Jazz Era Voices Goes Live and Needs Your Input

A couple of months ago I posted about Kelly Porter’s oral history archive called Jazz Era Voices, and today I got word via Facebook that it is now live.

As far as the Lindy Hop community is concerned, I think this is one of the most important projects out there  along with The Lindy Hoppers Fund.

Here’s her Facebook note

An Open letter to Dance Community Leaders: help preserve the oral history of our dances.

Greetings Friends, Colleagues and Mentors,

By now some of you may have heard a few bits and pieces about the Voices of the Jazz Era Ballroom Project. Simply put, VJEB is a web-based public oral history initiative devoted to recording and passing on the memory of dance and music in the jazz era through the lives and words of everyday people. Much of what we know about the dances we love has come from performers and celebrities—the “important people”— and yet there is perhaps an even richer story to be told by those who, like my own grandparents and probably many of yours, just went out and danced, listened, lived. This rich social history, the “people’s history,” of dance is sadly slipping away as people with first-hand memories of it grow older and leave us. Certainly nothing could have made that more apparent than the recent passing of Frankie Manning. With that sad event I suddenly realized that if the dances we love survive another 80 or 90 years, we may be the last generation which has the privilege of knowing the people who comprised the first. I have decided to use my background in new media and oral history, along with the considerable support of some amazing scholars helping with my thesis at the University of Washington, to create a new means for us to preserve and share the stories of the jazz era ballroom.

This project supposes something very simple and very big: that a community which spans the globe can come together through the power of technology to preserve the history and stories of its elders. To do that, I need community leaders like you to participate and spread the word about this project. I want you talk, e-mail, blog, tweet, post and write about it to your peers and students wherever you go, because people look up to you. The ask is simple, I want people to talk to their parents, grandparents, neighbors and loved ones who have first-hand memories of dancing and music in the 1920’s-1950’s.

The Voices of the Jazz Era Ballroom website (www.jazzeravoices.org) is a permanent archive where people can upload transcripts, digital video and audio files of interviews as well as images from loved ones who remember the jazz era. The website is also a resource which will walk people through the process of conducting a good interview and uploading content to the standards that will allow the collection to be a durable record for both scholars and the public. Already there are example oral history interviews live on the site which I conducted with my own grandmothers and others close to me, as well as more photos than I ever imagined they had—it was such a joy to listen to these people and sift through their family archives. Norma Miller has thrown her weight behind the project and an interview with her will be up shortly. You can contribute by talking to a relative or friend who remembers music and dance in the jazz era, flipping through their photo albums, making them a priority.

Here is the REALLY IMPORTANT PART: the online archive will open to submissions on March 1st, 2010, and it will close to submissions on July 21st, 2010 . . . that is only about 6 months. Why the short time frame? Because we do not have forever to ask for these stories, and being human we often tend to put things off, not infrequently until it’s too late. I want this project to feel as urgent as it really is. I want us to make a focused effort at the right time to capture this personal history before it disappears from view. So I ask you to go to the website and explore the project.

If you have any questions or would like to contribute your time, talents, publicity or other resources to the project please do not hesitate to contact me personally (kelly@jazzeravoices.org, on Facebook or by phone). A few people have expressed a desire to interview in languages other than English for the project: an idea which I love and for which I will need translators and subtitle-ers. If you have any interest in that, or in helping others to do interviews and uploads, I would love your help as well.

With all my heart, I thank you.

Kelly Porter