Thanks for this beautiful remembrance, Dave. I had the pleasure of knowing Don, and worked with him on several albums in the Lomax Collection series. He was both a pleasure and a beacon.
Library of Congress
From: Association for Recorded Sound Discussion List <[log in to unmask]> On Behalf Of David Giovannoni
Sent: Tuesday, January 08, 2019 3:57 PM
To: [log in to unmask]
Subject: [ARSCLIST] DON HILL - AN APPRECIATION
Longtime ARSC member, Dr. Donald R. Hill, has passed away at the age of 79.
Don was a mentor and friend to many, recognized by all as an esteemed scholar, unwavering humanist, and gentleman collector. Don taught through example that the purpose of collecting was to make some-thing of it-a book, a reissue, an archive worthy of institutional accession. He believed that focus, quality, and depth determined the value of a collection-the finest being only as large as it must be. And he showed us all that relation-ships among collectors are more important than the artifacts we seek.
We met in the 80s while riffling side by side through shellac. Pulling discs from crates he'd note to this beginning collector the records worth having, their trade values, and most importantly, the intrinsic and essential values of the re-cord-ings themselves. He guided and accelerated my discoveries, and pro-foundly shaped an enduring ethos of what a collection and collector should be.
Commercial recordings comprised only one of Don's collecting interests. As a trained ethnographer he had collected in Cuba, Carriacou, Trinidad, Jim Crow's South and New York City. "When people ask what instrument I play, I tell them 'the tape recorder'" he'd quip. For Don, acquisition was a gratifying, necessary, yet insufficient component of collecting. Getting the songs and stories heard was his ultimate goal. He took pride in his insti-tutional deposits, taking care to find the right homes for his unique contribu-tions. And when clearing shelves to make room for his treasured "musica Africana", Don assessed the appropriateness of private collections with the same resolve. While others scrambled for his pre-war blues and country, Don entrusted to my curation his wax cylinder recordings made by people in their homes-the squalls of newborns, Grandma's earnest rendition of hymns, Junior's jokes, the first words spoken in the year 1900 and more.
At that time, in the 90s, early home recordings were neither valued by collectors nor appreciated by institutions as the ethnographic documents they are. But thanks to Don's prescient salvaging, these "vernacular"
recordings-now under the care of UCSB's Special Collections-have been recognized as "culturally, historically or aesthetically important" by the Library of Congress' National Recording Preser-vation Board and placed on the National Recording Registry.
Don's various collections have informed myriad articles, books, documentaries, LP and CD reissues, presentations, and lectures. The humanities are richer for them.
Don instilled in me the aspiration of making private collections available to every-one. Towards this end we worked on three reissues for Rounder Records in the 90s. We spoke at ARSC about the emerging digital tech-niques we were using to restore seminal field record-ings. And as distribution networks and institutions caught up with our visions of universal access, we began in earnest to find partners to make this happen. The passing of every important collector reminds us of the symbiosis between indi-viduals and the institutions that outlive them. It certainly reignites my own resolve.
A few years ago, while packing his ultimate wall of 78s for transfer to UCSB, we paused to play Lionel Belasco's 1929 Gennett recording of "Vene-zuela". Don noted to David Seubert that this was one of only three or four copies known. But far more important than its rarity is its beauty.
Terry Zwigoff famously featured it in "Ghost World" in 2001, and Don and I had restored it a couple years earlier for "Good-night Ladies and Gents-The Creole Music of Lionel Belasco". Don wrote in the notes:
The Venezuelan waltzes.typify this CD more than the other songs. For die-hearted lovers of music of the African Diaspora like myself, your non-West Indian run-of-the-mill waltz is really boring (even Strauss should be per-formed sparingly!). But just listen to these Caribbean waltzes; they seem to define charm in its purest form.
"Venezuela" would have been a strong opening track on the CD. But Don made it the last. He wanted to close his carefully-sequenced 90-minute tour of Belasco's Caribbean with a sense of sailing from port, the islands disappearing below the waves while "Venezuela" beat six-against-four from shore, fading with distance into the tropical sea breeze. I believe, and I think Don would agree, it's a fitting soundtrack with which to reflect on what compels us to set the recorded past adrift into the future, and to retell tales of retired captains who maneuvered us into this intemperate current.