NAMM Oral History Program Celebrates 20 Years
The NAMM Oral History Collection is unlike any other collection in the world. The heart of the Collection is the depth of its narratives that cover innovative creations, the evolution of musical instruments, the ever-changing world of music retail, as well as our collective quest to improve music education around the globe. Oral History participants have come from 79 different countries, 49 U.S. states and were born between 1896 and 1997. This library of video interviews, now over 4,500 strong and always growing, contains the story of our industry told by those who helped to shape it and have watched it expand and develop through the years. Notable interviews include Henry Steinway, Les Paul, Sheila E, Henry Goldrich (Manny’s Music), BB King, Keith Emerson, Marilyn Bergman (songwriter), Weird Al Yankovic, and Emmylou Harris.
First approved by the NAMM Board of Directors in 1996, the NAMM Oral History Program works to “preserve the history of the music products industry, including industry innovations, the evolution of musical instruments and music retail, as well as improving music education worldwide.” The NAMM Oral History Program conducted its first official interview twenty years ago when NAMM Music Historian, Dan Del Fiorentino, sat down with professional harmonica player Bill Walden on March 5, 2000 while Walden was attending the NAMM Foundation’s Museum of Making Music grand opening.
Early on in the program, Del Fiorentino was assisted by volunteer turned NAMM Collections Specialist, Katie Wheeler, who spent 15 years on the project before her retirement in 2016. Wheeler reflected on her favorite memory of the Oral History Program commenting:
“I was in my first few years of volunteering, when Dan was speaking with musician John P. Smith. Another gentleman who had been visiting the Museum of Making Music approached Dan with a question regarding who was present at the historic 1939 jazz concert at Carnegie Hall in New York. Low and behold, Smith had been at that show himself and was able to answer the patron’s inquiry. This firsthand resource was a stunning example of how vital the Oral History Program is in providing information to NAMM Members, scholars, professionals, and music enthusiasts.”
The NAMM Oral History team is comprised of Mike Mullens, NAMM Multimedia Specialist and Ashley Allison, NAMM Resource Center Coordinator. Allison, who has recently joined the team experienced her first NAMM Show in 2020 and reflected stating, “We were able to capture the highest number of interviews at a NAMM Show, 84 in six whirlwind days! It was great to hear the laughter coming out of the room and see the bond that had been created from the interview when interviewees walked out.” Mullens, who began assisting the program in 2016 as an intern and continued in his current position in 2017 is the team’s expert when it comes to the latest technology, Mullens shared, “We are constantly reviewing our gear and workflow to ensure the collection is viewable in the best format for years to come. With the addition of The Music History Project podcast, we can showcase the depth of the interviews in a way we never could before.” Mullens also has a soft spot for a collection of interviews he helped capture from Massachusetts in 2017, noting, “These interviews are special to me because I got to take the program back to my roots and interview some of the people I grew up knowing in the industry, including my dad!”
I was able to turn the tables on Del Fiorentino and interview him recently on his experiences with NAMM and the Oral History Program.
How valuable our NAMM Members and volunteers to the success of the program?
Without question this program would not have been possible AND would not be at the depth it is without the dedication of our support team! This includes all those who have provided suggestions for interviews, as well as those who have helped us connect or arrange interviews, volunteered their time, provided space in their store or office and all those who have given their time to help us grow this collection. This is a collection for the industry because it’s a collection made by the industry out of pure passion! In addition to feeling lucky to have the support of the industry, the NAMM CEO and Board of Directors, I am personally blessed to work with the NAMM Staff, my Resource Center staff and volunteers who provide guidance, support and a shoulder whenever I need one.
What do you envision the future of the program holds?
My vision for this program is that all segments of our industry will be represented in this collection and that people within each segment work with us to ensure their leaders and innovators are included for generations to learn from and be inspired by.
NAMM would be remiss to not take an opportunity to reflect on the contributions of NAMM employee, Eric Glasnapp, who worked with the Resource Center for four short months before he was killed while riding his bicycle in Carlsbad, California. Glasnapp was able to assist in the capture of 74 interviews during his tenure including his personal favorites, luthier Pepe Romero Jr. and Al Di Meola. In addition, he improved several processes that allows the team to more efficiently access archived interviews for uses such as in the podcast, research requests, and special projects. Glasnapp’s passion and enthusiasm are ever present in the Resource Center offices and serve as an inspiration for the team to continue exploring the depths of offerings the music products industry offers us.
More exciting and compelling stories reflecting on the past 20 years of interviews can be heard in a recent The Music History Project podcast.
The NAMM Oral History Collection can be found at www.namm.org/library and suggestions for future interviews are welcomed at email@example.com.
Editor’s Note: Del Fiorentino has been conducting interviews since 1984 and has donated these surviving interviews to NAMM’s Oral History Collection.