Preserving San Francisco's 20th c. Musical Landscape

Preserving San Francisco's 20th c. Musical Landscape is an archival/engagement project that preserves and make accessible for broad public access 234 linear feet of materials from five major 20th c. musical archives in our collection.The project stewards the musical legacy of key artists, critics and educators in San Francisco for generations to come as well as the musical identity of our city and its contributions to the field of music nationally and world-wide. The project also brings attention to MP+D’s music holdings and expand its public reach with the creation of a new online music exhibit (July 2017). 


Included in the project are the personal papers of American composer Conrad Susa, Standard Hour Program Manager Adrian Michaelis, San Francisco Chronicle music critic Robert Commanday, San Francisco Examiner jazz critic Phil Elwood, and the press and biographical files from record label Fantasy Records.  Key images and documents from these collections will populate a publicly accessible online exhibit. In addition, reel to reel recordings of select incidental compositions by SUSA will be digitized and added to the online exhibit, along with the five finding aids created for the collections.


The Conrad Susa Papers document the career of one of the most important American composers of the late 20th c. SUSA wrote more than 200 theater scores and 5 operas and was the first composer commissioned by San Francisco Opera’s Lotfi Mansouri to write a new work for the company. This work, Dangerous Liaisons, premiered in 1994 with Frederica von Stade, Thomas Hampson and Renee Fleming. SUSA’s papers contain original manuscripts for many of his compositions, recordings of his works, programs from his performances, correspondence and photos. The Adrian Michaelis Papers contain a wealth of documentation on The Standard Hour, a historic radio program that began in 1926. During its 29-year run, The Standard Hour presented 1146 broadcasts with internationally-renowned artists such as Igor Stravinsky and Marian Anderson. In 1928, the Standard School Broadcast was added, which featured the first live, educational broadcast of “Aframerican Jazz,” and, in 1952, an experimental classical TV series was produced. Michaelis was the Program Manager for The Hour’s entire run, was the driving force behind the School Broadcasts and TV show, and was responsible for bringing jazz into the schools with greats like Louis Armstrong. Michaelis’ papers document all this and include hundreds of rare photographs. 


The Bob Commanday and Phil Elwood Papers provide significant documentation of over 40 years of Bay Area music. Commanday was the classical music critic for the San Francisco Chronicle (1963-1993) and editor of San Francisco Classical Voice, which he founded. Phil Elwood was the music critic for the San Francisco Examiner and San Francisco Chronicle (1965-2002) and covered jazz, blues, rock, cabaret and nightclubs. Their papers include original notes and reviews plus research and ephemera they collected. The press and artist files for Bay Area-based Fantasy Records document the famed 55-year-old record label founded in San Francisco in 1949. Fantasy’s artists included homegrown greats such as Dave Brubeck, Vince Guaraldi and Creedence Clearwater Revival while its acquired catalog contained legends such as Miles Davis, Thelonius Monk, John Coltrane, Ella Fitzgerald and many others.


During this project, 234 linear feet of original documents, photographs and recordings will be sorted, arranged, rehoused, described, preserved and cataloged for broad public access. A finding aid, a detailed guide to the contents of a collection, and a collection-level catalog record will be created for each of the collections. Hundreds key images and documents, ten recordings of SUSA’s music and twelve excerpts from The Standard Hour broadcasts will be digitized and added to an online exhibit. The catalog records will be added to WorldCat, the world’s largest library catalog, and the project will be promoted with a public launch event on June 15, 2017.