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Remembering Vivian Perlis (1928-2019)

We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of Vivian Perlis, the intrepid founder and long-time director of Yale’s Oral History of American Music. Vivian Perlis’s legacy is an invaluable collage of pioneering foresight and determination, the effects of which will be felt for generations to come. Her discernment of the benefit of chronicling the musical voices of our time led Perlis to interview colossal figures from Aaron Copland to Eubie Blake, John Adams to John Cage, and—among many more—those who had known and worked with Duke Ellington and Charles Ives. Today OHAM’s living archive offers approximately 3,000 interviews, a testament to the prowess of a woman who believed in the musicological and societal importance of documenting creative minds. Born in Brooklyn in 1928, Perlis was a harpist, pianist, wife and mother of three, earning her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in music at the University of Michigan. In 1959, while performing in the New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Perlis took a job at Yale University as a reference librarian—the beginning of an illustrious and innovative career. Perils was the first woman awarded the Kinkeldy Prize from the American Musicological Society for her groundbreaking book, “Charles Ives Remembered: An Oral History”—also the first time that oral history methodology had been used to document a musical figure. Her work in oral history garnered significant recognition; among others, she was awarded The National Institute of Arts and Letters Charles Ives Award and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Society for American Music. Vivian Perlis’s powerful presence has made deeply resounding and lasting impressions in the field of American music history, and will continue to shape the way we document, research and honor lives of our musical figures forever. Perils was 91 years old.

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