Jelly Roll Morton

In 1938 while living in Washington, D.C., pianist, composer, arranger, singer, and raconteur Jelly Roll Morton (1890–1941) came to the Library of Congress at the invitation of folklorist Alan Lomax to record an oral history interview while sitting at a piano in the Coolidge Auditorium. These celebrated, historic recordings document a fascinating view of the creation of jazz in New Orleans at the dawn of the twentieth century. Months later, Morton wrote a follow-up letter to Lomax discussing his plans and difficulties with the local musicians’ union.

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  • Jelly Roll Morton to Alan Lomax. Manuscript letter, January 6, 1939. American Folklife Center, Library of Congress (002.00.00)

  • Jelly Roll Morton to Alan Lomax. Manuscript letter, January 6, 1939. American Folklife Center, Library of Congress (002.00.00)

  • Jelly Roll Morton: The Complete Library of Congress Recordings by Alan Lomax. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Rounder Records, 2005. Courtesy of Larry Appelbaum (001.00.00)

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“Empress of the Blues”

Tennessee-born vocalist Bessie Smith (1894–1937) was one of the highest paid black entertainers of the 1920s, earning the nickname “Empress of the Blues.” She made 160 sides for Columbia Records, accompanied by top jazz musicians, such as Louis Armstrong, Coleman Hawkins, and James P. Johnson, among others. This portrait was photographed by Carl Van Vechten in his home studio.

Carl Van Vechten, photographer. Portrait of Bessie Smith holding feathers, 1936. Gelatin silver print. Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (004.00.00)

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Mildred Bailey Backstage

Mildred Bailey (1907–1951) achieved success singing pop songs and early jazz tunes in the late 1920s and 1930s. Bailey, part American Indian, was married to vibraphonist and bandleader Red Norvo during the 1930s; they were known as “Mr. and Mrs. Swing.” This portrait by William P. Gottlieb was taken in a dressing room at the Aquarium Club in New York City.

William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Mildred Bailey, 1946. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (005.01.00)

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Ethel Waters

Singer and actress Ethel Waters (1896–1977) emerged from vaudeville and the recording studios to become a leading stage and screen star. Adept in jazz and blues, she turned to gospel in later years and toured with Billy Graham’s revivals.

Ethel Waters, 1929. New York World-Telegram and the Sun Newspaper Collection, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (006.00.00)

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Jimmy Rushing

Jimmy Rushing (1901–1972), known as “Mr. Five by Five,” was an influential blues shouter and ballad singer for Count Basie’s Orchestra from 1935–1948. He also recorded with Bennie Moten, Dave Brubeck, and Duke Ellington. He is shown here in the 1969 Gordon Parks film, The Learning Tree.

Publicity photograph for The Learning Tree, 1969. Music Division, Library of Congress (007.00.00)

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The First Lady of Song

Ella Fitzgerald (1917–1996) made her singing debut at age seventeen by winning the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night Contest in 1934. She joined Chick Webb’s band and scored a national hit with “A-Tisket-A-Tasket,” which she co-wrote, and took over the band after Webb died. A self-described “rhythm singer,” Fitzgerald absorbed and assimilated the bebop style in the 1940s. She gained an audience beyond jazz when she embarked on a series of highly regarded songbook albums in the 1950s, featuring the work of Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Jerome Kern, Harold Arlen, and others. Fitzgerald appeared on radio, television, and in film, and enjoyed a long career as the best-known female jazz singer. This photograph captures Fitzgerald at the Downbeat Club in New York City with an adoring Dizzy Gillespie making goo-goo eyes at her. It also shows her husband at the time, bassist Ray Brown, behind her.

William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, Ray Brown, Milt Jackson, and Timmie Rosenkrantz, 1947. Gelatin silver print. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (008.00.00)

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Anita O’Day

Tough talking, hard-living singer Anita O’Day (1919–2006) came to fame with the big bands of Gene Krupa and Stan Kenton before emerging on her own. She received a career boost in 1956 with her memorable appearance in the film Jazz on a Summer’s Day, and the release of her candid 1981 autobiography High Times, Hard Times. She was among the first female band singers to appear in slacks and band uniform like other musicians, as seen in this photograph.

Photograph of Anita O’Day, n.d. Anita O’Day Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (010.00.00)

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Frank Sinatra

Singer, actor, and producer Frank Sinatra (1915–1998) was featured with the bands of Harry James and Tommy Dorsey before becoming one of the most popular singers and entertainers of the twentieth century. This iconic image of Sinatra was taken at Liederkranz Hall in New York City.

William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Frank Sinatra, 1947. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (013.00.00)

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Mel Tormé

Composer, arranger, actor, and singer Mel Tormé (1925–1999) began performing at the age of four. He led his vocal group The Mel-Tones before going solo. Tormé co-composed “The Christmas Song,” appeared in film and television, and authored five books. The special effect in this William P. Gottlieb photograph was made by using dry ice in a dressing room sink to underscore Torme’s nickname, “The Velvet Fog.”

William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Mel Tormé, between 1946 and 1948. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (034.01.00)

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Ellington’s Vocalists

Two notable male vocalists featured with Duke Ellington’s Orchestra in the 1940s were Herb Jeffries (1913–2014) and Al Hibbler (1915–2001). Hibbler, a blind baritone, went on to record chart-topping pop hits in the 1950s after leaving the orchestra, including a best-selling single of “Unchained Melody.” Jeffries joined with Ellington after starring in several 1930s cowboy films aimed at African American audiences, including The Bronze Buckaroo and Harlem Rides Again. He was often referred to as the first black singing cowboy, and with Ellington he was best known for his dramatic rendition of “Flamingo.”

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  • Portrait of Al Hibbler. Publicity photograph, ca. 1945. Valburn/Ellington Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (011.00.00)

  • Duke Ellington leading orchestra with Herb Jeffries singing. Publicity photograph, 1941. Valburn/Ellington Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (012.00.00)

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Helen Merrill

Helen Merrill (b. 1930), the child of Croatian immigrants, made her first recording as leader in an album produced by Quincy Jones, featuring jazz stars Clifford Brown, Oscar Pettiford, Milt Hinton, and others. She made two recordings with arranger Gil Evans: Dream of You (1956) and Collaboration (1987), with different arrangements of the same pieces. Merrill spent considerable time living, performing, and teaching in both Italy and Japan. On display is the cover of her first recording with Gil Evans, along with a holograph arrangement in Gil Evans’s hand.

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  • Gil Evans, arranger. “I’m Just A Lucky So and So.” Manuscript score, undated. Helen Merrill/Torrie Zito Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (014.00.00)

  • Helen Merrill. Dream of You. Compact disc booklet, 2007. Original LP recording released 1957. Courtesy of Larry Appelbaum (015.00.00)

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Johnny Hartman

Johnny Hartman (1923–1983) was a baritone ballad singer who recorded with Dizzy Gillespie and Erroll Garner, but is best known for the classic John Coltrane & Johnny Hartman album (1963). Interest in Hartman increased many years after his death due to the inclusion of seven of his songs on the soundtrack to Clint Eastwood’s 1995 film, The Bridges of Madison County and in the 2012 biography, The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story.

Gregg Akkerman. The Last Balladeer: The Johnny Hartman Story. Lanham, Maryland: Scarecrow Press, 2012. Music Division, Library of Congress (016.00.00)

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Bebop Era

These memorable William P. Gottlieb images document three band singers who assimilated the modernist bebop style of the 1940s. Handsome balladeer Billy Eckstine (1914–1993) created the first bebop big band in 1943 with future stars Dizzy Gillespie, Dexter Gordon, Miles Davis, and Gene Ammons, along with fellow vocalist Sarah Vaughan (1924–1990), who made her first recording with Eckstine’s band. Sarah Vaughan possessed one of the most stunning, virtuosic voices in jazz with her technical prowess, harmonic sophistication, and beautifully burnished intonation. Trumpeter and composer Dizzy Gillespie (1917–1993) left Eckstine to form his own trailblazing orchestra that fused modern jazz with Afro-Cuban rhythms. He’s shown here with his foil and fellow singer, Kenny “Pancho” Hagood (1926–1989).

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  • William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Billy Eckstine, between 1946 and 1948. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (025.00.00)

  • William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Sarah Vaughan, 1946. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (027.00.00)

  • William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Dizzy Gillespie and Kenny Hagood, between 1946 and 1948. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (031.00.00)

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Cab Calloway

Cab Calloway (1907–1994) replaced Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club in 1930 and eventually created a sensation as bandleader and entertainer with his “Hi-De-Ho” stage act and surreal scat solos. As a high-profile entertainer, Calloway could afford to hire some of the best players in the business, including a young Dizzy Gillespie, Chu Berry, Milt Hinton, and Cozy Cole. His recordings of “St. James Infirmary,” “Minnie The Moocher,” and others were immortalized in Max Fleischer cartoons of the 1930s.

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  • William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Cab Calloway, 1947. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (026.01.00)

  • William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Cab Calloway, 1947. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (026.00.00)

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Nat “King” Cole

Nat “King” Cole (1919–1965) was a highly respected jazz pianist before he began to sing. The success of his trio helped spark the transition from big bands to small groups, and his repertoire of beautiful ballads and novelty songs made him one of the most beloved and bestselling pop singers of the 1940s–1960s.

William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Nat “King” Cole and Oscar Moore, 1946. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (028.00.00)

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Billie Holiday

Inspired by Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith, Billie Holiday (1915–1959) made her first records as a teenager before she toured with Count Basie and Artie Shaw and recorded with Benny Goodman. Her sessions with Teddy Wilson and Lester Young set a high standard for all jazz singers who followed her, and her recording of “Strange Fruit” is considered an anthem for civil rights. These photographs show Holiday with her devoted boxer, Mister, and in performance at the Downbeat Club in New York City.

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  • William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Billie Holiday, 1947. Gelatin silver print. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (024.00.00)

  • William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Billie Holiday and Mister, 1947. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (023.00.00)

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Three Views of Abbey Lincoln

Singer, songwriter, actress, and civil rights activist Abbey Lincoln (1930–2010), was one of many singers influenced by Billie Holiday. She made her breakthrough in 1956 with her first recording, Abbey Lincoln’s Affair, and her appearance in the film The Girl Can’t Help It. Though she continued to work as an actress, appearing in films such as Nothing But a Man, For Love of Ivy, and Mo’ Better Blues, she devoted the rest of her career to music. She worked with Max Roach on civil rights projects, such as We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite, and later recorded as leader and composer of her own works. These images of Lincoln, taken during the 1960s, include a rarely seen contact sheet of casual shots of her at home, a captivating portrait that may have been used for publicity, and a photograph of Lincoln on the bandstand with drummer, composer, activist, and husband at the time, Max Roach.

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  • Lawrence N. Shustak, photographer. Portrait of Abbey Lincoln. Photograph, ca. 1960s. Max Roach Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (018.00.00)

  • George Morris, photographer. Abbey Lincoln at home. Contact sheet, ca. 1960s. Max Roach Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (017.00.00)

  • Chuck Stewart, photographer. Abbey Lincoln singing with Max Roach on drums. Photograph, ca. 1960s. Max Roach Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (019.00.00)

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Second Generation Bebop

Sheila Jordan (b. 1928) and Betty Carter (1929–1998) were singers born six months apart in and around Detroit. This rarely seen photo of Jordan was taken by Blue Note Records co-founder Francis Wolff around the time of Jordan’s recording for the label. Betty Carter was among the first jazz musicians to form her own record label and production company, Bet-Car, which released this eponymous recording, later retitled At the Village Vanguard.

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  • Frank Wolff, photographer. Portrait of Sheila Jordan, ca. 1962. Reproduction. Courtesy of Michael Cuscuna, Mosaic Records (033.00.00)

  • Betty Carter. Betty Carter. North Plainfield, New Jersey: Bet-Car Records, 1970. Motion Picture, Broadcasting and Recorded Sound Division, Library of Congress (035.00.00)

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Lambert, Hendricks & Ross

Bebop singers Dave Lambert (1917–1966), Jon Hendricks (b. 1921), and Annie Ross (b. 1930) wrote lyrics set to preexisting instrumental recordings in a style known as “vocalese.” Shown is the original cover of their debut recording inspired by the instrumental recordings of Count Basie.

Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. Sing a Song of Basie. Santa Monica: ABC Paramount, 1957. Courtesy of Pat Padua (032.00.00)

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“Between the Keys”

Nina Simone (1933–2003) was a prodigiously talented, if complicated, singer, pianist, songwriter, and activist. Initially frustrated by lack of opportunities for African Americans in the world of classical music, she turned to jazz and assimilated repertoire from blues, folk, R&B, soul, and pop. Simone became one of the musical icons of the civil rights movement, documenting pride, identity, and racism with her songs “Mississippi Goddam,” “Why (The King of Love is Dead),” “To Be Young, Gifted and Black,” and Billy Taylor’s “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel To Be Free.” This quote from a draft of an unpublished autobiography, co-written with Mary Martin Niepold, expresses in terms simple and profound her thoughts on the art of jazz singing.

Nina Simone. Statement for Nina Simone: Her Story. Typescript, August 7, 1980. Max Roach Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (055.00.00)

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Mutual Admiration

Shirley Horn (1934–2005) was revered by singers all over the world, yet she spent nearly her entire life living in Washington, D.C., with her family as her first priority. In a holograph letter, fellow singer Johnny Mathis writes about his admiration upon hearing her recording “Here’s To Life.” Miles Davis was a mentor and lifelong friend of Horn’s, as well as a champion of her music from the early 1960s. Davis made a rare appearance as a sideman on her 1991 album You Won’t Forget Me, from which this photo was taken.

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  • Shirley Horn with Miles Davis, ca. 1991. Photograph. Shirley Horn Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (037.00.00)

  • Johnny Mathis to Shirley Horn. Manuscript letter, December 1992. Shirley Horn Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (036.00.00)

  • Johnny Mathis to Shirley Horn. Manuscript letter, December 1992. Shirley Horn Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (036.00.01)

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Cassandra Wilson

Cassandra Wilson (b. 1955), whether singing pop, soul, blues, or jazz, always sounds uniquely herself. In 1993, she participated in a concert revisiting and expanding on the music from the We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite with the Max Roach Quartet, dancers, chorus, and actor Ossie Davis at Aaron Davis Hall, where this dramatic in-performance photograph was taken.

Chuck Stewart, photographer. Cassandra Wilson performing in We Insist! The Freedom Now Suite with Max Roach on drums, 1993. Photograph. Max Roach Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (046.00.00)

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Chet Baker

The Library of Congress recently acquired a cache of rare Chet Baker (1929–1988) materials. On display is a promotional card of a Baker appearance on French television with the French message, “For I have nothing to offer other than my music.” Also shown is an undated, false-alarm suicide note detailing Baker’s descent into self-destruction. He later died under mysterious circumstances when his body was found in the street below his hotel room in Amsterdam.

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  • Chet Baker. Manuscript letter, undated. Chet Baker Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (042.00.00)

  • Promotional card for appearance on French television, 1988. Chet Baker Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (043.00.00)

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Collaborations

Vocalist Nancy Wilson (b. 1937), who often refers to herself as a song stylist rather than a jazz singer, is seen here with composer and arranger Gerald Wilson (no relation) from one of two recordings they made together in the 1960s: Yesterday’s Love Songs—Today’s Blues and How Glad I Am. A tantalizing glimpse into potential collaboration comes from a previously unknown handwritten letter written by pianist and composer Mary Lou Williams (1910–1981) to Carmen McRae (1920–1994) suggesting songs McRae might like to record.

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  • Nancy Wilson and Gerald Wilson, ca. 1962. Photograph. Music Division, Library of Congress (040.00.00)

  • Mary Lou Williams to Carmen McRae. Manuscript letter, July 9, 1976. Page 2. Carmen McRae Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (041.00.00, 41.00.01)

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Esperanza Spalding

Esperanza Spalding (b. 1984), a bassist, singer, and songwriter, is depicted with her character/persona Emily, described as her “inner navigator” from her recent project Emily’s D+ Evolution. Spalding demonstrates how contemporary jazz performers can expand beyond previous definitions of what a jazz singer can be.

Portrait of Esperanza Spalding, 2014. Print from digital photograph. Music Division, Library of Congress (049.00.00)

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Gregory Porter

Gregory Porter (b. 1971) is a fast-rising star with a captivating baritone voice and stylistic range that encompasses jazz, soul, R&B, and original songs. The photograph on display was taken during Porter’s concert at the Library of Congress on March 8, 2014.

Kimberly Powell, photographer. Gregory Porter performing at the Library of Congress, 2014. Print from digital photograph. Music Division, Library of Congress (051.00.00)

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Cécile McLorin Salvant

Since winning the Thelonious Monk Jazz Vocal Competition in 2010, Cécile McLorin Salvant (b. 1989) has built a following among critics, musicians, and fans for her daring repertoire and elastic, imaginative interpretation. She is also a creative visual artist, equally playful and sardonic. For this exhibit, she donated a recent untitled painting from 2015. The revealingly expressive black and white portrait of Salvant by photographer John Abbot was donated by her record label.

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  • John Abbot, photographer. Portrait of Cécile McLorin Salvant, 2015. Print from digital photograph. Music Division, Library of Congress (048.00.00)

  • Cécile McLorin Salvant. Untitled. Gouache on paper, 2015. Music Division, Library of Congress (047.01.00)

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Louis Armstrong

Louis Armstrong (1901–1971) is arguably the greatest soloist in the history of jazz. His trumpet playing set the highest standards for creativity and virtuosity, and he was equally engaging as an innovative scat singer who practically invented the style. This photograph shows Armstrong backstage at the Aquarium Club in New York City. The children’s book When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat (2008) by Muriel Harris Weinstein and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie, tells the story of a little girl who becomes joyously ebullient when learning from the master how to sing scat.

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  • William P. Gottlieb, photographer. Portrait of Louis Armstrong, 1946. Reproduction. William P. Gottlieb Collection, Music Division, Library of Congress (045.00.00)

  • When Louis Armstrong Taught Me Scat © 2008 by Muriel Harris Weinstein and illustrated by R. Gregory Christie. Reproduction. Music Division, Library of Congress (056.00.00) Used with permission of Chronicle Books LLC, San Francisco, and R. Gregory Christie

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Romare Bearden

For many years, Romare Bearden (1911–1988) worked in the studio of his longtime friend Robert Blackburn (1920–2003), where he made collographs, etchings, lithographs, and monotypes. This sketch came to the Library as part of the acquisition of Blackburn’s collection, which included ninety-six Bearden working materials for his prints. These materials were mostly paper cutouts with the exception of a couple of untitled pencil sketches, one of which is on display. In addition to being a visual artist, Bearden’s interest in jazz led him to co-write several songs which were submitted for copyright in 1951.

Romare Bearden. Untitled pencil sketch, between 1974 and 1983. Robert Blackburn Printmaking Workshop Collection and Archives, Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress (054.00.00)

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Visual Jazz

The Music Division’s collections include twenty-three watercolors by writer, cartoonist, and painter Stephen Longstreet (1907–2002). Longstreet wrote radio scripts and screenplays, including The Jolson Story and The Helen Morgan Story, as well as more than one hundred books of fiction and non-fiction. Trained as an artist, he found work as an illustrator and he’s perhaps best known for his jazz-inspired drawings and watercolors. These two Longstreet pieces, titled Club Date Spot Light and Harlem Shouter, are among Longstreet’s images “depicting aspects of jazz culture” donated to the Library through the office of Senator Samuel Ichiye “S. I.” Hayakawa (R-CA) in 1979.

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  • Stephen Longstreet. Club Date Spot Light, undated. Watercolor. Music Division, Library of Congress (052.00.00)

  • Stephen Longstreet. Harlem Shouter, 1927. Watercolor. Music Division, Library of Congress (053.00.00)

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