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Musical of the Month

Musical of the Month: Black Crook Archives

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Theatres -- U.S. -- N.Y. -- Niblo's Garden, Digital ID TH-56970, New York Public LibraryNiblo's Garden TheaterAs the month of June draws to a close, it's time to leave The Black Crook and move on to a new Musical of the Month. Before I do, though, I want to take a minute to let those who may have been intrigued by the small samples I’ve posted know how they can find more information about The Black Crook and other historical musicals.

In order to find material related to a musical, you sometimes have to be creative in how you search. For example, most libraries don’t organize material by the title of a play or musical; there is no "Black Crook collection" at NYPL, for instance. Most archival collections come to libraries when a famous person dies and leaves their papers to the institution. These collections are usually kept together and appear in a library catalog only under the name of the person who donated it (e.g. "Richard Rodgers papers"). Sometimes, (actually usually at NYPL), the catalog record will also include a document called a "Finding Aid": a relatively detailed list of the kinds of items in the collection (see, for instance, the Richard Rodgers papers).

Library for the Blind, Wrapping Books, Digital ID 1252830, New York Public LibraryMaking this sort of list is time consuming, though. For instance, if an archivist finds a bit of untitled handwritten sheet music in the collection of a musical theater performer, it may be a version of a known song from an identified musical, or it may be a draft of something that was never published. The archivist could spend a lot of time researching that one piece from the collection, or could simply label it "untitled sheet music" and move on to the next thing in the collection. Current archival best practice advocates processing collections rapidly to make them available to researchers as quickly as possible, and so most archivists would probably not identify the music. In fact, at very large archives like NYPL, it’s probably most likely the finding aid would simply mention a folder of "Sheet music 1860-1890" and leave it up to the researchers to identify the individual items. Although this can be frustrating to researchers working from a distance, if a more specific finding aid was created for every collection in the library, most collections would simply sit in unprocessed storage--hidden from and unavailable to the public. A careful researcher will probably have to visit the collection and call up potentially interesting boxes of material rather than simply rely on catalog records.

Moreover, for many theatrical pieces archival material is scattered across many libraries. While this can make it difficult for researchers to be sure they have looked at every important document, it also means that even if you don’t live near a major archive like the Library of Congress or New York Public Library, there may be a collection of important documents near where you live! If you’re interested in a particular show, try to find out who owns the papers of everyone connected with it (Where did the orchestrator donate his papers? How about the set designer?). Free databases like WorldCat can be useful in locating these collections, but sometimes a quick chat with the subject librarians at your local University library or Historical Society can uncover material even experts in the field don’t know about (because, of course, they can’t visit EVERY library in the world).

Here is a list of the collections of Black Crook material I know about. Leave a note in the comments if you know of others.

(You can also search other NYPL archival collections here.)

Collection Location Description
Maria Bonfanti Collection (New York Public Library) New York City Correspondence, manuscript sheet music, and scrapbook of the premiere ballet dancer in the original production.
Programs & Clippings files (New York Public Library) New York City Newspaper clipping about productions the show between 1866-1929. American Sheet Music Collection (New York Public Library): Sheet music (photographed and placed online in my last blog entry)
Harry K. Ransom Center Austin, TX Manuscript promptbook, sheet music, newspaper clippings, programs, costume designs.
Harvard Theater Collection Cambridge, MA Manuscript promptbook of The Black Crook and other plays by Barras, letters and photographs of Charles Barras, newspaper clippings from the time of the original production.
Library of Congress Washington D.C. Published 1867 copy of the script, sheet music, programs, Federal Theater Project typescript
Museum of the City of New York New York City Sheet music, photographs, programs, newspaper clippings.
Player's Club, Edwin Booth Collection New York City Manuscript promptbook.
Victoria and Albert Museum Theater Collection London Papers relating to the London version of The Black Crook (with a completely different plot)

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The black crook

A few days ago I located a recording you had made of You Naughty, Naughty Men from The Black Crook. Now I can't find it again on either my laptop or iPad. I had planned to play it for my Musical Theatre Class at Roosevelt University in Chicago this Wed. Can you help me? Thanks so much. Dr. June Compton

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