Melodies and Lyrics from the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center

Musical collections within the scope of a special collections department may sometimes seem like an afterthought or materials to round out a collection. In Davenport and the Quad Cities region, music was integral to many communities settling in this area. For example, Germans from the Schelwig-Holstein region gathered together to listen and play music in their Turner Halls. As the cities grew, the development of concert halls, theatres, and other performance venues were built. Therefore establishing a thriving community that supported the arts that continues into the present day.

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center collects books, archival materials, photographs, and more pertaining to Davenport, Scott County, and Quad Cities musical history. In the collections, we have the programs from the Tri-City Symphony Orchestra (now the Quad City Symphony Orchestra), images and posters of musicians and musical acts from and visiting the Quad Cities, and audiovisual materials documenting artists like Bix Beiderbecke to recording studios such as FredLo Recording Studios.

Our musical collections are being added to through collection development efforts such as donations and other means of acquisition. Below are an assortment of images of materials from our collections.

Image of Florence Lee, who by her portrait played the violin.
Liedertafel Ladies Banner from Accession 2015-18. The Leidertafel Ladies were a German Singing group founded in Davenport.
Reel to Reel from 2018-29: Phil and Linda Evans/Scott Black Collection & Elizabeth Beiderbecke Hart Collection from Bix Museum.

The Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center not only preserves materials by collecting them, but we also make them accessible through descriptions in our various catalogs, research for various sites such as our blogs and research guides, and programs for the public.

In the Fall of 2022, Harrison Phillis interned with the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center. He is pursuing a master’s degree in Library Science from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He earned a history degree from Augustana College. One of his areas of interest was music history. This also complemented his talents as a musician.

As part of his internship, we wanted to provide him the experience of educating through programming. This seemed the perfect opportunity for him to use his research skills to research our collections as well as other local music collections. He is currently working on creating his presentation which he will share on Monday, September 25th at 6:30 PM in the Meeting Room B at the Davenport Public Library | Main.

In preparation for his program, we interviewed him about his internship experience and this project.

Please share about your experiences in Special Collections? What were some of the projects you worked on?

A few of the projects I worked on as an intern at RSSC included assisting with reference requests and desk service as well as digitizing a collection of photos for the Davenport Museum of Art and creating the metadata for them to be available via the CONTENTdm digital collection. I also worked with the Special Collections Librarian, Katie Reinhardt, to gain some hands-on experience with cataloging books, as well as attempting to identify photograph subjects from the Davenport Daily Democrat newspaper’s collection of published and unpublished photographs.

Tell us how you became interested in music and music history. Do you sing or play any musical instruments? 

I have been interested in music and history basically all of my life. My love of jazz music started by seeing the Peanuts movies as a child with their iconic soundtracks composed by Vince Guaraldi. My love of history began with a fascination with ancient cultures from various parts of the globe. This was continued during my time as a history major at Augustana where I worked with the history and historiography of the Sauk and Meskwaki tribes of this area. In college, I was also able to pursue my love of jazz by playing drum set in the Augustana College Big Band, as well as the Jazz Combo ensemble all four years of my undergraduate program. I also have been playing piano for many years, although the drums are now my primary instrument. 

What made you decide to develop a program about researching local music and musicians? 

I wanted to put this program together because I feel that history is made more real for people when they can find ways to connect with the people, places, and events that cultural heritage institutions aim to document. I know from my experience of participating in musical ensembles in school, as well as performing local gigs for fun with my friends that the QC has a very rich musical and artistic culture. I know from anecdotal experience that the QC is one of the best-kept secrets of the Midwest as a place for touring bands of all levels to stop by and play. I wanted to seek out the musical history of this community where I’ve lived my whole life to see what stories are lurking in the archives, and hopefully share my findings with members of the same community. 

As a teaser for our readers, what is one interesting story or resource you have discovered while researching local music?

One of the interesting musicians I’ve found while conducting research is drummer Jack Willett who performed with Carlisle Evans and Tony Catalano’s band “Tony & Evans Capital Jazz Band.” Willett continued to be a local band leader over the years, and I also found a few articles discussing Willett’s model circus. Willett spent a great deal of time building a 5-foot diameter big top tent, which reportedly took up and entire room in his home. He would bring the model out to be shown to the public whenever he had the opportunity, complete with painted models of human and animal performers. Jack Willett’s life and work resonated with me because, in my experience, many artists or musicians have multiple avenues of expression, sometimes seemingly unrelated to one another. 

Tony & Evans Capital Jazz band advertisement Harrison found via the University of Wisconsin Madison’s digital collection.

I am excited to give this presentation to anyone interested and to share other stories about musicians in the Quad Cities. 

Here are the details for Harrison’s program:
Monday, September 25, 2023
Time:6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m.
Location: Meeting Room B (Large)
Branch: Main
Online: This is an online event.
Zoom Event URL:

Event description: Do you have a family member or ancestor who was a musician? Are you curious to learn more about their involvement in Quad Cities bands or ensembles? Special Collections intern Harrison Phillis will give a presentation featuring a brief history of music in the Quad Cities area as well as the available resources related to local music history and how to utilize them effectively. 

This program is scheduled to be held in person and virtually.
This program is suitable for both teens and adults.

(posted by Kathryn)

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