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COLLECTION Identifier: Ms. Coll. 159

Randy Weston recordings and papers


Consists of recordings, manuscript scores, and papers documenting the work of the composer and pianist, Randy Weston (1926-2018).


  • Creation: 1930 - 2018
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1953 - 2018

Language of Materials

Materials are predominantly annotated in English, and occasionally in French.

Conditions Governing Access

Series I (Audiovisual records) is closed for processing as of September 2023.

Remaining series are open for research. The collection's paper-based materials are accessed through the Houghton Library Reading Room. This material is shelved offsite at the Harvard Depository. Retrieval requires advance notice. Researchers should check with Houghton Public Services staff to determine retrieval policies and times.


62 linear feet (62 boxes, 10 poster boxes)

The Randy Weston recordings and papers include material from all periods of the composer and piano player’s career. Series I (Audiovisual recordings) includes unique recordings of both formal and informal performances ranging from festival and concert-hall performances to club dates and rehearsals. Series II (Scores) contains manuscripts of Weston’s compositions, as well as arrangements by collaborators such as Melba Liston. Series III (Press and promotional material) includes press coverage from across Weston’s career, as well as numerous concert programs and posters. Series IV (Work files and subject files) contains files maintained by Weston documenting his professional life and diverse interests. Series V (Binders and photographs) includes scrapbooks, photograph albums, and miscellaneous photographs, with many documenting Weston’s performances and collaborations. Series VI (Personal papers) includes Weston’s correspondence with family and collaborators such as Langston Hughes and Willard Jenkins; transcripts and interviews used for Weston’s autobiography; and various personal papers and honoraria. The series also includes a small number of papers created by Georgia Griggs, Weston’s longtime manager.

Biographical / Historical

Randy Weston was born on April 6, 1926 to Vivian and Frank Weston in Brooklyn, New York. He studied classical piano as a child and was raised in an atmosphere thick with sounds and ideas of modern jazz. Among his childhood friends and neighbors were bassist Ahmed Abdul-Malik and drummers Al Harewood and Max Roach; it was at Max Roach's house that Weston would encounter George Russell, Miles Davis, and Charlie Parker. His father owned a small restaurant in Brooklyn, which was a hangout for many local artists and performers. A committed Garveyite, the elder Weston instilled in his son a profound consciousness of his African heritage that would shape his life in music.

Following military service in Asia during the Second World War, Weston returned to Brooklyn to run his father’s restaurant, where he became further immersed in the innovative jazz of Duke Ellington, Art Tatum, and, most especially, Thelonious Monk. In 1951, Weston moved to Lenox, Massachusetts, where he began working at the Music Inn, a venue where he would go on to perform and collaborate with scholar Marshall Stearns on presentations on the history of jazz. Weston’s first recordings as a band leader were issued in the mid-1950s, at which point he also initiated a lifelong collaboration with the trombonist and arranger Melba Liston. Liston would go on to arrange most of Weston’s compositions until her death in 1999.

Throughout his early work as a composer and touring musician, Weston was also active as a community organizer, founding organizations such as the Afro-American Musicians Society (AAMS) and being an active participant in the United Nations Jazz Society. Returning to New York in the late 1950s, Weston became increasingly engaged in connecting the civil rights movement in the United States with independence movements across Africa. This passion took musical form on Weston’s innovative four-part suite, Uhuru Afrika (1960), which featured lyrics and linear notes by the poet Langston Hughes. Weston first toured the continent in 1967 under the auspices of the U.S. State Department. He relocated to Morocco, where he eventually opened the African Rhythms Club in Tangier. Weston forged lasting relationships with Gnawa musicians during these years, with whom he would collaborate on recordings like Spirits of Our Ancestors (1991) and Spirit! The Power of Music (1999).

Among his many honors, Weston was named DownBeat Composer of the Year three times and an NEA Jazz Master in 2001. In 2010, he published African Rhythms: The Autobiography of Randy Weston (Duke University Press) with Willard Jenkins. Weston died at his home in Brooklyn on September 1, 2018.


The collection is arranged in the following series: I. Recordings; II. Scores; III. Press and Promotional Materials; IV. Work Files and Subject Files; V. Photographs and Binders; VI. Personal Papers.

Physical Location

Harvard Depository

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Ms. Coll. 159.

Processing Information

Processed by Sarah Adams, Max Goldberg, Christina Linklater, and Peter Laurence, 2020-2023.

Weston, Randy. Randy Weston recordings and papers, 1930-2018 (Ms. Coll. 159): Guide
Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library, Harvard University
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library Repository

The Eda Kuhn Loeb Music Library is the primary repository of musical materials at Harvard. The Music Library’s collecting mission is to serve music teaching and research programs in the Music Department and throughout the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. In addition, it supports the musical needs of the broader Harvard community as well as an international scholarly constituency. We collect books, musical scores, serial titles, sound recordings and video formats, microforms, and rare and archival materials that support research in a wide variety of musical disciplines including historical musicology, music theory, ethnomusicology, composition, and historically informed performance practice, as well as interdisciplinary areas related to music. The special collections include archival collections from the 19th, 20th and 21st century.

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