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Rare and Manuscript Collections

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JDL of the Cold Crush Bothers. Photograph by Joe Conzo, Jr., from the Joe Conzo Archive in the Cornell Hip Hop Collection.

The Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections has deep and growing collections on music. Rare and unique materials span from medieval music manuscripts, to early scores and works of music theory, to autograph manuscript notations by master composers, to sheet music and songbooks, to major collections on Hip Hop, punk, and electronic music.

Since 2003, 20th and 21st century popular music has been a collecting focus, particularly post-1950s musical genres and subcultures. The most prominent among these collections is the Cornell Hip Hop Collection (CHHC). Founded in 2007, the mission of the Cornell Hip Hop Collection is to collect and make accessible the historical artifacts of Hip Hop culture and to ensure their preservation for future generations. It has since grown into the largest collection in the world on the subject. The CHHC features more than 250,000 items on all four of Hip Hop’s core artistic elements: MCing (rapping), DJing, b-boying/b-girling (breakdancing), and graffiti art. Artifacts include sound and video recordings, artist press packets and publicity, photographs, flyers and posters, books, magazines, manuscripts, and artwork. Collection highlights are described here. A collection on the Velvet Underground also arrived in 2015, offering a trove of one-of-a-kind posters and fliers, unreleased recordings, handwritten lyrics, news clippings and more, all documenting one of the 20th century’s most influential rock bands.

The Velvet Underground Featuring Lou Reed. Sweet Jane / Rock and Roll. Atlantic, 1973. 7” vinyl in the Velvet Underground Collection.

RMC also features archives documenting other African-diasporic music such as material on Afrobeat music pioneer Fela Kuti and Latin jazz and salsa. Growing collections on dance music culture include more than 10,000 flyers promoting techno, house, and electronic music raves, parties and festivals from the late 1980s onward. The papers of Robert Moog arrived in 2015, providing documentation on the development of electronic music and the invention of the Moog synthesizer.

RMC hosts a growing number of archives on punk and post-punk music, including hundreds of fliers and posters, more than 1,500 fanzines, along with sound recordings, clothing, photographs, original art, and other ephemera. Also included are the archives of Janet Hamill, illuminating Hamill’s unique relationship with her longtime friend, poet, writer, singer-songwriter and artist Patti Smith, the archive of Latino hardcore band Los Crudos, the collection of Aaron Cometbus, and concentrations of material documenting punk’s regional interpretations and influences both nationally and internationally.

British underground/outsider music and art is represented in the archive of David Tibet and Current 93, and other collections document Norwegian black metal and American heavy metal music.

The Cornell University Archives also include the papers of the Cornell Music Department’s influential faculty members, alumni and associated composers, including Robert M. Palmer, William W. Austin, and Donald J. Grout, along with the archive on New Yorker Jazz critic Whitney Balliet.

RMC’s rare and unique archives on music are supported by collections housed in the Sidney Cox Library of Music and Dance, which contains a collection of circulating books and sound recordings, along with specialized materials, such as older and facsimile editions of important scores.