Huge trove of 78 rpm records donated to Syracuse U
July 5, 2008, 3:55 AM EST
SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- A vast collection of 78 rpm records — valued at $1
million, weighing 50 tons and representing more than a half-century of
American music history — is being donated to Syracuse University by the
estate of a prominent New York City record shop owner.
The more than 200,000 records represented the entire inventory of "Records
Revisited," a landmark Manhattan store owned by Morton Savada, who died in
February from lung cancer at age 85.
Savada's collection included recordings from 1895 to the 1950s, with big
band, jazz, country, blues, gospel, polka, folk, Broadway, Hawaiian and
Latin among the genres. It also contains spoken-word, comedy and broadcast
recordings, and "V-disks," which were distributed as entertainment to the
U.S. military during World War II.
"It's a treasure trove of that era," said Joe Lauro, founder of Historic
Film Archive, whose holdings include over 40,000 musical performance clips
and holds exclusive rights to such famous shows as "The Ed Sullivan Show"
and Don Kirshner's Rock Concert.
"In terms of individual records at high prices ... there's not a lot of
that in there. The value is that it's the largest massing of recordings
from one particular era," said Lauro, who was befriended by Savada as a
teenager and visited his store often during their 35-year long friendship.
Even though they don't yet know what gems await them in Savada's
collection, university officials were ecstatic about the donation, which
boosts the Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive's collection of 78 rpm
records to about 400,000 — second in the United States only to the Library
of Congress collection. His family also donated Savada's collection of
catalogs, discographies and other materials.
Sound recordings are a rich resource for researchers, faculty and students
in a variety of disciplines — musicology, history, filmmaking, journalism
and political science — said University Librarian and Dean of Libraries
Besides documenting the musical styles and performance practices of the
day, these sound recordings provide a glimpse into social, political and
cultural history, she said.
"The Savada collection is truly an archival wonder," said Theo Cateforis,
assistant professor in Syracuse's Department of Fine Arts, who also makes
extensive use of sound recordings in teaching.
"For students whose relationship with music and technology rarely extends
beyond the confines of the iPod, it is always eye-opening to see and hear
the original 78s that were the mainstay of the recording industry for many
decades," he said.
Savada did not attend Syracuse, but wanted to donate his collection to a
major institution that would maintain it and make the recordings available
for research and teaching, said his son, Elias Savada, who runs a film
research company based in Bethesda, Md.
Morton Savada was familiar with Syracuse's audio laboratory and archive
from meetings of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections, said
Savada, whose daughter graduated from Syracuse in 2005.
With its collection of more than 340,000 items, Belfer is the fourth
largest sound archive in the country and includes formats from the earliest
experimental recordings on tinfoil to modern digital media. Its collection
of 22,000 cylinder records is the largest held by any private institution
in North America, and one of the largest in the world.
The Savada collection has been packed into about 1,300 boxes and will be
taken to Syracuse next week on six 20-foot-long Federal Express trucks,
Elias Savada said. The collection is estimated to weigh about 50 tons in
total, he said.
The records are thicker and heavier than the later standard 33 1/3 rpm
albums, which were in vogue before they were supplanted by cassette tapes
and then compact discs. The 10-inch, 78 rpm albums have one song to a side,
and weigh about a half pound each.
Morton Savada took over his father's shirt business, Savada Bros., in the
1950s and ran it until opening the record store in 1977. He began
collecting 78 rpms as a teen in the 1930s.
Savada's favorite music was big band, especially Benny Goodman and Jimmy
Dorsey, Elias Savada said.
Although he couldn't read sheet music, Morton Savada could play songs by
ear on the piano, he said.
Morton Savada would often bring collectors together at his shop, where the
narrow aisles were flanked floor to ceiling with shelving holding his
Records Revisited was the last store exclusively selling 78 rpm recordings
and was a frequent haunt for those in the film and music industries,
including actor/directors Woody Allen and Matt Dillon. Savada often lent
his 78s to movie and music producers rather than selling them, and never
sold the last copy of a recording because he regarded his collection as an
archive, not an inventory.
"He was more interested in making you a $5 copy on tape than selling you a
record. He considered himself a keeper of history more than a collector,"
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