The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts Acquires Lou Reed's Archives

Two-week long celebration includes displays and public programs at Library for the Performing Arts and Stephen A. Schwarzman Building

March 2, 2017 - NEW YORK, NY - During a press conference at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Laurie Anderson and NYPL announced today, on what would have been Lou Reed's 75th birthday, that the Library is acquiring the seminal musician’s complete archives. The Library will also host free displays and public programs over the next two weeks to celebrate and showcase Reed's life and work, and his collection's new home at NYPL.

The Lou Reed Archive measures approximately 300 linear feet of paper records, electronic records, and photographs, and approximately 3,600 audio and 1,300 video recordings. The Archive documents the history of Reed’s life as a musician, composer, poet, writer, photographer, and tai-chi student through his own extensive papers, photographs, recordings and other collections of materials. The archive spans Reed’s creative life--from his 1958 Freeport High School band, The Shades, his job as a staff songwriter for the budget music label, Pickwick Records, and his rise to prominence through The Velvet Underground and subsequent solo career, to his final performances in 2013. The collection comprises studio notes, galleys and proofs, master and unreleased recordings, business papers, personal correspondence, poster art, fan gifts, rare printed material and Reed’s substantial photography collection.

Laurie Anderson initiated and guided the formation of the Lou Reed Archive. Independent archivist Don Fleming (who also works on the Alan Lomax, Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey collections at various institutions) oversaw the acquisition and worked with Reed’s two archivists, Jason Stern and Jim Cass, to create a detailed catalog of the extensive materials, most having been in storage for decades. Keeping the archive together and in New York were primary goals of finding the best institution to care for Reed’s collected works. Anderson and the archive team reached out to The New York Public Library and believe that it will be the ideal home for Reed’s archive. 

"The archive is a panoramic picture of Lou’s music, pictures, friendships, writing, tai chi and performances as well as a recreation of the scenes and cities he worked in and loved," said Laurie Anderson, Reed's widow. "What better place to have this than in the heart of the city he loved the best? It takes a while to see a life as a whole and now that the first step of the archive is complete we can step back and begin to see some dazzling new patterns in the work Lou made in his long and intense life as an artist. My archive team headed by Don Fleming and assisted by Jason Stern and Jim Cass assembled and organized the things he left. In the process they found some real treasures. Being part of this assembly has been one of the most intense experiences of my life. His many worlds are brought back to life in this marvelous work. My dream has always been to make Lou’s work completely accessible to the public. You don't have to have any special credentials. The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts has made this possible."

"The Library for the Performing Arts is truly honored to welcome Lou Reed's archive into our collections," said Jacqueline Z. Davis, Barbara G. and Lawrence A. Fleischman Executive Director of The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. "Reed was a singular talent, and an icon of New York's music scene. His papers and recordings will not only complement and greatly expand our offerings, but also open new opportunities for researchers, students, and music lovers to enjoy and learn from his life and work."  

The public celebrations of Reed's birthday and collections begin today at both the Library for the Performing Arts and Stephen A. Schwarzman Building. At the top of every hour throughout the day, the Library for the Performing Arts will play an excerpt of a different Reed recording in its Cafe. Displays of ephemera also open today at the Library for the Performing Arts and the Schwarzman Building, on view through March 20. These displays present a selection of personal artifacts, notebooks, correspondence, and other materials to the public for the first time ever.

The celebration continues at two special public events: a performance of The Raven and Reed's poetry at the Library for the Performing Arts on March 13, and a performance of Drones at the Schwarzman Building on March 15. Both events are free and open to the public, but advance registration is required. Please visit for more details.

Lou Reed (1942-2013) was an American songwriter and rock musician whose songs chronicled the dark side of New York’s post-war underground with a poetic directness and jarring honesty not yet familiar in American popular music. Reed, an aspiring poet, rose to prominence after Andy Warhol encountered The Velvet Underground, the experimental rock band formed by Reed in 1964. Warhol produced the band’s first studio album and invited the band to perform as part of his recurring multi-media event, The Exploding Plastic Inevitable, positioning Reed and the band at the center of New York’s art scene.

After departing the Velvet Underground in 1970, Reed enjoyed a successful career as a solo artist, releasing nearly 30 albums and publishing several volumes of poetry and photography. He paved the way for the punk and glam rock of the '70s, inspired the use of noise and experimental techniques in pop music, and later explored ambient sound and music for meditation. Lou Reed was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2014 in a ceremony led by his close friend and admirer, Patti Smith.

In 2016, Legacy Recordings, the catalog division of Sony Music Entertainment, released Lou Reed - The RCA & Arista Album Collection, a comprehensive anthology of the 16 groundbreaking studio and live album titles written, recorded (and often produced) by Reed as a solo artist following the 1970 dissolution of the Velvet Underground.

The Lou Reed Archive will be processed over the next year at NYPL's Library Services Center in Long Island City, and then made available for research at The Library for the Performing Arts' Music Division and Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound. Anderson and her team will continue to work with the NYPL to develop future exhibitions, programs, digital initiatives, and other projects from Reed's various materials.


The Lou Reed Archive documents the history of Reed’s life as a musician, composer, poet, writer, photographer, and tai-chi student through his own extensive papers, photographs, recordings and other collections of materials. The archive spans Reed’s creative life¬—from his 1958 Freeport High School band, The Shades, to his final performances in 2013.

The Lou Reed Archive will be held within the research collections of The New York Public Library.  The primary service point for the Archive following processing will be the Music Division/Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts located at Lincoln Center in Manhattan.   

The heart of the archive is the collected material from Sister Ray Enterprises. Reed formed SRE to oversee his tours and his recording catalog. Recording sessions and the promotional work surrounding his releases are thoroughly detailed in studio notes, related session tapes, record label correspondence, test pressings, and album art notes/mock-ups/match prints. Reed’s history as a live performer is deeply detailed by photographs, audio and video recordings, posters, handbills, extensive tour itineraries, agreements, receipts, correspondence, laminates, and passes. There are extensive examples of U.S. and international press in binders, scrapbooks and folders for Reed’s albums, performances, theatre works, books, and photography exhibits.

The Lou Reed Archive includes:

  • Original manuscript, lyrics, poetry and handwritten tai-chi notes
  • Photographs of Reed- including artist prints and inscriptions by the photographers
  • Tour itineraries, agreements, road manager notes & paperwork
  • 600+ hours of live recordings, demos, studio recordings and interviews
  • Reed’s own extensive photography work
  • Album, book, and tour artwork: mock-ups, proofs and match-prints
  • Lou Reed album and concert posters, handbills, programs, and promotional items
  • Lou Reed press for albums, tours, performances, books, and photography exhibits
  • Fan mail
  • Personal collections of books, LPs and 45s

The collection documents collaborations, friendships, and relationships with Delmore Schwartz, Andy Warhol, John Cale, Maureen Tucker, Sterling Morrison, Mick Rock, Robert Quine, Sylvia Ramos, Doc Pomus, Václav Havel, Hal Willner, John Zorn, Robert Wilson, Julian Schnabel, and Laurie Anderson.

The audio and video collection includes over 600 hours of original demos; studio recordings; live recordings; and interviews from 1965 to 2013. All of Reed’s major tours and many of his guest performances are represented in the collection. An excellent example is 25 hours of original recordings documenting his 1978 run at the Bottom Line in NYC from which the Take No Prisoners live album was derived. One of the rarest and most interesting items in the collection is a 5” reel to reel that Reed mailed to himself in May of 1965. It was common at the time for songwriters to create a “poor man’s copyright” by sending a recording of a new song to themselves and then not opening the package, thereby establishing a copyright date with the postmark. The package remains unopened. It is believed to be from the first Velvet Underground demo sessions that occurred on May 11, 1965 at Pickwick’s studios in Queens. It could be that it’s one or more of those demos, which included the first two recorded versions of Heroin. Or it could be an unknown composition. It’s still being decided when, and if, to break the seal on the package.

Lou Reed’s iconic persona was captured in photographs by Mick Rock, Billy Name, Renaud Monfourney, Waring Abbott, Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, Mark Seliger, Guido Harari, Clifford Ross, Len Prince, David Gahr, Asako, Oldrich Skacha, Roy Tee, Steve Tucker, Paul Schirnhofer, Chuck Pulin, Sanford Schor, Judy Schiller, Simon Friedmann, Ivo Gil, Roby Schize, Greg Fuchs, Peter Locke, Elena Carminati, Moni Kellerman, Xavier Lambours, Henri ter Hall, Herbie Knott, and Jutta Brandt. These noted photographers who trained their lenses on Lou at concerts or for album artwork and press features are represented in the archive by copies or original artist proofs, many of which are inscribed. This collection of photographs covers the extent of his artistic career from a 1958 variety show performance by the Shade’s to Lou’s final public performances in 2013. The collection includes contact sheets, negatives and unpublished photographs.

Reed’s own photography is also represented in the collection. Reed began working with photography in the 1970s when, inspired by the work of Billy Name, he modified a video camera to make high-contrast images. Over the years he captured over 10,000 images. In 2006 at the Steven Kasher Gallery Reed held his first major New York photography exhibit, Lou Reed: New York. He published several photo books, including Romanticism, a series of landscapes shot largely with a digital camera converted to create infrared images. This work was shown in 2009 at the Adamson Gallery in Washington, DC. Reed took photographs in New York, Scotland, Denmark, Spain, Rome, China and Big Sur.

The archive gives a comprehensive view of the creative process and business interactions of one the 20th century’s major musical figures. The collections document his Velvet Underground albums and performances, his solo albums, his extensive solo tours, collaborative music projects, theatre works, books and articles that he authored, his own photography, and his personal tai-chi studies. Reed was a life-long resident and a uniquely New York City songwriter, performer and photographer. The archive documents NYC through the words, music and photographs of one of the city’s most notable creative artists.

Lou Reed's uncompromising artistry has inspired generations of musicians and artists. The Lou Reed Archive is a matchless record of Reed’s iconic career and a vital resource for scholarship, study, exhibition and dissemination of his work, as well as a dynamic resource for studies of the cultural and musical renaissance that Reed significantly influenced.


About The New York Public Library For The Performing Arts, Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center

The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts houses one of the world’s most extensive combinations of circulating, reference, and rare archival collections in its field. These materials are available free of charge, along with a wide range of special programs, including exhibitions, seminars, and performances. An essential resource for everyone with an interest in the arts — whether professional or amateur — the Library is known particularly for its prodigious collections of non-book materials such as historic recordings, videotapes, autograph manuscripts, correspondence, sheet music, stage designs, press clippings, programs, posters and photographs. The Library is part of The New York Public Library system, which has 92 locations in the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, and is a lead provider of free education for all.