1st reel of legendary James Brown concert returned to ‘GBH

James Brown performing at the Boston Garden in 1968.

The Media Library and Archives has long been in possession 2nd and 3rd reel of the 1968 James Brown concert, an event credited with keeping the peace after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. It wasn’t until a few months ago that members of our stock sales team discovered that the original 2inch videotape of the first hour of the concert, missing all these years, was in storage with the James Brown Estate. As part of the licensing agreement for the upcoming documentary on James Brown, the stock sales team negotiated the deposit of a preservation quality digital surrogate into the WGBH Archives.

To share this recent discovery with other WGBH staff, the MLA arranged for a screening of the “lost reel.” Employees took time out of their busy schedules to relive a famous night in Boston history. The screening included the best of the “lost” first reel, which had lots of technical sound difficulties. This included a rare performance of Brown singing “If I Ruled the World” and James Brown addressing the audience in a unique moment. In addition, a second James Brown performance of “Going to Kansas City,” as well as powerful words from Brown, City Councilor Thomas Atkins, and Mayor Kevin White screened from the later reels.

One of the employees who attended was WGBH Jazz Gallery’s Al Davis, who was at the concert in 1968. Davis was kind enough to get up and share a few words with his fellow employees. He spoke of how his mother wasn’t sure she should let him go to the concert. He was ultimately allowed to go and headed down to the Boston Garden on the Orange Line. The event was very meaningful to him, especially since James Brown was such an important mentor to young black students at the time. Davis also recounted how under the urging of James Brown and others the crowd truly did remain peaceful after the concert.

You can watch clips from the concert, like this part of James Brown’s tribute to Martin Luther King, Jr. 

From thousands of tapes to 17

On March 11, 2013, WGBH Media Library and Archives’ Archives Manager Keith Luf and Digital Archives Manager Michael Muraszko loaded 7,010 tapes from the WGBH vault onto 12 palettes, which were then shipped via an 18-wheeler to be digitized at Crawford Media Services in Atlanta, Georgia for the American Archive of Public Broadcasting.  Only a few months later would the WGBH MLA in collaboration with the Library of Congress be selected as the permanent home for the American Archive collection, an initiative to identify, preserve, and make accessible as much as possible the historic record of public media in America.

WGBH’s tapes were stored in 306 archives boxes, totaling 459 linear feet (longer than 1 1/2 football fields!) and comprising more than 6,400 hours of content. In many cases, the archives staff knew only the program title of the tapes — they often knew nothing about the recorded participants. The content dated back as early as March of 1947 and was as recent as 2005. The MLA sent material on 15 different video and audio tape formats, the majority of which had exceeded the manufacturer’s intended lifespan. MLA’s Keith Luf compared the situation to a child’s 18 year old cat, which everyone knew wouldn’t — and couldn’t — be around much longer.

In June of this year, WGBH’s 6,400 hundred hours of content was returned. In addition to the original 7,010 tapes, the content was delivered as digital files on a second copy — on 17 LTO-6 tapes…. stored in one box!

From 7,010 tapes to 17!
From 7,010 tapes to 17!

And with the digitized material came a new ease of accessibility — the MLA staff have been able to easily watch or listen to the digital files and discover content they never knew had been sitting in the vault for all these years. Among the new discoveries includes a 1967 10-minute monologue by American historian and activist Howard Zinn on the social unrest of the times; a recorded speech given by JFK in either 1962 or 1963 at the Armory in Boston; and a 1975 video recording of a cello class taught by Harvard professor Mstislav Rostropovich, who during the recording asked a graduate student in his class “What kind of a name is Yo-Yo?”

As additional funding has become available, the MLA has recently coordinated with Crawford on the digitization of 800 more hours of 3/4″ videotapes and 1/4″ audiotapes, which will be shipped out next week.  Who knows what we’ll find next!?

NYU Scholar Feasts on Vintage Joyce Chen Cooks Episodes

Iconic WGBH Cooking Show Host the Focus of Research by Prof. Dana PolanJoyce_Chen_Cooks_Logo

As an early pioneer in cooking shows, WGBH produced groundbreaking series such as Julia Child’s the French Chef and Joyce Chen Cooks. As a result, the WGBH Media Library and Archives is a treasure trove of classic culinary television footage and the first stop for scholars studying the cooking show genre. Dana Polan, a professor of Cinema Studies at New York University has returned to the Archives to study the work of an iconic WGBH host and once again, the footage in the Archives is at the center of his research.

Previously Polan visited the WGBH archives while researching his book Julia Child’s The French Chef (Duke University, 2011). This time around, he’s studying another famous female chef, Joyce Chen, who also used the WGBH airwaves to teach the public how to cook ethnic dishes in their own kitchens.  Joyce Chen, emigrated to America during the Chinese Revolution. After becoming a successful cookbook author and Cambridge restaurateur, she hosted Joyce Chen cooks on WGBH from 1966 to 1967. Polan’s latest work focuses on Joyce Chen within the context of the Chjnese emigré culture and its attempts to craft a version of Chinese cuisine that would appeal to urban professionals in the U.S.

Currently, eleven of the episodes Polan used in his research have been digitized and are available online to the public. These include Joyce Chen Cooks Peking Ravioli and Joyce Chen Cooks for Fussy Eaters. The vintage footage of these episodes allowed Polan to study the nuances of Chen’s personality and the techniques that made her a trailblazer in the history of television cooking.

Recently, Professor Polan presented his work at NYU’s 2014 Feast & Famine seminar series hosted by NYU’s Food Studies program. Additionally, he is working on a critical essay about Joyce Chen that will be published soon on Open Vault.

Throughout his research, Professor Polan, took extensive notes while viewing each episode. The summaries, program logs, and select descriptive metadata he provided to the Archives have made the series content much more accessible and discoverable by other researchers and scholars.

As a public media station, WGBH’s Media Library and Archive serves as a free resource to researchers and scholars as well as the general public. The Archives contain more than 500,000 audio, video, and related assets from WGBH’s more than 60 years of broadcasting

To search the digital collection of almost 4,000 video, audio, and related materials, click here. If you have inquiries about other assets in our collection, contact us at archives_requests [at] wgbh [dot] org, and consider a visit to the archives.

Get To Know Your Neighbors: Searching the BSO Archives

By Sadie Roosa

I think most archives feel like they’re fending for themselves. Sure we go to conferences to share our challenges and successes, but when it comes down to the daily grind, we don’t usually feel very connected. The other day, I had the pleasant experience of realizing that not only are we connected, but that by utilizing these connections, we can really help each other.

A while back, a WGBH listener donated a collection of off-air recordings of BSO radio broadcasts. I was tasked with accessioning them, which didn’t seem like a very hard project. The listener had carefully labeled each tape with the season, week, and date of the performance. Every once in awhile there was even the name of the conductor. It all seemed pretty simple to me: create a database, gather the metadata from the tape labels, and ingest it into our main system.

But in the middle of adding barcodes to the tapes, I starting thinking how much more useful it would be to add information about the conductors, the pieces performed, and any special guests or soloists. To find this information in our own archives, I would probably have to dig through old program guides, and who knows if they would have written up all of the details I wanted.

Then I remembered that just a few weeks before I had seen a presentation at NEA about the new BSO Archives Performance History Search.  I hadn’t used the website yet, but it seemed like there was a chance it could be useful. I took the first tape and typed the date in to the search by performance fields. And just like that, every bit of information I wanted appeared on my screen. It was amazing. And even better, since it was already in electronic form, I could copy and paste the song titles and conductor names, rather than having to transcribe them from our physical program guides.

I continued to use the BSO Performance History Search for the rest of the tapes, and ended up with much richer records than I originally thought possible, and it only took me a fraction of the amount of time that it would have if I had only relied on our own archives.

After such a positive experience, I’m definitely going to keep my eye out for other possible ways we can utilize and collaborate with other archives. And, of course, the WGBH MLA will be happy to share our information to help other archives enrich their collections as well. Contact us at openvault [at] wgbh [dot] org.

Series List

In an effort to let our users know what we have and to publish our holdings, below is a list of all the series titles the WGBH Media Library and Archives has assets for in the collection.

You can access the series list by clicking here.

As we continue to improve Open Vault, we’ll soon be revamping the website and will add functionality to the series list to eventually include series descriptions, program and program descriptions and list assets associated with specific programs within our collection.

Stay tuned!

Digitize on Demand: Boston TV News Digital Library

via bostonlocaltv.org


We’re very excited to offer a remarkable feature that allows you to participate directly in preserving Boston history. Through our Digitization on Demand program you can select any artifact from our catalog of over 50,000 items, and help save a piece of local history by sponsoring its preservation.

It’s easy. While searching our catalog, if you come across an items that you’re excited to see digitized and preserved, all you have to do is request it. We’ll contact you about the costs of digitization, and soon the video will be streaming on our site for free public access.

Why do we want your help? We know our users are excited about getting access to this content. When we first launched back in 2012, we got over 1,000 votes for items users wanted digitized. We want to continue to give you the opportunity to choose what’s available. Our collections don’t just cover politics and events, they contain a wealth of history about your neighborhoods, your communities, possibly even your friends and family, and who knows, maybe even you. Because it’s YOUR history, YOU should be the ones who choose what endures.

Why do we need your help? The bulk of this collection exists on 16mm film or 3/4″ videotape, formats which are now at risk of deterioration. If these items are allowed to deteriorate before we can preserve them, the sights and sounds they contain will be lost forever. We have been able to preserve over 1,000 items so far, but we don’t want to stop there. To ensure that even more of the Boston TV News collections will survive and be made available, we need your help. We also want to acknowledge your contribution, so with your permission, we’ll add a sponsorship note to the item.

If you think the cost of archival preservation might be more than you can afford, don’t let that stop you from showing your interest in an item. If we get more than one request for an item, we’ll contact all the interested parties and ask if they want to share the costs. You can also track items you want to see digitized, and we’ll let you know if someone else sponsors them.

More Nuclear Interviews from the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project

By: Sadie Roosa

Interested in even more interviews about nuclear weapons and policy? Our War and Peace in the Nuclear Age collection contains 328 original footage interviews with world leaders, policy makers, scientists, and activists who played a critical role during the Cold War era. The interviews were for the 13-part miniseries that aired on PBS in 1989, which means that they were conducted between 1986 and 1989. While many of them give an in-depth look at the history of nuclear weapons, some of the interviews discuss the contemporary nuclear issues the world was facing at the time. This timing gives immediacy to some of the arguments, like in this interview with Barney Frank but it also leaves no room for looking back at the Cold War era from a removed standpoint.

We’ve recently come across a fantastic resource in the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project. “The Nevada Test Site Oral History Project at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas is a comprehensive program dedicated to documenting, preserving and disseminating the remembered past of persons affiliated with and affected by the Nevada Test Site during the era of Cold War nuclear testing.” This project consists of interviews with more than 150 people, totaling 335 hours, conducted between September 2003 and January 2008. Searchable transcripts of these interviews are available, along with selected audio and video clips. The oral history format of the interviews allows for longer answers and more explanation from the participants, which often leads to very interesting stories. Since these interviews were conducted around 20 years after the ones on Open Vault, they allow for more perspective and comments on later developments in nuclear policy.

The UNLV project overlaps with our Open Vault collection. Both contain interviews with Sidney Drell, Richard Garwin, Cecil Garland, and Herb York. If you were intrigued with anti-MX Missile activist Cecil Garland’s gruff personality in the Open Vault interview, check out the UNLV interview with Garland for more on his background and philosophy. He even tells some of the same stories in both interviews. This UNLV interview is also great if you want to hear more from Richard Garwin, one of the most important scientists in developing the hydrogen bomb, discuss his earlier involvement in nuclear research working alongside Enrico Fermi, Hans Bethe, and Edward Teller. Garwin goes into great detail about the development of many technologies he discusses in War and Peace, like the U-2 surveillance plane and diagnostics nuclear tests.

If you have a moment, do check out the Nevada Test Site Oral History Project.

From the American Archive: President Nelson Mandela

Today, South Africa and the rest of the world mourn the loss of Nelson Mandela, the revered South African president and anti-apartheid revolutionary who spent 27 years in prison. Serving as South Africa’s first black president, he ended apartheid, the government platform, which for nearly five decades had enforced racial segregation, denying non-whites any economic or political power. During his five-year presidency, Nelson Mandela led his country to democracy, tackling racism, poverty, and inequality, and fostering reconciliation.

Upon hearing news of his death yesterday, we contacted our American Archive partnering station WHUT, located on the campus of Howard University in Washington, D.C. Today they have given us permission to share with you a video from the American Archive, featuring President Nelson Mandela at Howard University in October of 1994, the day on which he received an honorary doctorate degree from the university.

“Our cause became your cause, and so shall it remain, for us to work together to improve the quality of life of especially black people, and other disadvantaged communities — in South Africa, in Africa, in the United States, and other parts of the world.” –South Africa President Nelson Mandela, upon receiving an honorary doctorate at Howard University, October 7, 1994

AMIA 2013 Presentation

The WGBH Media Library and Archives had the privilege of speaking at The Association of Moving Image Archivists annual conference this year in Richmond, Virginia.
We’ve made available our PowerPoint slides for people who would like to access them.

Thank you to everyone at AMIA 2013 and especially those who came to listen to our staff talk about the new features and challenges on Open Vault.


(WGBH Media Library and Archives staff from left to right: Peter Higgins, Sadie Roosa, Mike Muraszko, Allison Pekel, Keith Luf)

WGBH Remembers Mary Feldhaus-Weber

The WGBH community notes with sadness the passing of Mary Feldhaus-Weber, former WGBH Rockefeller Artist-in-Residence, who died Sun, 10/6. She was 73. As an artist-in-residence in the late ’60s, Mary created several award-winning works, which aired as episodes on Rockefeller Artists in Television, the predecessor to The WGBH Project for New Television. You can see short clips of Mary’s work on Open Vault, “I Wish I Might” featuring dance performances by members of the Boston Ballet, and “City Motion Space Game” the majority of the work was filmed in a WGBH studio.

A memorial service for Mary will be held at the Brady & Fallon Funeral Home, 10 Tower St. (opp. Forest Hills MBTA Station), Jamaica Plain on Sat, 11/2 at 11 am.

To learn more about Mary and her work, please read this post from the WGBH Alumni website.