The Chuck Black Collection for Early Jazz and Blues

March 6, 2018
Jerry L McBride
KZSU Stanford students at a house on Page Mill Road, 1949

The Archive of Recorded Sound is developing rich collections of early and traditional jazz. In 2014 the Chuck Black Collection of 224 jazz recordings was donated to the Archive along with funds for cataloging and digitizing all of the discs. In addition, the Black family established the Chuck Black Endowment for Early Jazz and Blues to promote the study of early and traditional jazz, blues, and similar musical styles as they emerged and evolved from 1900-1950.

The endowment supports the identification, acquisition, and preservation of recordings, scores, photographs, oral histories and related materials. Recently, the Black family made a second generous donation, essentially doubling the principal of the endowment. The Stanford Archive has acquired an additional 203 rare recordings with the Black Endowment since its inception.

All of the materials acquired for the Endowment, and all of the discs of the original collection, can be found in the Stanford catalog. Chuck’s son shares some of his biography.

“Charles L. ("Chuck") Black was born in 1928 in Elgin, IL, a suburb of Chicago.  In high school, he developed an interest in jazz and became increasingly aware of racial discrimination and the early civil rights movement. Entering Stanford, he studied economics, speech, and drama.  His friends included electrical engineering students who started the University's KSU radio station in 1947 (soon becoming KZSU).  He pitched in, crawling through the University's steam tunnels to string antenna wires for the AM carrier-current system and writing a script for the irreverent student broadcast "Stanford Sadie."  Also, Chuck and classmates would head to clubs in San Francisco to listen to jazz musicians like Lu Watters and Turk Murphy.

“After graduating with a B.A. in economics in 1950, Chuck returned to Elgin, and put his analytical bent and financial training to work for the Farwell Chapman brokerage in Chicago. While waiting for the commuter train home, he would shop the record stores to add to his collection.  He listened to music, from classical to contemporary, but particularly enjoyed live, "unscripted" jazz and blues performances (as opposed to the more polished stylings of, say, Pete Fountain or the Dukes of Dixieland). In the '50s and '60s, one of the best venues for live Chicago jazz was the Red Arrow Jazz Club in Stickney, where he met his wife Constance. Together, they heard performers such as George Lewis, SloDrag, and Lil Hardin Armstrong.

“The Black family moved back to California, where he continued a career as an independent investor during the early development of Silicon Valley, occasionally making it to Earthquake McGoons in San Francisco to hear Turk Murphy's Jazz Band.

“Upon his death in 2008, Chuck’s wife was faced with what to do with his record collection. She felt that donating the collection to the Archive of Recorded Sound would both acknowledge the family's connection to Stanford and make the materials available to the academic community for preservation and study.  Further, she established the endowment to create a growing collection in keeping with her and Chuck's interests and experiences.  In this way, the Black collection is both an affectionate and enduring memorial, and a living gift of their enjoyment to future listeners.”

Photo, left to right: Bob Hill, Vern Mercer, Bunny Dawson, Pete Dawson, Howard Halbert, Jack Wernli, and Chuck Black.