The Ivan Black Papers document Black’s work as a publicity agent on behalf of nightclubs, musicians and entertainers in New York from the 1940s to the 1970s. They include press releases, clippings, correspondence, photographs, promotional material and published music scores.
Biographical/historical: Ivan Black (b. Philadelphia, 14 May 1903, d. New York, 25 March 1979) was a publicity agent for nightclubs, Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, musicians and visual artists in New York City from the early 1940s until his retirement in the mid-1970s.
Black grew up in Trenton, New Jersey and received a Bachelors degree in Renaissance arts and literature from Harvard in 1924. He worked as an architect in New Jersey and Florida before moving to Boston to work as a reporter for the Boston Transcript in 1928. After a brief return to Philadelphia, where he was an art critic for the Philadelphia Record and International Studio, and wrote for The Theatre Guild, he moved to New York in 1932, where he began working for the Works Progress Administration. Black formed and supervised a WPA project for unemployed writers that produced the American Guidebook series, among others, then was made manager of the Federal Theatre Project before being promoted to head of the Division of Information and Publicity for the Federal Theatre Radio Division. That division was dissolved in 1939, by which time Black had so many radio industry contacts that he was able to open his own publicity office.
His first clients were the Café Society (whose proprietor, Barney Josephson, was a childhood friend of Black’s), the writer-director-producer Arch Oboler and The Adventures Of The Thin Man radio series. After the Café Society closed, Black did some work for corporate clients in the early 50s, such as the Philco Corporation, and the magazines Argosy and True, before returning to nightclub work in the late 50s with two major Greenwich Village venues, the Five Spot and the Village Gate. He continued working for both clubs into the 1960s, as well as for Basin Street East, Slug’s, and, in the early 70s, Gregory’s, Stryker’s, Bar None and Larson’s. Black occasionally worked directly for entertainers or events, including Hazel Scott, Miriam Makeba, the pianists Erroll Garner and Brooks Kerr, the singer Dardanelle and the New York Jazz Loft Celebration in 1976 and 1977. He also retained an interest in visual artists, such as Lumen Martin Winter and Jo Anne Schneider, and occasionally promoted their work.
Black publicized many important performing artists during his career. He discovered the comedian Sam Mostel at a party and launched his career at the Café Society, anointing him with the stage name “Zero” because his career had nowhere to go but up. Other major figures associated with the Café Society whom Black promoted included the musicians John Kirby, Teddy Wilson, Josh White, Edmond Hall, Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Benny Morton, Nellie Lutcher, Dorothy Donegan and the Golden Gate Quartet; the singer Lena Horne; and the comedians Jimmy Savo, Imogen Coca and the Revuers (Judy Holliday, Adolph Green and Betty Comden). Major jazz musicians associated with the Five Spot whom Black promoted included Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Rahsaan Roland Kirk and Charles Mingus. The Village Gate featured jazz musicians as well, such as Miles Davis, Herbie Mann, Stan Getz and Art Blakey, but Black also promoted folk singers such as Odetta and Harry Belafonte, the South African musicians Miriam Makeba and Hugh Masekela and the comedian Dick Gregory, all of whom were featured regularly at the Gate in the 1960s.
Black did publicity for many Broadway and Off-Broadway productions, most notably Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris at the Village Gate, but also lesser-known productions such as Anna Lucasta, Devil’s Galore and Stalag 17. He also promoted political and social justice causes, including benefit events for John Lindsay and for the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee.
Source: “Ivan Black, 75, a Publicity Agent.” The New York Times, Mar. 27, 1979, B14.
Content: The Ivan Black Papers primarily document the publicity work Black did on behalf of nightclubs in New York and the musicians and comedians who worked there, providing a detailed look at several key venues and the artists appearing in them from the 1940s to the 1970s. The largest portion of the collection is client and subject files containing mainly press releases and newspaper and magazine clippings, but also including promotional flyers, concert and stage programs and correspondence. The collection also contains a large section of photographs, mostly publicity headshots but also some performance and candid photos; and a set of published scores of stock musical arrangements.
Major venues documented in the client/subject files include the Café Society Uptown and Downtown, the Five Spot, the Village Gate and Gregory’s. Papers for each club include performance schedules, promotional material and correspondence. Artists with significant content in the files include Zero Mostel, Hazel Scott, Thelonious Monk, Miriam Makeba, Sonny Rollins, Ornette Coleman, Erroll Garner, Jimmy Savo, Nina Simone, Brooks Kerr and Arch Oboler, among many others. The paper files also contain much documentation of Broadway and Off-Broadway stage and radio productions, including Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris, The Adventures Of The Thin Man, and Anna Lucasta.
Black’s interest in social justice and political causes is revealed by documentation of his work for the Works Progress Administration, the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee and the Congress On Racial Equality. His interest in the visual arts is documented by files for artists such as Lumen Martin Winter, Catharine Barjansky and Jo Anne Schneider, among others.