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Black Composers: A Guide to Resources at the Library of Congress

Primary Sources

To locate primary sources in the Library's music collections related to Black composers, you will need to use both the Library of Congress Online Catalog and finding aids. The online catalog will include individually cataloged letters and scores, as well as collection-level records of special collections. Finding aids will guide you through the details of individual special collections.

Special Collections

Special collections are groups of primary and secondary source materials united by common subjects or creators. Finding aids are the documents researchers use to navigate through the categories of materials within a special collection. Finding aids provide not only box numbers within a category, but also valuable information about the acquisition history, anticipated additions of materials, related collections, and more.

The following list provides examples of special collections that feature Black composers. The collection titles link to fuller bibliographic information in the Library of Congress Online Catalog. Links to additional online information, including collection findings aids, are included when available.


In Music Division special collections, always search across all finding aids for names of Black composers. They frequently appear in the collections of other individuals or organizations.

For example, the Music Division does not have a "William Grant Still collection." But, letters by William Grant Still appear in many collections, including:

An additional music manuscript is in the J. Fischer & Bro. music publishers collection, and subject or project files related to William Grant Still appear in many collections, such as the Andre Kostelanetz collection.

Individually Cataloged Primary Sources

Many primary sources like scores, sketches, and letters are cataloged individually and available in the Music Division because of purchases, donations, and copyright registrations. Items like these in the hands of their creators are known as "holographs."

Call numbers that begin with ML95 indicate manuscripts such as letters. ML96 call numbers are used for manuscript music compositions, arrangements, and sketches.

A small sample of individually cataloged primary sources includes:

Want to find more? Ask a Librarian or search the online catalog by a composer's name.

Library of Congress Commissions

The Library of Congress has commissioned new compositions since 1925. The world premieres often take place on the Library of Congress Concert Series, and the original scores and sketches become part of the Music Division's unique holdings for you to research.

Selected Black composers commissioned by the Library of Congress include:

Depending on the time period and composer, "originals" can be holograph scores and sketches, annotated computer printouts, and CD-ROMs with music notation files.

To learn more about LC's commissioned composers, Ask a Librarian.