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The expression of Black culture comes in a variety of forms, many of which are being preserved in the Black Academy of Arts and Letters archive at the University of North Texas library.

Thanks to a six-figure grant from the National Historic Publications and Records Commission, the lot of over 1,800 rare recordings and unique materials will now be digitized and made public very soon.

 

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Never-before-heard recordings and works of art from cultural icons like Kirk Franklin, Erykah Badu (seen above), Dee Dee Warwick, Jennifer Holliday and Margaret Walker are said to be included in the digitization project. According to KERA News out of North Texas, the two-year project is expected to be complete by summer 2023. Head of Special Collections Morgan Gieringer says it’s all about honoring the marginalized artists featured in the set, saying, “The larger goal that we’re working towards is to diversify the content of the Portal to Texas History. Because what we’re seeing now is sort of the repercussions of the very limited amount of collecting that was done to document the history of communities of color.”

Take a look at how it’s done below, in addition to a bit more background info on the works, via KERA News:

“To digitize the work, library staff and students view each recording and add detailed descriptive metadata to make each recording easily searchable.

‘For some time, archivists have been aware of this gap in collecting,’ Gieringer said of the limited documentation of communities of color. ‘But now what we’re seeing is also there’s a gap in what’s being digitized.’

‘When people are searching in the Portal to Texas History, we want to provide a representative sample of primary source materials. Very few people have the resources to travel across the country to come here to look at this archive. We’re making a diverse array of materials accessible,’ Gieringer said.

The recordings UNT is digitizing are particularly at risk due to their age and the fragility of the media containers. Magnetic tape media such as VHS, BetaCam and audio cassette tapes have a life expectancy of 10-30 years, and many recordings in the TBAAL archive are 40 or more years old.”

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Even though a lot is currently still in the process of being transferred over, the stuff that has been so far is available by visiting The Portal To Texas History. “I’m hoping that people will get excited and say, ‘Gosh, I’ve never seen James Baldwin’s Amen Corner. I’m going to go online and watch it right now’,” says Gieringer on hopes for the archive update, also adding, “I also think this collection is going to play an important role in the study of performing arts and the role of black artists.”

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