Legacy of a Modeling Agency

The recent passing of Melissa Stevens, heir to the Patricia Stevens Modeling School and Career College, has given us cause to take a look through one of the most extraordinary collections in LaBudde’s holdings: the Patricia Stevens Collection. This collection, which Melissa donated in November 2011, contains the company records, advertisements, photographs, and other ephemera. There are hundreds of items in over fifty boxes and together they offer a complete account of the history of the company.

1973 photo of Flo Stevens (bottom right) and her three daughters (clockwise from bottom left) Patricia Jr, Sheila, and Melissa.

Melissa’s mother, Florence Czarnecki Stevens became “Patricia Stevens” only after her 1946 marriage to a young Chicago entrepreneur named James Stevens. Before he met Flo, he had already named his training school, a business designed to help women navigate the postwar work world. Flo – or Mrs. Stevens as she was often addressed – grew the school into a franchised operation with 55 branches. Its headquarters were in Kansas City, on Country Club Plaza. (Longtime KC residents may recall the Stevens-sponsored annual Easter parade that ran up until 1995). A full account of the Stevens’ family and their company could occupy an entire book. Melissa Stevens took over the company after her mother’s death, and up until her own recent passing was working to revive the company. In a 2012 interview with The Pitch, she said “All I really need…is a runway, a makeup table, a mirror — and me.”

Secene from 1973 Easter Parade

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One of the items Melissa Stevens donated was a large scrapbook filled with letters of appreciation written to her mother Flo. Among the letters are many from former students and employees. Flo Stevens appears to have had a special relationship with many of her graduates and employees. One student said that Flo was “the woman who changed my life.” Another wished “I could explain how much I think of you. You have been like a big sister to me and you have my deepest respect.” Still another told Flo that “my heart had adopted you as a second mother.” Other students wrote about how the Stevens school could help them with self-esteem issues or help them conquer their fears. Some of her graduates went on to pursue careers in acting or fashion, or interior design. Reading their letters, they all give some credit to Florence Stevens for their success.

The most poignant letter in the collection is from one of Stevens’ employees. She [find her name] writes to Flo about a 14 year old girl – Marilyn – who wanted to be a model and was attending classes against her parents’ wishes. Her parents believed that any kind of modeling would “lower [Marilyn’s] morals” and corrupt her. The letter explains that Marilyn might not be destined for a modeling career, but that she at least deserved the chance to follow her dreams, even if she was still young.  

Notes from students and local womens groups

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Notes of appreciation from students and local organizations

There is, I think, a contradiction buried at the heart of the Stevens collection. On one hand, the modeling school may seem anachronistic by today’s standards. Expectations for women were undoubtedly different in the 1960s and 70s than they are now. On the other hand, based on these letters Stevens’ modeling, etiquette and career-related courses do seem to have changed young women’s lives for the better. Women in the 1960s and 70s were starting to make social gains that still haven’t been fully realized. The Stevens school embodies both of those: recognizing that even though women were still expected to behave in certain ways, there were also new opportunities opening up for them, and they would need appropriate education and training in order to succeed. In short, Stevens tried to provide both of those. Perhaps then there is more to the modeling school than meets the eye. Projecting our modern ideas backwards even a couple generations isn’t always wise. As antiquated, unhealthy, and even incorrect as instruction about posture, diet, personal care and etiquette may have been, it’s clear at least some of Stevens’ students found what they learned empowering and that they credited her with helping them improve their lives.   

 

Where the Magic Started

The lion king? A young Walt Disney sitting atop one of the lion statues in Swope park.

(Written by Helena Collins-Gravitt)

In the summer of 1923, with nothing but an idea and an unfinished project called “Alice’s Wonderland,” Walt Disney left his bankrupt studio in Kansas City and traveled to Los Angeles. Walt Disney has been a household name for decades. His studio revolutionized the world of animation. It’s possible he is the most significant person in the history of American film making. But how did the father of animation get his start? The story of Walt Disney begins in Kansas City, Missouri from 1911 to 1923. In 1920 Disney worked at Kansas City Film Ad Company, but his creative ideas clashed with that of the company’s owner. So, Disney and his co-worker Fred Harman created their own company and named it Laugh-O-Gram Studios after their first short films, “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams”, sold to Newman Theater. This is where he came up with the idea that has been synonymous with Disney ever since: “modernized fairytales done in animation.”

The LaBudde Special Collections is home to several photographs from the early life of Walt Disney and the history of Laugh-o-Gram studios. These photos can be found in the Baron Missakian collection. Missakian was a well know photographer in Kansas City during the 1920s. He photographed many famous personalities, one of whom was Walt Disney. But why did Missakian have so many photos of Disney and the processes at Laugh-O-Gram studios? The reason behind this is that Disney’s studio and Missakian’s photography office were right across the hall from one another and they were close friends. In fact, Missakian ended up marrying Disney’s personal secretary. The set of photos includes a young photo of Disney, many photos from various projects, and even a photo of him at Kansas City Film Ad company.

The story of Disney’s first studio is a rough one, as most stories begin. After some time at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney found that he did not like the cut-out animation style. He preferred classical hand drawn animation, but he could not convince the owner of the company to change styles. So, on May 22, 1923 Disney, along with co-worker Fred Harman, founded Laugh-o-Gram studios at 1127 East 31st Street in Kansas City. Here Disney started working on his animated films. His first twelve films were commissioned by the Newman Theater.

The Newman Theater, owned by Frank Newman where Disney’s early cartoons were shown. (Courtesy, Missouri Valley Special Collections)

His next big project was creating six films for Tennessee-based Pictorial Clubs. This was a big project and Disney was going to be paid eleven thousand dollars for these films when he delivered them. The six films were, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “The Four Musicians of Bremen,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Goldie Locks and the Three Bears,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Cinderella” (1922). Sadly, only months after the contract was signed and the studio began working on these films, Pictorial went bankrupt and Disney was never paid. After all the time and money spent on these films, Disney moved on to find new work because the studio was in desperate need of funds. This led to Disney taking on a project for a local dentist named Thomas B. McCrum.  From this job, the film “Tommy Tucker’s Tooth” was born, and Disney received five hundred dollars. Then instead of using that money to pay off his many debts, Disney started working on his newest idea. A live-action/animation entitled “Alice’s Wonderland”, which would star Virginia Davis, a young local actress. But this work only made the studio’s financial issues worse and after finishing the raw edits for the film the studio filed for bankruptcy in July 1923. As fast as he could Disney bought a ticket to Hollywood, armed with only his ideas and an unfinished reel of “Alice’s Wonderland”. The name is no coincidence: this was the first of a run of Disney-made “Alice” stories, a run that continues to this day. 

The other incredible thing about Laugh-O-Gram studios is that Disney is only one of the animation greats that emerged from it. Hugh Harman (brother of Fred Harman) and Rudolf Ising (a Kansas City native) were animators who worked for Laugh-O-Gram. As a duo they later founded the animation divisions of Warner Brothers and MGM. Another Laugh-O-Gram alum, Fritz Freling, is the man responsible for creating Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, and Yosemite Sam. It’s almost impossible to overstate: the Disney family tree that is Hollywood animated film making can all be traced back to Laugh-O-Gram studios. It is an incredible piece of Kansas City history, and there is a movement underway to preserve it. In 2015 the Thank You Walt Disney Foundation began renovations on the site, and put together a plan for an on-site learning experience. Until then, the photos in LaBudde Special Collections offer a window into one of the most pivotal moments the history of American film making.

Sources

“Baron Missakian Collection”, MS 24, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Timothy S. Susanin, Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011).

Ride the West Wind

On May 26, 1934, a brand new train covered 1,015 miles from Denver to Chicago in 13 hours and 5 minutes, setting records for speed and time. A fine specimen of art deco styling, rendered in gleaming stainless steel, it was the first of a generation of revolutionary new streamlined trains built for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad. These trains were known as “Zephyrs,” after Zephyrus, the Greek god of the West Wind. For the next three decades, Zephyrs from Chicago and Kansas City crisscrossed the western US. Their service spanned a time of transition in American transportation; it began in the depths of the Depression and ended with the expansion of air travel and interstates during the 1960s.

John E. Lynn was a General Passenger Agent for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) office located in Kansas City during the era of the Zephyr trains. The J.E. Lynn collection in LaBudde Special Collections contains many of the Zephyr-related items Lynn collected during his life. This post showcases some of those items, and explains how the Zephyr trains represent one of the high water marks of American railroading during the 20th century.

Zephyrs were built by the Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, PA. They utilized a unibody design that reduced the number of components in the drive system and saved weight. Stainless steel sheetmetal as thin as 0.012 inch was formed into boxes and rectangles to create a strong skeleton that was lighter than traditional components like wooden braces or thick steel bars and plates. The roof was made of stainless steel just 0.022 inches thick, corrugated to give it rigidity. As a result, three of Budd’s “Zephyr” cars weighed the same as one contemporary Pullman coach car. The Pioneer Zephyr was powered by General Motors’ latest diesel-electric powerplant: a 660 horsepower diesel engine that drove an electric generator. GM upgraded later engines to produce about 1000 horsepower. Architect John Harbeson designed the train’s exterior to be both beautiful and functional. Stainless steel meant paint was unnecessary, and besides, who would want to hide that shine? Wind tunnel testing at MIT revealed the Zephyr had over 40% less drag compared to older designs. CB&Q hired the head of the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture department to design the ultra-modern interiors. Each compartment had heating and air conditioning – good luck finding that in a 1930s car or plane. All the innovation by Budd, GM, and CB&Q resulted in new flagship trains that were thoroughly modern in appearance and function.

From 1934 until about 1960, the Zephyrs were the way to travel in comfort, speed, safety and style. They were the 1940s equivalent of flying first class. Other railroads imitated the CB&Q’s design, but the Zephyrs in particular became cultural icons, like jetliners and cars would in later years. The film Silver Streak (1934) was inspired by the train’s inaugural speed run. The film told the story of a heroic train designer whose revolutionary design helped stop a polio epidemic at a dam construction site by bringing iron lungs from Chicago to Denver (the same route, but opposite direction of the real-life run). In 1949 Hank Williams released the song “California Zephyr” as a tribute to the train of the same name.

Several Zephyrs offered service to Kansas City. After its speed run, the first train was renamed the Pioneer Zephyr and entered regular service between Omaha and Kansas City. In 1939 The General Pershing Zephyr (the ninth one built by Budd for CB&Q) began offering service between Kansas City and St. Louis. From 1953 to 1968, two Zephyr routes ran between Chicago and Kansas City. The daytime route was known as the Kansas City Zephyr while the nighttime route was called the American Royal Zephyr. The average journey time between Kansas City and Chicago was just under nine hours, with no need to stop for dinner.

Historical hindsight shows us that Zephyrs were a finale of the golden age of American railroads. Even though ridership never regained its 1910s-1920s peak, Zephyrs were a shining technological and cultural triumph that emerged during the darkness of the Depression. They were the pinnacle of railroad engineering: faster, more comfortable, and more efficient than any train before them. They were also superior to cars and planes in key ways. Finally, they were a “halo technology” – they did not carry most of the people most of the time, but they did it faster and with more style than anything else on wheels. Zephyrs symbolized convenience, glamor, freedom, excitement, and modernity, all wrapped in brilliant stainless steel.

 

Sources

J.E. Lynn Railroad Memorabilia Collection, MS32. LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri, Kansas City

Harold Cobb, “The Burlington Zephyr Stainless Steel Train.” Advanced Materials and Processes, 2009: 24-28.

Steve Glischinski, “Zephyrs and Diesels.” Encyclopedia of North American Railroads, edited by William D. Middleton, George Smerk, and Roberta L. Diehl, 221-222. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

Evie Quarles’ Blues Portraits

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Alan Mercer at Club Paradox – Kansas City, KS 7/8/02. All of Evie Quarles’ photos are available to researchers through LaBudde Special Collections.

Petite with a soft southern drawl and a shock of silver hair, Evie Quarles found her muse at the Grand Emporium, a smoky, boisterous blues joint located near 39th and Main Street in Kansas City. While taking a photography class at a local community college in 1997, Evie became enamored of taking and developing photos. As part of a project for her final exam, she began taking photographs of the musicians, dancers and assorted characters perched at the bar at the Grand Emporium.

Becoming hooked on photography and the Grand Emporium, Evie returned night after night to photograph the musicians and fans dancing and milling around the club. She found that the black background of the stage perfectly framed her sharp, intimate portraits of the blues men and women that played there night after night.

For the next twenty years, she documented blues concerts, clubs, and festivals in Kansas City. Navigating her way through crowds at festivals, clubs, and late night jam sessions with her camera hanging from a strap around her neck and a vest full of film, Evie captured musicians in mid note, dancers swirling across dance floors, and fans carrying on in the audience.

In 2013, Evie donated 856 prints to LaBudde Special Collections in the Miller Nichols Library at the University of Missouri—Kansas City. The breadth and depth of the self-curated collection is stunning. The collection ranges from Kansas City jazz legends at the Mutual Musicians Foundation; the downhome charm of the Kansas City, Kansas Street Blues Festival; Blues Masters at the Crossroads, Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival along with the Grand Emporium and other clubs around Kansas City.

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Living Blues Weekend Photo Shoot, Cotton Candy 9/18/99.

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Kansas City, Kansas Street Blues Festival: Tommy Soul Williams 6/29/02.

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Lil’ Ed at Grand Emporium 5/15/04.

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5th Annual Blues Masters at the Crossroads, Blue Heaven Studio: Robert Lockwood, Jr. 10/19/02.

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Bobby Rush, Thanksgiving Blues Breakfast, KCKS 11/27/03.

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Ray Charles and Myra Taylor at The Music Hall 1/11/02.

 

Consult Evie Quarles’ LaBudde Special Collections page to see the collection finding aid.

See also: Evie Quarles and Her Muse.

Martin Luther King, Jr. on the Concept of Black Power

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Martin Luther King, Jr. appeared on Insight, a WDAF news program hosted by Walt Bodine (left) and Bill Griffith (right), shortly after he penned his “Letter from Birmingham Jail” in 1963. Photo Courtesy: The Walt Bodine Collection at LaBudde Special Collections. Photographer unknown.

 

Walt Bodine paid tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. on WHB Radio’s Night Beat, shortly after the civil rights leader’s tragic death in 1968. The following clip illustrates King’s interpretation of the concept of Black Power.
[audio: http://info.umkc.edu/specialcollections/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/MLKWB.mp3|titles=Audio appears courtesy of the Walt Bodine Collection at Marr Sound Archives.|artists=Martin Luther King Jr. on the concept of Black Power]

Warmest Wishes for 2015

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Unidentified band wearing novelty fur costumes with hoods, c. 1920s (Pla-Mor Ballroom Photograph Collection)

In the midst of frigid temperatures here in Kansas City, the staff of LaBudde Special Collections and Marr Sound Archives offer our warmest wishes for the new year…no matter what your style may be.

Two scraps of paper. One historic recording session.

Sign-in sheet for KFBI recording date

The Higginson Collection consists of two handwritten documents of great value and historic significance. These one-of-a-kind documents survived from the first recording dates for Kansas City jazz pianist Jay McShann and his band, which included alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, then only 20 years old. The recording session happened between November 30 and December 2, 1940, and was supervised by Fred Higginson of radio station KFBI in Wichita, Kansas.

The first document is a sign-in sheet containing the signatures and instrument played of each band member, and represents one of the earliest known signatures of Charlie Parker.

The second document contains the song list and corresponding band personnel for the two days of recording, November 30 and December 2, providing primary source information about the discographical details of the session.

Discography sheet for KFBI recording date

Chuck Haddix explains the significance of the session, especially as a conduit of Parker’s musical development, in his book Kansas City Jazz: From Ragtime to Bebop – A History:

As Decca [Records] released the Kansas City Jazz album in the spring of 1941, the last great big band to come out of Kansas City, the Jay McShann band, rose nationally, boosted by good fortune and a hit recording. After closing at Fairyland [Park in Kansas City] in September 1940, McShann returned to the Century Room and further refined the band’s personnel, replacing alto saxophonist Earl Jackson with John Jackson. Slim and pensive, Jackson rivaled [Charlie “Bird”] Parker as a soloist. While based at the Century Room, the McShann band toured regionally, ranging north to Des Moines, Iowa, east to Paducah, Kentucky, and west to Wichita, Kansas. During a Thanksgiving weekend engagement in Wichita, a brash young college student and jazz fan, Fred Higginson, invited McShann and other band members for a couple of after-hours sessions at radio station KFBI, named after Kansas Farmer and Business. KFBI traced its lineage back to Dr. Brinkley, the goat gland doctor. McShann, figuring the band could use a little experience in the studio before the pending Decca sessions, took Higginson up on the offer.

Orville Minor, Bob Mabane, Gus Johnson, Bernard Anderson, Charlie Parker, Gene Ramey, Jay McShann; recording date for radio station KFBI; Witchita, Kansas; c. November 30 – December 2, 1940 (Jay McShann Collection)

The station’s engineer recorded the sessions to acetate discs, capturing the unit jamming on the standards “I Found a New Baby,” “Body and Soul,” “Moten’s Swing,” “Coquette,” “Lady Be Good,” “Honeysuckle Rose,” and on their theme song, listed as an untitled blues. While the band struggled to find its niche in the Kansas City jazz tradition, Charlie Parker had already transcended previous jazz conventions. [McShann bassist] Gene Ramey felt band members could not fully appreciate Parker’s techniques and ideas. “When I look back, it seems to me that Bird was at the time so advanced in jazz that I do not think we realized to what degree his ideas had become perfected,” Ramey observed. “For instance, we used to jam ‘Cherokee.’ Bird had his own way of starting from a chord in B natural and B flat; then he would run a cycle against that; and, probably, it would only be two or three bars before we got to the channel [middle part] that he would come back to the basic changes. In those days, we used to call it ‘running out of key.’ Bird used to sit and try to tell us what he was doing. I am sure that at that time nobody else in the band could play, for example, even the channel to ‘Cherokee.’ So Bird used to play a series of ‘Tea for Two’ phrases against the channel, and, since this was a melody that could easily be remembered, it gave the guys something to play during those bars.”

Parker’s innovative technique and wealth of ideas are evident in his solos on “Body and Soul” and “Moten’s Swing.” Parker maintains the ballad tempo of “Body and Soul” while running in and out of key. Taking a cue from Parker, the band and Buddy Anderson switch to double time, before returning to the ballad tempo in the last eight bars of the out chorus. After the piano introduction to “Moten’s Swing,” the band launches into the familiar riff pattern. Parker follows with a confident, articulate solo, highlighted by triplets in the second eight-bar section, and triplet flourishes toward the end of the bridge, first stating, on record, his musical signature. Parker had matured into a fully realized improviser, already pioneering a new musical style critics later labeled bebop. He soon had company.

Kansas City’s “Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Mama”

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Priscilla Bowman singing with the Curtyse Foster Band: “Bumps” Love (piano), Foster (sax), Elmer Price (trumpet), Bill Nolan (drums); August 3, 1954

Priscilla Bowman was born May 30, 1928, in Kansas City, Kansas, the daughter of a Pentecostal minister. She made her singing debut at age seven in front of inmates at the state penitentiary in Lansing, Kansas. As a teenager she was encouraged by local pianist Roy Searcy as she began singing in area nightclubs. Later she was introduced to Kansas City jazz pianist Jay McShann and began performing regularly with his band.

In 1955, Bowman cut her first sides with McShann for Vee Jay Records, which resulted in the #1 R&B hit “Hands Off” – the recording most closely associated with her. She toured on the success of the record, highlighted by engagements at Mel’s Hideaway on the south side of Chicago and the Apollo Theater in Harlem, New York. With marquee performances and a hit record to promote, the incessant grind of the road took a toll on Bowman. On the advice of entertainer Moms Mabley, who shared the same tour bill, the exhausted and ill Bowman returned to Kansas City for much needed rest. In a 1987 article for The Squire, Bowman reflected on how the decision impacted her budding career: “I wish I’d stayed [on the road], but if I’d stayed, I would have died…By stopping and staying home, they [the public] just forgot about me. And I’d forgotten about singing.”

Bowman continued to record through the end of the 1950s, achieving artistic and critical triumphs in the face of waning commercial success. Highlights include “I’ve Got News For You, the follow-up to her #1 hit (1956); “Everything’s Alright,” a Billboard Magazine pick (1957), and collaboration with doo-wop group The Spaniels (1958-59). However, Bowman failed to rekindle her initial success or to tap into the emerging rock ‘n’ roll market, a style ironically owing much to the rhythm and blues music she purveyed. By the early 1960s, Bowman had put her career on hold to get married and to raise a family.

Bowman revived her singing career in the late 1970s and early 1980s, performing at area nightspots and festivals. Original Rock And Roll Mama, the first full-length album collecting many of her 1950s recordings, was released in 1986. Despite surgery to remove a cancerous lung that same year, she continued to perform into 1987. She was honored posthumously with a Kansas City Jazz Heritage Award (1988) and an Elder Statesmen of Kansas City Jazz Award (2003).

Priscilla Bowman passed away July 24, 1988.

Learn more about the Priscilla Bowman Collection housed in LaBudde Special Collections at the UMKC Miller Nichols Library.

Midwest Archives Conference: “Don’t Knock The Rock”

midwest-archives-300x134The Spring 2014 Midwest Archives Conference (MAC) was held at Westin Crown Center in Kansas City April 24th through the 26th. Several hundred archivists and MAC members crowded the hotel’s numerous conference rooms to witness presentations and debates on various archival standards ranging from use of metadata and social media to providing access to students, researchers, and educational institutions. Among the topics most relevant to sound archives was one of the final conference sessions entitled “Don’t Knock The Rock: Making Popular Music Collections a Part of Your Archives.”

Before introducing the panel of speakers, session moderator Scott Schwartz, Director of the Sousa Archives and Center for American Music at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, proceeded to lay out the complications of archiving unique rock and roll collections and acquiring such objects from local music scenes and collectors.

NEOPMA

The Northeast Ohio Popular Music Archives is stationed at the Library and Archives of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. NEOPMA actively develops its collections relating to local and regional popular music acts such as The Dead Boys, Pere Ubu, and Devo (pictured above). They also hold notable collections relating to radio personality Alan Freed and labels such as Sire Records.

“It is true that many types of primary sources documenting such music scenes are ephemeral and frequently hidden,” Schwartz said. “Add to this conundrum, the fact that communities sustaining these music scenes can appear to be insular to outsiders because the musicians, the producers, the venue operators, and fans sometimes hoard their personal music artifacts and, at times, are reluctant to share them for a variety of reasons.”

Following these opening statements, five archivists from four different institutions reiterated this sentiment, identified roadblocks, and how they overcame them. Specific topics included identification of record vendors in local music scenes, the Dayton (OH) Funk Archives, the Northeast Ohio Popular Music Archives (NEOPMA), and the Louisville Underground Music Archive (LUMA).

The underlying message for this session was strong advocacy for and partnership with the local music communities that the archives will serve. Archives specializing in local rock music scenes must reach out to local record vendors, radio stations, collectors, and musicians in order to successfully document the historical narrative as assembled by the music community at large. This includes training potential donors to document their collections, with the intention of eventually gifting ephemera to local archives, as well as keeping up with the active musicians and venues to document music scenes currently in progress.

LUMA

The Louisville Underground Music Archive (LUMA) documents the history and culture of the Louisville rock music scene from the 1970s to the present, with a focus on the 1980s and 1990s which brags such noteworthy acts as Will Oldham, Slint, and Rachel’s.

At the Marr Sound Archives, we encounter similar complications in our pursuit of rock and roll records and ephemera. When compact discs took the place of vinyl records as the medium by which music was bought and sold in the 1980s and 90s, the vinyl market dwindled into niche genres, markets, and labels and are, therefore, much harder to come by via our donations only collection policy.

Add to that, the fact that niche genres are still very much in the collector’s market and one would be hard-pressed to obtain a first pressing of an original Touch and Go Label Necros 7” without suffering the salivating, jealous sneers of collectors who would happily pay a pretty penny to adopt such a rare piece of history into their own stacks. If these items are not sitting in a record store bin at collectors’ prices, they are sitting on the shelves of the collectors themselves. This is not an outrageous fact, just a true one.

Many private collectors are already doing their part to document the 1980s and 1990s punk scenes in the Kansas City and Lawrence areas. Documentarian Brad Norman has been compiling fliers, live concert footage, and oral histories to preserve the legacy of Lawrence, KS punk and hardcore venue The Outhouse (1985-1997) for a feature-length documentary. Filmmaker Patrick Sumner has also compiled an impressive number of photos, fliers, and other ephemera from the Kansas, Missouri region with his Bent Edge KC Punk website.

In addition to that, Missouri Valley Special Collections and the State Historical Society of Missouri contain various fanzine and print collections covering subcultures and underground music scenes. While there is no single repository containing these priceless artifacts, resources are strewn throughout the Midwest and are available to researchers.

The Marr Sound Archives and LaBudde Special Collections have acquired an abundance of Kansas City musical history, although the last three decades of rock and roll music remains relatively scarce as archival materials. This does not mean we do not hold a vast supply of audio and paper items from the last 25 to 35 years of local and international rock and roll acts. Marr and LaBudde serve as repositories for the following collections containing rock and roll records, ephemera, and, oftentimes, personal items of the donors:

Tales from the Archives: The untimely death of KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

In October 2012, the Marr Sound Archives completed an 18-month National Endowment for the Humanities grant to catalog and preserve the nearly 3,000 broadcast recordings in the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection. I served as the project cataloger, managed three students, and coordinated with sound archives staff on the preservation and digital reformatting of the recordings. When asked to write a special feature article for the Music Library Association Newsletter, an informal publication of MLA, I pondered what I should focus on. First, I thought it might be sensible to highlight some unique items in the collection or maybe talk a little about the project, but then I realized that I don’t normally make any sense, and when I do, it puts everyone to sleep. Instead, I decided to focus on a series of anecdotes recounting the unusual discoveries and amusing happenings in the course of working with this collection.

This is the first in a series of Tales from the Archives.

The untimely death of KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

Clipping of report on Heyser's murder

Clipping of report on Heyser’s murder. In other important news, the local stamp club is meeting!

Just over two years ago, I found myself driving by the Pickwick Hotel at 10th and McGee Streets in downtown Kansas City. I wish I could say that I did this to satiate some intellectual curiosity to see the building in which former president Harry S. Truman wrote his autobiographical Pickwick Papers; or that I did it to fulfill a romantic notion that I should see that place which once housed the penthouse headquarters of radio station KMBC, the station whose collection I had been cataloging for the past several months. It was for neither of those reasons I ventured out on that inconspicuous evening.

The truth is hard to admit. In the midst of working with the Arthur B. Church KMBC Radio Collection, I had run across KMBC program producer and sometimes announcer, Fran Heyser, and as any good cataloger is wont to do, I set about establishing his name in the LC/NACO Name Authority File (basically, a huge registry of names). When I discovered in horror that he had been beaten to death with a metal table lamp at the Pickwick, I had the irresistible urge to investigate. I recently learned that this abandoned hotel is slated for redevelopment as apartments for “young urbanites.” Imagine them moving in with their reclaimed wood coffee tables and vegan faux leather couches (Hey, wait. I have these things…), having no idea their new apartment could be haunted by the ghost of Fran Heyser. I would totally watch that episode of Paranormal Witness on SyFy.

KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

KMBC producer, Fran Heyser

What didn’t occur to me when writing this short anecdote was that the living relatives of Fran might see the article and contact me. All praise the glory of the Interwebs! [which also terrifies me] So when I received an email from the niece of Fran Heyser who had been directed to my article by her cousin, I have to admit to being a bit nervous to open the email. After all, I had told the story of her uncle’s murder in such a casual and darkly humorous way (debate on whether any of the three readers found it humorous). But much to my relief, she had contacted me to inquire about additional information concerning her uncle, who she had only known through the stories that her grandmother and mother had shared. When I sent her a digital copy of his autographed photograph (shown here) and links to every audio recording that we had involving her uncle in some way, she expressed gratitude and even excitement, as she immediately recognized her uncle in the photograph. It was a relief that in my rare act of public service (it’s best that I’m kept behind heavy wooden doors) and in our Archives’ effort to preserve and provide access to the unique and valuable materials we hold, we had managed to provide family members a renewed interest and connection to the artifacts documenting the activities of a relative whose death was truly tragic.

Find out more about the Church-KMBC collection.

Contributed by Sandy Rodriguez, Special Collections Metadata Librarian