition of vocalists like Bobby Bland, James Carr, and Otis Redding.

Mighty Sam McClain and Masha VadatLike so many other soul-blues vocalists, Mighty Sam began singing gospel in his mother’s choir when he was five.  By the age of 13 he was on his own, having run away from home to escape an abusive stepfather. Not long after, Mighty Sam starting working with “Little Melvin” Underwood, first as his valet and later as a featured vocalist in his road show.  He first found fame 1966 when he recorded a rendition of Patsy Cline’s Sweet Dreams of You.

Over the years, Sam created an ever-broadening audience for his singing with engagements at the 506 Club and later at the Apollo Theater in Harlem. He recorded several singles in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s before falling off the music scene for a while.

Precipitated by a fickle industry and fueled by substance abuse, it was a hard fall.

Mighty Sam found himself homeless and hungry, eating out of trash bins and sleeping on park benches.  Throughout it all Mighty Sam believed in one thing: his music.

In 1998 he released “Journey” with the song “New Man in Town,” later used in twelve episodes of the then popular Ally McBeal show.  But Sam’s comeback started with his CD “Give it Up to Love” in 2003.

2007 brought Sam into the “Give US Your Poor” project, benefiting the homeless. He co-wrote “Show Me the Way”, in which he and Jon Bon Jovi sang this stirring anthem as a duet. He performed at both Lincoln Center in New York City and The Kennedy Center in Washington, sharing the stage with Natalie Merchant, and the Greek tenor, Mario Frangoulis.

In 2009 Sam recorded “One Drop is Plenty” with noted Norwegian guitarist Knut Reiersrud, which was nominated for a Grammy.  The same year he was asked to record a CD of duets with Iranian folk vocalist Mahsa Vadhat. The resulting CD, “Scent of Reunion-Love Duets Across Civilizations,” reached number six in the European World Music Charts.  Their work together continues today.   His most recent CD (2012)  “Too Much Jesus” was nominated for Song of the Year, Album of the Year, and Soul/Blues Male Artist by the Blues Music Foundation.

Sam shares the highs and lows – and the ever-present belief in his ability to make world-class music.

To listen, click on the links below.

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Shown above: Mighty Sam McClain and Masha Vahdat.  Used with permission.