Student Jonathan Ward Receives Grammy Nomination for Best Historical Album while Earning MLIS Degree

In February 2013, SLIS student Jonathan Ward received a nomination for Best Historical Album at the 55th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony for his album Opika Pende: Africa at 78 RPM, co-produced with colleague Steven Lance Ledbetter. Ward’s album, which includes pan-African original recordings, primarily predating 1960, was the result of over a decade of work ferreting out extremely hard-to-find non-Western commercial recordings produced in Africa for the African audience. The recordings range from a 1909 violin solo from Cairo to a Zulu guitar piece from ca. 1967.

“The album grew out of a passion of mine for collecting early non-Western recordings,” said Ward, whose website Excavated Shellac has developed a strong following and attracted the attention of record label Dust-to-Digital, which released Ward’s nominated album.

Finding the recordings required an extensive amount of international networking, explained Ward. “These records are difficult to find – they’re so brittle they don’t survive in inhospitable environments and many were ground up by gramophone needles.” Once the recordings were acquired, many needed extensive restoration. And to put the music into its historical context, Ward worked with linguists and native speakers to compile notes about each recording, annotating the 100 tracks that make up the album.

To earn a Grammy nomination for what was just a passionate hobby to Ward was an honor, he said. “On the one hand, I was very excited because even though I produced the set for personal fulfillment, it’s nice to be recognized. On the other hand, I felt like I fully deserved it – no one had ever produced a pan-African box set to the scope that I did or with the quality of restoration I provided. I figured if I was going to take on a project like this, I wanted to do it really well.”

Ward entered the MLIS program in Spring 2009 after realizing that the degree would enhance the experience he had already gained first working in film libraries and now as an editor at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. As an editor for the Getty Vocabulary Program, Ward works with a team that builds and maintains their four popular thesauri: The Art & Architecture Thesaurus (AAT), the Getty Thesaurus of Geographic Names (TGN), the Union List of Artist Names (ULAN), and the Cultural Object Name Authority (CONA), which are used as primary sources for terminologies in museums and archives.

At the SJSU information school, Ward has been following the Archival Studies and Records Management Career Pathway. Not surprisingly, he has focused many of his papers on the preservation of historical audio. He chose the school’s MLIS program in order to balance archival courses with a solid background in cataloging, reference, and academic librarianship.

Influential Classes

Lecturer Vicky McCargar’s Preservation Management class: “Her class is incredibly engaging with lots of information to digest, but very important to understand.”

LIBR 298 Special Studies: “I took the course in order to serve as an adjunct editor for a project funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities, called the Encyclopedic Discography of Victor Recordings, based out of the University of California, Santa Barbara. As an editor, I investigated and documented every known series that Victor Recordings produced in Asia from 1902 to World War II, in preparation for addition to the Discography. It was a massive amount of recordings that had never officially been investigated before.”

Professional Affiliations

Art Libraries Society of North America (ARLIS), American Library Association (ALA), Association for Recorded Sound Collections (ARSC) Visual Resources Association (VRA).

Best Conference

ARSC Conference  “I highly recommend this for anyone interested in historical audio.” VRA Conference “Excellent for what we do in the Getty Vocabulary Program.”

Career Tip

“Specialize and offer something different. The generalist direction is fantastic, but if you don’t follow your passion, you could be bummed out later in life, doing something that you don’t find fulfilling. Make the degree work for you.”

Tech Tip

“Become familiar with Photoshop, Dreamweaver, XML, and metadata standards. If you’re going to be working with large amounts of data or metadata, it helps to understand how to work within that world.”

Favorite Blog

I follow mostly my friends’ music and art blogs:

Airform Archives -- blog of artist Steve Roden.

Root Hot or Die blog of Nathan Salsburg, guitarist and curator of the Alan Lomax Archive. 

Omniglot – “Linguistic musings”

Excavated Shellac – it’s my own a music blog with lots of text!”