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Table of Contents
Using the Collection
Note: some material may be restricted or offsite
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Series III: Performance Programs, 1938-1994
Series V: Correspondence, 1941-1995
Series VII: Season Files and Other Clippings, 1941-1998
Series VIII: Photographs, circa 1920s-1993, undated
Series IX: Audiovisual Materials, 1947-1988, undated
At a Glance
This collection is arranged in eleven series and several subseries.
Ulysses Kay (1917-1995) was a noted twentieth-century American composer. Kay's papers include biographical materials, correspondence, diaries, photographs, scores, and programs.
The strength of the papers is in their documentation of Kay's work as a composer. Kay kept diaries to document his compositions, and these include information regarding the time of their composition, instrumentation, length, commissions, and performances. The papers also contain not only completed and published scores and libretti but also corrections, sketches, holographs, outlines, and information on source materials used for texts in his compositions. In addition, the papers include clippings, correspondence, photographs, programs, promotional material, and reviews that document the creation and performance of many of Kay's works.
There is also some documentation of Kay's work as a professor at Lehman College (1968-1989) in the papers, including appointment information, correspondence, press releases, and information on the Tribute Concert given at the time of his retirement in 1989. But while these records document some of Kay's administrative and professional activities, there are few records that document his teaching activities at the College.
The papers also include audiovisual materials. The collection includes a wide range of audio materials; including reels, cassette tapes, commercially issued phonograph records, and acetate disks. The majority of this material consists of performances of Kay's works, but there are also interviews, talks, and music used in television and commercials. There is very little video in the collection. There is also good coverage of Kay's professional career in the photographs contained in the collection. While the collection does not contain a large volume of photographs, many of the professional photographs in the collection are both identified and dated, and document a period of several decades.
The papers include some documentation of Kay's family and personal life, but it is not extensive. Materials include family photographs and correspondence, personal correspondence, and condolence letters written to the family upon Kay's death in 1995. There is also a small amount of material that was kept by Barbara Kay including correspondence, photographs, and materials related to the Civil Rights movement.
Using the Collection
Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Restrictions on Access
The following boxes are located off-site: Boxes 1-38, 79-102, 104-114. You will need to request this material from the Rare Book and Manuscript Library at least three business days in advance to use the collection in the Rare Book and Manuscript Library reading room.
This collection has no restrictions. If you would like to use audiovisual materials in Series IX, please contact the library in advance of your visit to discuss access options.
Unique time-based media items have been reformatted and are available onsite via links in the container list. Commercial materials are not routinely digitized. Email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Terms Governing Use and Reproduction
Single photocopies may be made for research purposes, except that permission is required to copy musical scores. The RBML maintains ownership of the physical material only. Copyright remains with the creator and his/her heirs. The responsibility to secure copyright permission rests with the patron.
Identification of specific item; Date (if known); Ulysses Kay Papers; Box and Folder; Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
No additions are expected
About the Finding Aid / Processing Information
Columbia University Libraries, Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Papers processed by Elliott S. Cairns (GSAS) 2010-2011.
Papers processed by Catherine C. Ricciardi 2012-2013.
2012-09-18 File created.
2012-09-21 XML document instance created by Catherine C. Ricciardi
2013-07-22 XML document instance updated by Catherine C. Ricciardi
2016-04-08 XML document instance updated by Catherine C. Ricciardi
2017-08-22 XML document instance updated by Catherine C. Ricciardi
2019-05-20 EAD was imported spring 2019 as part of the ArchivesSpace Phase II migration.
2019-11-19 Added links to digitized audio material. ccr/kws
History / Biographical Note
Ulysses Kay (1917-1995) wrote more than 140 compositions in a wide range of forms – five operas, over 20 large orchestral works, more than 30 choral compositions, 15 chamber works, a ballet, and numerous other compositions for voice, solo instruments, film, and television.
Born in Tucson, Arizona, to a musical family, his mother encouraged him, and with the advice of her brother, Joe "King" Oliver, Kay studied piano, violin and saxophone. He entered the University of Arizona in 1934, receiving the Bachelor of Music in 1938. For the next two years he studied composition at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester, with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson, and received the Masters in Music in 1940. From 1941 to 1942 he studied with Paul Hindemith at Tanglewood and at Yale.
During World War II, Kay served in the U. S. Navy, playing with and arranging for the Navy Band, stationed at Quonset Point, Rhode Island. His most prominent composition from this period is "Of New Horizons" for concert band. Commissioned by Thor Johnson and performed by the New York Philharmonic, its premier took place in Lewisohn Stadium in July 1944.
Upon discharge from the Navy, he was awarded the Alice M. Ditson Fellowship for creative work at Columbia University, where he studied with Otto Luening from 1946 to 1947. During the summers, he was a resident at the Yaddo Festival in Saratoga Springs, New York. Major works from this period include: "Danse Calinda Suite," his ballet "The Rope," "Concerto for Orchestra," and the film music for "The Quiet One."
Many honors and scholarships followed, including a Fulbright Scholarship, and grants from the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and a Julius Rosenwald Fellowship. From 1949 to 1952, Kay received two "Prix de Rome" awards that allowed him to travel and study in Italy. The first African-American to receive the prize, it gave him residence in the American Academy in Rome, along with his new bride, Barbara Harrison of Chicago, whom he had married on August 20, 1949. Compositions from this period include: a Piano Quintet, a String Quartet, a Brass Quartet, "Sinfonia in E," and "Song of Ahab."
Returning to New York, Barbara taught music in Manhattan, and Ulysses accepted a position with Broadcast Music, Inc. (BMI) that would last from 1953 until 1968. Turning down several teaching positions, he preferred a job that gave him a regular schedule, allowing him to compose as much as possible. Compositions include: "A Lincoln Letter," "Six Dances for String Orchestra," "Fantasy Variations for Orchestra," and two operas, "The Boor," and "The Juggler of Our Lady."
In 1958, Kay was chosen to be a member of the first delegation of composers to the Soviet Union, a part of the U.S. State Department's Cultural, Educational and Technical Exchange Agreement. The others in his group were Roy Harris, Peter Mennin, and Roger Sessions. During the month-long trip, Kay appreciated the interest in Jazz expressed by Russian composers and he played them recordings of the music of Miles Davis, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk, and Louis Armstrong, among others. He also attended performances of his own compositions, those of his fellow delegates, and the works of Russian composers. Upon his return, Hi-Fi Review published his account of the trip entitled "Thirty Days in Musical Russia."
Over the decade from 1958 to 1968, Kay received a large number of commissions, writing a total of 41 compositions, including: "New York: City of Magic," "Phoebus, Arise," "Forever Free," "Markings," "Aulos," and "Choral Triptych."
Barbara Kay was no less busy during these years. She participated in the Mississippi Freedom Rides during the summer of 1961. Arrested in Jackson, she was held in the Parchman Penitentiary for 41 days, after receiving a six-month sentence for disturbing the peace. William Faulkner once called the plantation prison "Destination Doom." Returning home, she participated in the first sit-in in the North, when Englewood residents took over city hall to protest racial segregation in the schools in 1962. During the boycott of the Englewood, New Jersey schools, she held a Freedom School in the basement of the Kay home. In 1966, she joined James Meredith's "March Against Fear" in Mississippi. Later she continued to be active in the New Jersey chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality.
In 1968, at the age of 51, Kay left BMI to join the faculty of Herbert H. Lehman College as Professor of Music, teaching theory and composition, where he would serve until his retirement in 1988. During his 20 years of teaching, he produced three more operas, "The Capitoline Venus," "Jubilee," and "Frederick Douglass." Other works from this period include: "Theater Set," "Five Portraits," "Scherzi Musicali," "Western "Paradise," "Jersey Hours," "Tromba," "Once There Was a Man," "Chariots," "Festival Psalms," and "Visions" written to commemorate the 80th anniversary of William Grant Still's birth.
As stated by Constance Tibbs Hobson and Deborra A. Richardson in their indispensable Ulysses Kay: A Bio-Bibliography (1994): "Kay's contribution to America's cultural life and to its contemporary music scene is outstanding. His distinguished career, reflecting personal industry, discipline, and will, sets an encouraging, honorable, and inspiring example for all who follow. His message to aspiring composers strongly advocates continued study and growth in order to better express one's vision and individuality."