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COLLECTION Identifier: MS Am 3133

Stephen B. Fassett correspondence


Correspondence between Boston-based musicologist and recording engineer for the Woodberry Poetry Room with Ted Hughes, Dido Merwin, W. S. Merwin, John Lincoln Sweeney, and with the Estate of Isak Dinesen.


  • 1954-1979

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access

Collection is open for research.


.5 linear feet (1 box of 69 letters)

Biographical / Historical

Stephen Fassett was an American musicologist and recording engineer, owner of the Fassett Recording Studio in Boston, Massachusetts. Born in Elmira, New York, on November 24, 1914, he was the son of Jacob Sloat Fassett, Jr., better known as "Jay Fassett," an actor featured in several Hollywood productions and on Broadway. Among Jay Fassett's many accomplishments was his starring role as the first Dr. Gibbs in Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" on Broadway in 1938.

Fassett began collecting records as a teen (when, due to rheumatic fever, he was bedridden and confined to a wheelchair) and translated his industrious energy and idiosyncratic passion into his own classical music radio show at WQXR/New York in the 1940s. After marrying Béla Bartók scholar Agatha Illes in 1947, he moved to Boston where he created a recording studio in his brownstone at 24 Chestnut Street in Beacon Hill.

In addition to recording performances for the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Sanders Theatre (at Harvard University), Kresge Auditorium (at MIT), and Pathways of Sound/Credo Records, he undertook several independent projects. In that capacity he provided recording and/or sound editing for such singers/musicians as Joan Baez, Donald Byrd, the Charles River Valley Boys, Roland Hayes, Tom Lehrer, Sun Ra, Tom Rush, and Eric Von Schmidt.

By the mid-1950s, he had also begun to work in collaboration with the Woodberry Poetry Room, overseen by curator John Lincoln Sweeney (from 1942-1969). In that role, he recorded such poets and writers as Robert Bly, Cid Corman, Robert Creeley, Richard Eberhart, William Everson, Vincent Ferrini, Allen Ginsberg, Ted Hughes, Stephen Jonas, Denise Levertov, Audre Lorde, Robert Lowell, W. S. Merwin, Edwin O'Connor, Sylvia Plath, Anne Sexton, John Wieners, Yvegeny Yevtushenko, and Louis Zukofsky. He also recorded privately for Sweeney, in conjunction with Sweeney's involvement in the Club of Odd Volumes and the Grolier Poetry Club. His friendship and correspondence with Sweeney endured long after Sweeney's retirement from Harvard University: in one of his later letters, Sweeney hails their work together as the "Golden Age."

In addition to his work with the Woodberry Poetry Room, Fassett teamed up with Howard Kahn and Harry and Lynne Sharon Schwartz on the Calliope Author Readings. Under this label, he (and Peter Bartók) recorded James Baldwin, Bernard Malamud, Philip Roth, William Styron, and John Updike.

In 1975, Fassett married pianist Kitty Lee, who (among other things) assisted in his efforts to publish the Roland Hayes recordings that he had been editing for 20 years. After his death, Fassett's substantive recording collection was donated to the Yale Collection of Historical Sound Recordings. Fassett died on March 11, 1980.


The processor retained the original order, which was arranged alphabetically by sender and by date. Undated materials are retained in the order in which they were received.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

2016M-113. Gift of Kitty Fassett to the Woodberry Poetry Room, Harvard University; received: 2017 May.

Processing Information

Processed by Christina Davis, Curator of the Woodberry Poetry Room, June 2017.

Stephen B. Fassett correspondence
June 7, 2017
Description rules
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Houghton Library Repository

Houghton Library is Harvard College's principal repository for rare books and manuscripts, archives, and more. Houghton Library's collections represent the scope of human experience from ancient Egypt to twenty-first century Cambridge. With strengths primarily in North American and European history, literature, and culture, collections range in media from printed books and handwritten manuscripts to maps, drawings and paintings, prints, posters, photographs, film and audio recordings, and digital media, as well as costumes, theater props, and a wide range of other objects. Houghton Library has historically focused on collecting the written record of European and Eurocentric North American culture, yet it holds a large and diverse number of primary sources valuable for research on the languages, culture and history of indigenous peoples of the Americas, Africa, Asia and Oceania.

Houghton Library’s Reading Room is free and open to all who wish to use the library’s collections.

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