I am wrapping up my first week on campus after spending last week at the Moorland Spingarn Research Center at Howard University. We had a busy week talking with scholars, reading secondary scholarship, and (finally!) having our whole team together in-person.
Last week I spent three days at the Moorland Spingarn Research Center (MSRC) doing preliminary archival research on the Washington Conservatory of Music. Archival research is thrilling! You never know what’s included in a collection until you open the box. During my time at Howard I looked at about ten boxes of material mostly relating to school records of the Washington Conservatory. The school scrapbooks provided a lot of helpful programs and even some photos of graduates we are looking into. Based on the commencement programs in the school scrapbooks, I was able to compile an updated list of Washington Conservatory graduates who matriculated between 1910-14. Accordingly, we decided to refine the scope of our project to focus on this time period only because discerning a clear list of graduates after 1914 is difficult and school records are sporadic.
With our updated time-frame, our project now encompasses 30 students who graduated from the Washington Conservatory between 1910-14. While we have started some preliminary biographical work, I’m excited to dive into more in-depth biographical reconstruction next week. While there are some names, such as Henry L. Grant, who we know a lot about already, many other names, such as Pearl Christmas, are still question marks.
At Howard, I also was amazed to find a number of newsclippings, fundraising lists, and donation sheet related to Harriet Gibbs Marshall’s efforts to establish a National Center for Negro Music (NCNM) at the Washington Conservatory in the 1920s and 30s. Marshall hoped to raise a $100,000 endowment for the proposed center. Although Marshall was ultimately unable to raise a $100,000 endowment, Marshalls NCNM positions the Washington Conservatory as an institution explicitly dedicated to fostering Black musical culture and musicians and raises interesting questions as we consider the influence of the Washington Conservatory on Black musical culture and other educational institutions.
Finally, while I was in Washington, DC I decided to visit the home of the Washington Conservatory at 902 T St. NW. Today the red-brick building is home to two apartments without any indication that this building was home to the only music conservatory run by an all Black faculty and dedicated to fostering Black musicians. I also visited the original home of the Washington Conservatory at True Reformers Hall. I was amazed when I realized True Reformers Hall is across the Street from the original home of the S.H. Dudley Theatre which was the flagship of the Dudley Circuit, an early 20th century Black vaudeville network. It is amazing to experience the geographic interconnection between the places and venues in real life even as we make digital maps.
With that, I’m looking forward to our continued research and hope to have some fun biographical stories to tell next week!