Los Angeles: 1956-1958. Over 80pp, varying sizes and formats, including some printed programs, mimeographs, carbon copies, original letters, postcards, membership documents, three 8 X 10 b/w photographs, handwritten notes and drafts. Fine. Item #206051
Founded in 1948 by Mabel Massengill Gunn, the Southeast Symphony Association has pursued a mission of making classical music available to African American audiences as well as creating opportunities for African American musicians in a classical milieu. It is still in operation today as the largest continually operating orchestra of a primarily African American makeup. The Association produced numerous notable alumni who have gone on to careers in other orchestras, as well as in Hollywood. The present archive documents two years of the association, including the scheduling of meetings, events, programming, and fundraising. Among the events documented are concerts in collaboration with the Peter Merenblum California Junior Symphony Orchestra, and featuring notable African American guest artists harpist Toni Robinson, conductor Le Roy Hurte, and composer/conductor William Grant Still. A large portion of the archive concerns a frustrated attempt by the association to collaborate with other local organizations on tribute concert honoring the conductor Arturo Toscanini after his death in 1957. Following what turned to be his last North American tour in 1950, Toscanini had presented the Southeast Symphony Association with the carved baton he had used on the tour. The association hoped to use the baton during the tribute, and then make a public gift of it the County of Los Angeles for its Hall of Fame. From the documentation here, it appears that these efforts were met with frustration. A draft letter to the LA Times addresses the problems they faced: "Our symphony association, predominantly Negro, would like to call the attention of your readers to the dismal and pitiful spectacle of white supremacy thinking in the Los Angeles musical world." The letter goes on the recount how a planned youth concert was undermined when white parents of young musicians refused to allow their children to play in an integrated orchestra. It further tells how the city's other symphony associations did not even reply to the SSA's outreach for the Toscanini tribute, and how the couty's Board of Supervisors sabotaged the effort. "Meanwhile, we are withdrawing our offer of the Toscanini baton to the County of Los Angeles. We hope some day that the smog of white supremacy in Los Angeles will lift, allowing the warm light of brotherhood to shine through." Other materials concern a plan for a short film about the Association and the baton; a co-sponsored exhibition of the drawings and prints of artist Charles White; Association meetings and banquets, etc. The archive includes press-correspondence, internal memos and notes, press-releases, printed programs, photos from Association banquets, as well as notes and documents signed by Mabel Massengill Gunn. This archive belonged to association member John M. Weatherwax, radical journalist and activist of long standing in Southern California.