Willis Conover Collection


Willis Conover (1920-1996) is best known for his 41-year career as host of the program Music USA on the Voice of America. The second hour in particular – the jazz hour – of that program brought him international fame, although restrictions on domestic broadcasting of VOA programs kept his name obscure at home. He remains beloved particularly in eastern and central Europe and the former Soviet Union, where his program provided a reliable source of jazz when few others were available, as jazz was selectively suppressed and tolerated behind the Iron Curtain.

A 1997 gift of the Willis Conover Jazz Preservation Foundation, Inc., the collection consists of over 22,000 recordings of numerous formats, correspondence, memos, magazines, record catalogs, manuscripts, program notes, memorabilia, photographs, books, and other personal items. The materials are not only from his work at the VOA, but also from his early career at WTBO and WWDC, and his correspondence with sci-fi and horror writer H.P. Lovecraft during Conover’s teen years. As Conover remained an independent contractor with the VOA for his entire career, his collection also contains numerous side-projects for radio and television, including work for WCBS in New York.

A 2015 Grammy Foundation grant enabled the Music Library to have the oldest 380 tape recordings in Conover’s collection digitized, and the Music Library continues to add other formats to the Digital Library, including film and 16-inch broadcast transcription discs.