Syracuse University Library receives major gift of sound recordings from family of Morton J. Savada

Syracuse University Library’s Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive has received a major gift from the family of the late Morton J. “Morty” Savada—the complete inventory of his Manhattan record store, Records Revisited, including more than 200,000 78-rpm records, along with a related print collection of catalogs, discographies and other materials. With the addition of the Savada Collection, Belfer’s holdings now total more than 400,000 78-rpm recordings—second in size only to the collections of the Library of Congress.

The Savada Collection, valued at just over $1 million, is a treasure trove of popular music, including unique and hard-to-find genres. It is strongest in big band and jazz, but also represents a wide variety of other musical genres, including country, blues, gospel, polka, folk, Broadway, Hawaiian and Latin. It also contains spoken-word, comedy and broadcast recordings, as well as V-disks, which were distributed as entertainment for the U.S. Armed Forces during World War II.

In addition to the popular labels of the day—such as Columbia, Decca and Victor—Savada collected rare and specialized recordings. Dates of recordings in the collection range from 1895 to the 1950s.

“The library is grateful to the Savada family members for their generosity,” says University Librarian and Dean of Libraries Suzanne Thorin. “The rich and varied resources in this collection will greatly enhance research and scholarship done at Belfer for years to come.”

Savada, who died Feb. 11, was well known by audiophiles and the entertainment industry in New York as an exceptional source for both sound recordings and recording history. Will Friedwald remarked in his Feb. 13 obituary in The New York Sun: “For any collector looking for a rarity, historian working on a research project, or reissue producer in search of something so rare it wasn’t even in the vault, Records Revisited was generally the first call to make.

“Savada specialized in filling gaps and finding vintage single tracks that had never been reissued in any of the long-playing formats,” Friedwald wrote. “Savada regularly collected 78 collectors together for lunches and bull-sessions. His shop off of Herald Square was a hub of such activity, where younger aficionados of old music picked up folklore in addition to the discs themselves.”

Savada opened Records Revisited in 1977 but had been collecting 78s since 1937. Records Revisited was the last store exclusively selling 78-rpm recordings and was a frequent haunt for those in the film and music industries, including actor/directors Woody Allen and Matt Dillon. Savada often lent his 78s to movie and music producers rather than selling them, and never sold the last copy of a recording because he regarded his collection as an archive, not an inventory.

Savada had wanted to donate his collection to a major institution that would maintain the collection and make it available to enhance research and teaching. He was very familiar with SU’s Belfer Audio Laboratory and Archive and its staff, whom he knew from regular meetings of the Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC). He also had another connection to the University: his granddaughter graduated from SU in 2005.

“I am unaware of another donation of recordings as large as the Savada gift to Syracuse University Library,” says Sam Brylawski, immediate past-president of the board of ARSC. “It is an outstanding gesture by the family. It is gratifying, too, to know of Syracuse University’s commitment to preserving the work of Morty Savada and making it available to the public and the research community.”

Sound recordings are a rich resource for researchers, faculty and students in a variety of disciplines. In addition to documenting the musical styles and performance practices of the day, these sound recordings provide a glimpse into social, political and cultural history. At SU, sound recordings are regularly used by faculty teaching music, musicology, history, filmmaking, journalism, political science and many other fields.

“The Savada Collection is precisely the kind of collection music industry and Bandier Program students need to work with,” says David Rezak, director of SU’s Bandier Program for Music and the Entertainment Industries. “Students in the ‘Music Company’ course operate a functional record label and publishing company. For them, the process of exploring the recordings in the Belfer Archive for potentially releasable material is an education in itself.”

“The Savada collection is truly an archival wonder—an exhaustive survey of popular music recordings from the first half of the 20th century,” says Theo Cateforis, assistant professor in SU’s Department of Fine Arts, who also makes extensive use of sound recordings in teaching. “For students whose relationship with music and technology rarely extends beyond the confines of the iPod, it is always eye-opening to see and hear the original 78s that were the mainstay of the recording industry for many decades. As such, these recordings offer an invaluable social and historical context.”

The Savada gift constitutes an important contribution to the University’s $1 billion capital campaign, The Campaign for Syracuse University, the most ambitious fundraising effort in SU’s history. By supporting faculty excellence, student access, interdisciplinary programs, capital projects and other institutional priorities, the campaign is continuing to drive Scholarship in Action, the University’s mission to provide students, faculty and communities with the insights needed to incite positive and lasting change in the world. More information is available online at http://campaign.syr.edu.

“The Savadas’ contribution is remarkable not only for its impact on our academic and research communities but as a significant contribution to The Campaign for Syracuse University,” says Brian Sischo, associate vice president of development and campaign director. “It is one more example of a gift that has the potential to affect students, faculty and researchers across many different disciplines. It truly represents the University’s belief in Scholarship in Action.”

The Savada Collection will be relocated to Syracuse this month, when work will begin to process the collection. For additional information on the collection, contact Melinda Dermody, head of arts and humanities services at SU Library, at (315) 443-5332 or mderm01@syr.edu.





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