'Just for the Record: Letters of a Columbia Executive'

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Mary Jones's exhibit on Columbia Records executive Goddard Lieberson offers a window into how records were made, marketed, and sold in the 1940s and 1950s. (Photo by Michael Helfenbein)

This is one of four exhibits created by Yale students on exhibition in the Sterling Memorial Library. Click here to read about the others.

Although most people today have probably never heard of Goddard Lieberson, he was a highly influential figure in the American recording industry during the mid-20th century, holding nearly every position possible at Columbia Records before becoming the label’s president in 1965.

This exhibit, curated by doctoral student Mary Jones, draws on Lieberson’s papers, which are housed at the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, to offer a window into how records were made, marketed, and sold in the 1940s and 1950s. It focuses on Lieberson’s collaboration with Eugene Ormandy, music director of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

Mary Jones

Jones, whose dissertation examines the central years of Lieberson’s career at Columbia Records, was hired by the library to catalog the recording executive’s papers.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to have access to the entire collection and to leaf through the variety of materials, page by page,” she says. “As we file things, we come across letters between Lieberson and collaborators, and we get to see the first-hand perspective of what it was like to produce a record. Every conversation is different, and every set of challenges is unique.”

Lieberson wielded considerable influence over what kinds of repertoires were favored, what kinds of orchestras were featured, and the various kinds of music that the record label promoted.

Jones says Lieberson’s far-reaching job description required flexibility and diligence to overcome the unique challenges that each project presented. For example, aside from collaborating on albums, Lieberson and Ormandy worked together to program the orchestra’s concert seasons. 

“I found it both interesting and surprising that Columbia Records and the Philadelphia Orchestra were collaborating in order to gain maximum exposure and mutual benefits for each party involved,” she says.

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Media Contact

Mike Cummings: michael.cummings@yale.edu, 203-432-9548