Library and music collector have 'simpatico' missions

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Melissa Osgood
Johan Kugelberg
Kugelberg

In 2007, Johan Kugelberg donated materials to Cornell documenting the rise of hip-hop, an archive few institutions were interested in at the time.

That gift became the foundation of the Cornell Hip Hop Collection. Since then, Cornell University Library has quadrupled the size of the initial donation, creating the largest hip-hop repository in the world.

Meanwhile, Kugelberg’s partnership with the library’s Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections (RMC) has also continued to grow. Kugelberg, a collector, historian and author, has since placed material in the library on such diverse genres as punk, Latin jazz and Norwegian black metal – featuring bands that may not be household names, but whose cultural influence is on the rise.

“These underground cultures frequently become mainstream cultures eventually,” said RMC curator Katherine Reagan. “They also become the subject of books and dissertations that fuel new fields of academic study.”

This month, RMC welcomed Kugelberg’s latest gift – an archive of the Velvet Underground, the influential rock band fronted by Lou Reed with a cult following spanning five decades.

“Of course we all understand the importance of having a 15th-century Dante in the library or a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation, but the history of hip-hop or the history of the Velvet Underground absolutely belong alongside these materials,” Kugelberg said. “I’m committed to this ongoing life collaboration with Cornell University Library because I feel that the mission of the library and my mission are completely simpatico.”

Kugelberg’s approach makes his collections particularly relevant for future scholarship, Reagan said.

“Very few collectors have the perseverance and dedication to hunt down these items one by one – combing through basements or attics, looking for scarce material that might disappear if we don’t get to it now,” she said. “In his collections, you can see Johan’s own curiosity at work – in seeking out documents that reveal information about the people who made something important happen in a unique time and place.”

Melanie Lefkowitz is a staff writer and editor at Cornell University Library. 


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