The Library of Congress has acquired Max Roach’s vast personal collection of papers, music, photos, and audio and video recordings.
At a celebratory event in Washington, D.C. in late January, members of Roach’s family discussed the drummer’s life and work. “Our family is thrilled that our father’s rich legacy has found a home at the Library of Congress,” said his daughter, Maxine. “Our father had a sense of his place in the history of America’s original music, and for decades he collected testaments to his mastery in the form of recorded sounds, video, photos, papers, letters, awards, collaborations, gifts, honors, struggles and friendships. All will be on display at this very great and prestigious institution. And though he is no longer here, his artistry and humanity will live on in this magnificent building. We thank the Library of Congress for this high honor for our father. We know he is pleased.”
“As a drummer, composer, bandleader, educator and activist, Max Roach had a profound impact on American music,” said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. “His collection will have high research value not just for musicians and jazz scholars, but for anyone exploring the rise of political consciousness among African-Americans in the post-World War II period. His collection will now be preserved in the nation’s library so that his legacy and works might inspire generations to come.”
Roach’s personal archive features musical scores, manuscripts, business papers, correspondence, lesson plans, photographs, prints and drawings, and rare audiovisual recordings. Materials from Roach’s musical, theatrical, dance and multimedia collaborations are meticulously detailed in the collection, including ongoing exchanges with Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, Charles Mingus, Nina Simone, Alvin Ailey, and playwrights Sam Shepard and Amiri Baraka.
Roach gave voice to his black consciousness and the African-American experience through his music as well as his activism. There is revealing correspondence about his work with such civil rights organizations as the NAACP and SNCC, as well as with writer Maya Angelou and various associates of Malcolm X.
The collection totals more than 100,000 items, comprising about 80,000 manuscripts and papers; 7,500 photographic materials; 1,000 music manuscripts; and hundreds of sound and video recordings. Highlights from the collection include:
- An unpublished draft of his autobiography, written with the late Amiri Baraka
- An unpublished recording—dated Nov. 14, 1964—of legendary pianist Hassan Ibn Ali
- An unpublished 1969 recording of Max Roach with former wife Abbey Lincoln in Iran
- An unpublished Cecil Taylor and Max Roach duet in Italy in 2000
- The “An Evening with Max Roach” broadcast, September 8, 1964
The Max Roach Collection will be available in the Library’s Performing Arts Reading Room on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. The collection will complement the Library’s existing collections of Charles Mingus, Billy Taylor, Gerry Mulligan, Alvin Ailey, Dexter Gordon, Louis Bellson and Shelly Manne.
Founded in 1800, the Library of Congress is the nation’s oldest federal cultural institution. Many of the its resources can be accessed through its website at www.loc.gov.
Photo credit: Anthony Barboza