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Works Progress Administration (WPA) Phonodisc Collection

An inventory of the collection at Syracuse University

Finding aid created by: MRC
Date: 6 Nov 2019

Biographical History

The Federal Music Project (FMP) was one of five arts-related programs sponsored by the Work Projects Administration (WPA) during the Great Depression. The other four were the Federal Art Project, Federal Theatre Project, Federal Writers' Project, and Historical Records Survey.

The FMP was established in 1935 and Russian-American violinist Dr. Nikolai Sokoloff appointed its head; American musicologist, composer, teacher, and folklorist Charles Seeger (father of folk singer Pete Seeger) was later brought on board as assistant director. The program sponsored musical performances, classes, concerts, and ethnomusicology work around the country. Its primary goal was employment of out-of-work musicians, conductors and composers; its secondary goals were to encourage music appreciation and instruction, copy and distribute music, document musical activity (including folk songs) in the United States, and provide affordable entertainment for poor families and encourage the musical arts. It also distrubuted thousands of recordings to radio stations around the country.

The project was highly successful, particularly in encouraging music classes in public schools. The FMP's funding was drastically reduced in 1939 (at this time it was also renamed the WPA Music Program) and phased out entirely by the middle of World War II.

Scope and Contents of the Collection

The Works Progress Administration (WPA) Phonodisc Collection contains more than 350 recordings created a under the auspices of the Federal Music Project and distributed to hundreds of radio stations around the United States. The format, known as electrical transcription discs, was exclusively for radio stations and is of a higher sound quality than standard LPs.

Recordings cover a range of vocal and instrumental styles and genres, including classical music, popular music, spirituals, madrigals, choral works, opera and American folk songs. Groups represented include orchestras, military bands, dance bands, professional choruses, children's choirs, and African-American groups. The majority of performers hailed from Boston, New York, or California; the latter include several whose focus was Mexican music. Some of the discs include a guest speaker or a WPA "spot" advertising the project.

Arrangement of the Collection

Discs are shelved individually, in order by season and program number. To request an item, please provide year, program number, title and ID number (e.g. "1936, Program No. 35 Works Progress Administration Presents The Manhattan Concert Band, wpa_phono_035").


Access Restrictions:

The majority of our archival and manuscript collections are housed offsite and require advanced notice for retrieval. Researchers are encouraged to contact us in advance concerning the collection material they wish to access for their research.

Use Restrictions:

Written permission must be obtained from SCRC and all relevant rights holders before publishing quotations, excerpts or images from any materials in this collection.

Related Material

See also the Federal Theater Project Collection. Special Collections Research Center also has the papers of several artists who were part of the Federal Art Project; please search our collections to locate these items.

Subject Headings

Corporate Bodies

American Folk Singers of Boston.
Federal Music Project (U.S.)
Los Angeles Mexican Chorus.
Los Angeles Mexican Orchestra.
Negro Melody Singers.
Southern California Mexican Tipica Orchestra.
United States Army Band.
United States Navy Band.
United States. -- Work Projects Administration.
United States. -- Works Progress Administration.


African American choirs.
Children's choirs.
Folk music -- Mexico.
Folk music -- United States.
Symphony orchestras -- United States.

Genres and Forms

Long-playing records.
Sound recordings.

Administrative Information

Preferred Citation

Preferred citation for this material is as follows:

Works Progress Administration (WPA) Phonodisc Collection,
Special Collections Research Center,
Syracuse University Libraries

Acquisition Information

Transfer from the Newberry Library, Chicago, 2019.

Table of Contents

1936 season

1937 season

1938 season

1939 season

1940 season

1941 season

1942 season