Music History Archive

York College-Black American Heritage Foundation Music History Archive

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The Black American Heritage Foundation (BAHF) was founded in 1984 by Clarence L. Irving, Sr., for the purpose of documenting, preserving, and disseminating information about the cultural heritage and accomplishments of African Americans. As President of the earlier Bisons Bicentennial Committee, Mr. Irving helped to establish the Black American Heritage Trail (which was officially dedicated on Nov. 18, 1976), to honor the achievements of African Americans in Southeast Queens. Mr. Irving was also instrumental in convincing the United States Postal Service to issue the Black Heritage Series of stamps in 1978. The idea for a joint York College-BAHF Music History Archive was proposed by Mr. Irving and officially announced by York President Milton G. Bassin on Oct. 18, 1989. (Click here to read a Pandora's Box article about the founding of the Music History Archive, and here for a tribute by Congressman Floyd Flake in the Congressional Record.)

Detail of Al Sears' Saxophone
Detail of Al Sears' Saxophone

The purpose of the Archive was to collect documents, music manuscripts, memorabilia, recordings, and artifacts pertaining to African American musicians and composers who lived in Southeast Queens. Dr. Robert Parmet of the History Department has been the College’s representative to BAHF, as well as a member of the Archive Advisory Committee, since the project's inception.

The first donation of materials to the Music Archive, which is housed in the York College Library, was by trumpeter and composer Wilbur "Buck" Clayton, who donated the scores to five of his compositions, as well as a trumpet case and various mutes. Buck Clayton Memorabilia
Buck Clayton Memorabilia

Al Sears and Lewis Latimer Memorabilia
Al Sears and Lewis Latimer Memorabilia

Other significant additions to the Archive over the years were a tenor saxophone that belonged to Al Sears, and a flute that belonged to inventor (and electrical pioneer) Lewis Latimer. The opening exhibit of the Music History Archive took place on May 2, 1994.

Other collaborations between BAHF and York College include numerous commemorations for Duke Ellington Month, with lectures and concerts. Ellington vocalist Joya Sherrill performed at the 1991 commemoration. In 2007, York College and BAHF paid tribute to the wives of jazz musicians, honoring Catherine Basie, DeLores Bell, Mary Benton, Patricia Clayton, Evelyn Ellington, Mona Hinton, Gloria Johnson, Barbara Perkins, Jean Prysock, Ruth Sears, Hope Townsend, Catherine Williams, Estella Williams, and Eva Taylor Williams. Ruth Sears
Official presentation of Al Sears' saxophone to York College by Ruth Sears

Compiled by Prof. John A. Drobnicki, York College/CUNY.
Color photos by Prof. Di Su, York College/CUNY.

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