Tucked away in the Amistad Research Center’s offsite storage facility is a collection you might not know about. The temperature and humidity controlled environment is home to ARC’s audiovisual collections. Among the reels of film and audio tapes, you’ll find shelf after shelf filled with a series of white boxes. If you were to pull one of these boxes down and open it, you would find a treasure trove of jazz and classical music records.
This is the record collection of Harold Battiste.
Harold R. Battiste, Jr. was a central figure among the small group of jazz musicians and educators who shaped the second fifty years of New Orleans jazz music. He is perhaps best remembered as the founder of All For One (AFO) Records and At Last Publishing Co., the first African American musician-owned recording and publishing companies. He worked closely with many New Orleans musicians, from Ellis Marsalis to Lee Dorsey to Mac Rebbenack (better known to the world as Dr. John, with Battiste’s help), but his influence reached far beyond the city of his birth.
Born in New Orleans in 1931, Battiste was a graduate of Booker T. Washington High School and Dillard University. “Those of you that know my past are familiar with AFO and At Last Publishing etc., and all the serious fumblin’ and foolin’ around I did back in the ‘50s & 60s tryin’ to play like a ‘business’ man,” he wrote in a letter to Amistad circa 2007. “I was serious ! However, I just didn’t know how dumb I was about the reality of handling business.” However he viewed it, his business took off. In 1963 Battiste, already a sought-after producer and arranger, took the AFO collective to Los Angeles. He stayed for thirty years, during which time he served as a producer and arranger for studio, film, stage, and television, and worked with artists such as Sam Cooke and Sonny and Cher. When he returned to New Orleans in 1989, he became part of the Jazz Studies faculty at the University of New Orleans, where he continued to impact the next generation of New Orleans musicians. He remained an active member of the community and worked closely with a number of local cultural organizations until his death in 2015.
The Harold Battiste Papers at Amistad document his career as an influential composer, producer, educator, and promoter of modern jazz music. But in addition to documents related to these topics, Mr. Battiste also deposited something more personal: his own collection of musical scores, 45s, LPs, and CDs. Many of these were produced by AFO Records, with Battiste serving as arranger and producer. They serve as an overview of both his career and his musical passions. For a full inventory of the collection, contact Amistad’s Reference Department.
Images from the Harold Battiste Papers at the Amistad Research Center. Images from Amistad’s website, newsletters, and blogs cannot be reproduced without permission.