A New LGBTQ+ Resource from the Library of Congress Music Division

The following is a guest post from Archives Processing Technician Emily Baumgart.

Although the Library of Congress buildings remain closed to the public during the early months of 2021, its collections can still be a great resource during this time. While working from home, the staff of the Music Division’s Acquisitions & Processing Section has undertaken several surveys of our holdings, one of which focuses on lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) creators and artists within the Library of Congress’s performing arts special collections. The artistic community has always had many LGBTQ+ members, and this survey is a resource that highlights the lives and accomplishments of these artists.

Nearly 25% of the Library of Congress’s performing arts special collections, or 119 as of early 2021, include a connection to the LGBTQ+ community. Of these collections, 38 were created by or focus directly on LGBTQ+ individuals, while remaining 81 collections include various materials by or about these artists, including music by and correspondence with members of the LGBTQ+ community. This survey also emphasizes connections between and within our collections: familiar names like Leonard Bernstein and Aaron Copland, for instance, appear throughout many of the collections, showcasing the interconnectedness of the performing arts world.

While well-known artists were and are certainly important, this survey also emphasizes that we have a wealth of information in our collections pertaining to other less prominent LGBTQ+ musicians, dancers, playwrights, and creators. Here are a few such names that you might not already be familiar with.

Lincoln Kirstein and Leonard Bernstein photograph

Henry Grossman. Lincoln Kirstein and Leonard Bernstein at the opening of Dybbuk, 1974. Box 240, folder 10, Leonard Bernstein Collection, Music Division.

Lincoln Kirstein (1907-1996) was the impresario behind the New York City Ballet and the short-lived but influential American Ballet Caravan. His wide-ranging interests resulted in a social circle that encompassed artists of all kinds, from ballet dancers to visual artists and important writers of the day. He commissioned and helped fund the creation of the New York State Theater (now the David H. Koch Theater at Lincoln Center), and he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1984. The Library of Congress holds the American Ballet Caravan’s collection of musical scores, as well as correspondence to and from Kirstein in the Modern Music Archives, the Erick Hawkins and Lucia Dlugoszewski Papers, and the Ruth Page Correspondence on Billy Sunday Collection.

Portrait of Billy Strayhorn on his stomach looking at a score.

Unidentified . Billy Strayhorn, circa 1955. Box 83, folder 1, Billy Strayhorn Music Manuscripts and Estate Papers, Music Division.

Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) was an important member of the jazz scene. He had a nearly-three-decade collaboration with Duke Ellington and was the composer of many jazz standards including “Take the ‘A’ Train” and “Lush Life.” Strayhorn was openly gay and a champion for many civil rights causes throughout his life. The Library of Congress Music Division holds a large collection of Strayhorn’s documents, including manuscripts of his compositions and arrangements, scripts of musicals by Strayhorn and Ellington, and papers and photographs pertaining to Strayhorn’s life.

Florence Klotz (1920-2006) was a costume designer for films and Broadway productions. Her accolades span both film and theater: she won six Tony awards for her costume designs for musicals directed by Hal Prince, including the original productions of Follies and Pacific Overtures, as well as the 1994 revival of Show Boat, and an Oscar nomination for her costume designs for the film version of A Little Night Music (1977). The Library of Congress’s collection includes her finished designs, some with fabric samples, as well as sketches and research notes.

Costume design rendering for "Follies," black and white striped dress with scooped back and feathered headdress.

Florence Klotz. Costume design for Follies, 1971. Mapcase 3, drawer 1, Florence Klotz Costume Designs, Music Division.

 

The sexual and gender identity of many historical figures has been obscured over time, and it can be difficult to say how someone may have identified by today’s terminology, especially when little of their personal life is known. On the other hand, there are some figures whose identity is revealed through their private correspondence. We do not wish to ascribe to any person an identity that they may have disagreed with, but at the same time we recognize that many of the LGBTQ+ community’s accomplishments have been hidden through oppression, prejudice, and forced closeting. By increasing awareness of LGBTQ+ identity in the Music Division’s special collections we can make primary source materials more readily accessible for students, educators, and scholars seeking to form their own interpretations of LGBTQ+ creators and their contributions to culture.

This survey does not claim to be comprehensive, neither in terms of identifying every LGBTQ+ artist within the Music Division’s special collections nor in terms of identifying every collection in which those artists are represented. The data used to create this listing come from the subject headings associated with each collection; as a result, there may be LGBTQ+ individuals represented in special collections where they are not included as subject headings. This guide has been compiled in part with the use of secondary sources and other references. The Library of Congress and the Music Division takes no position and makes no suggestions about the sexuality, relationships, or other personal matters of individuals whose collections are in the custody of the Library.

The completed survey is available here. The resource will continue to be revised and updated as more collections are acquired and processed and as more information becomes available.

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