The Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS), a research branch of the John Cotton Dana Library of the Rutgers University Libraries, requests $185,983 in funds from the National Endowment for the Humanities to preserve and make accessible the Mary Lou Williams Collection. The depth and range of these materials represent an opportunity rarely accorded researchers of twentieth-century African-American women, American social history, and--of course--jazz history and musicology. The Institute proposes a two-year project to arrange, describe, preserve and make accessible papers, scores and arrangements, photographs and other materials in the 170 cubic feet of materials in the Collection.
Williams represents a unique path through jazz, as a pianist, composer, and arranger whose styles traversed jazz's early roots from the 1920s onward. She continued to adapt to the more complex rhythms and harmonies of modern jazz ushered in by revolutionaries in the be-bop era. Williams's history is richly and amply conveyed in the exclusive and definitive holdings of the IJS. The papers, music manuscripts, recordings, photographs, and other memorabilia were donated to the IJS by the Mary Lou Williams Foundation, beginning shortly after her death in May 1981 and continuing through May 1999. The papers document Williams's adolescent years in Pittsburgh and her early years as a traveling musician in the 1920s when she rose to prominence in Andy Kirk's famous Kansas City territory band, the Twelve Clouds of Joy. The Collection is equally complete in documenting her emergence as a star soloist in the 1930s, as well as in the late 1950s when her conversion to Catholicism changed the course of her personal and professional lives.
The Institute of Jazz Studies will make these primary sources available to the international research community by providing for their physical stability through archival rehousing; ordering the material into logical series, within which the material will be arranged either alphabetically or chronologically; preparing a finding aid to the Williams Collection in hard copy and on the Web; entering a collection level record accessible via the Web; and publicizing the Collection through appropriate print and online journals and newsletters.