In Memoriam: Vivian Perlis, 1928-2019

Vivian Perlis, founder of the Oral History of American Music archive at Yale University, passed away at her home in Weston, Connecticut, on July 4, 2019. She was 91 years old.

In 1967, Perlis joined the Yale School of Music as a research librarian. In this role, she became involved with the library’s Charles Ives Collection. She went on to conduct over 60 interviews with Ives’ colleagues and acquaintances. During this time, she also served as a harpist with the New Haven Symphony. In 1974, Yale University Press published a selection of her interviews as Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History. In 1975, the book won the Otto Kinkeldey Award, from the American Musicological Society. Perlis later wrote two books with composer Aaron Copland: Copland: 1900 Through 1942 (St. Martin’s Press, 1984) and Copland Since 1943 (St. Martin’s Press, 1989).

In the 1990s, the main library at Yale University sponsored the Oral History of American Music, which finally gave Perlis the funding she needed to complete the archive. The project contains about 3,000 recordings of interviews with various American composers and other musical figures. Perlis and the oral history project’s associate director Libby Van Cleve wrote Composers’ Voices From Ives to Ellington: An Oral History of American Music (Yale University Press, 2005), which was also accompanied by two CDs. Perlis retired from Yale in 2010.

Perlis held a bachelor’s degree in classical harp and piano and a master’s degree in music history both from the University of Michigan.

Filed Under: In Memoriam


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