Processing Fun: Undine Smith Moore’s Audiovisual Collection

MARBLandNHPRClogos“Revealing Her Story: Documenting African American Women Intellectuals” is a two-year project funded by the National Historical Publications and Records Commission to arrange and describe the personal papers of nine African American women writers, artists and musicians. Collections included in the project are the Pearl Cleage papers; additions to the Delilah Jackson papers; the Samella S. Lewis papers; the Almena Lomax papers; the May Miller papers; the Undine Smith Moore papers; the Geneva Southall papers; the Mildred Thompson papers; and the Sarah E. Wright papers. To read the press release announcing the project, click here.


It should have come as no surprise to discover that the cassette tape and records collection of a woman who devoted her life to music –whether it was teaching, playing, or composing it– would be both quantitatively large and cover a broad range of genres. However, while processing Undine Smith Moore’s audiovisual collection, I was still happily surprised in several occasions.

The first revelation was that this African-American woman, who was three years older than my grandfather and died the year I turned seven, had overlapping musical tastes with me. This includes not only composers now acknowledged as universal, such as George Gershwin, but artists that I assumed were closer to my generation’s tastes than Moore’s, like Bobby McFerrin and Tina Turner.

Processing Undine Smith Moore's Audio Collection

Processing Undine Smith Moore’s Audio Collection

Different performances of Moore’s compositions, as well as concerts and conferences about African-American music, form a major part of this collection. The archive also holds radio interviews, speeches by Moore in gala concerts celebrating her trajectory, and even a recording of the memorial service after he passing. What I found most striking, however, as someone who is untrained in music or musicology, were the tapes where Moore recorded herself while composing. It is fascinating to follow the process an artist goes through to create a piece and hone it to perfection.