Archivist Annie Kuebler, veteran of Smithsonian and the Institute of Jazz Studies, dies at 61
Ann Byrnes Kuebler, an internationally recognized jazz archivist whose credits include opening the treasures of the Duke Ellington Collection at the Smithsonian Institution and that of pianist/composer/arranger Mary Lou Williams at the Institute of Jazz Studies at Rutgers University, died Monday, August 13 at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City NJ at the age of 61. The cause of death was a brain hemorrhage, according to her family.
Kuebler, a native of Baltimore, began her career as a volunteer at the Archives Center of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in the late 1980s after surviving near-fatal injuries sustained in a fire a few years earlier. Working as a bartender at the time, she was a single mother of four. Her work as a journeyman archivist at the National Museum of American History coincided with the historic acquisition of the vast Ellington collection—100,000 pages of unpublished music manuscripts and another 100,000 pages of documents—facilitated by Congressional legislation. Along the way, she learned the ropes of her craft among some of the nation’s premier archivists and Ellington scholars such as the late Mark Tucker and Andrew Homzy, worked with Ellington researchers from around the world, and became a much sought-after expert herself for the remainder of her life. Kuebler presented a paper at the international conference of The Duke Ellington Society held in Helsinki, Finland in 2004, and wrote extensive liner notes for an acclaimed 2001 deluxe reissue of Duke at Fargo, 1940: Special 60th Anniversary Edition on Storyville Records. In addition, she worked with Benny Carter to divide his collection between Smithsonian and the Institute of Jazz Studies (IJS). “Annie,” as she was universally known, left Smithsonian in 2001 as a beloved employee with a charismatic knack for communicating her deep knowledge, experience and enthusiasm for jazz and archives to train and motivate professionals, students and volunteers alike.
“Annie was an ace archivist who was unstintingly helpful, a gifted researcher, a fine writer, a courageous human being, an esteemed colleague, and a valued friend,” said John Edward Hasse, who, as Curator of American Music at the National Museum of American History, led the Smithsonian’s drive to acquire the Ellington Collection and worked with Annie. “When she took the position at the Institute of Jazz Studies, we were happy for Rutgers and for Annie, but we missed her–and still do–keenly.” Kuebler contributed an essay, “The Growing Role of Women in Jazz,” for Discover Jazz, a college textbook co-authored by Hasse and Tad Lathrop in 2011.
Kuebler arrived at IJS on the heels of a grant from National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to serve as lead archivist in processing the Mary Lou Williams Collection. It has become the largest and most widely used collection at IJS over the last decade and generated a renaissance of interest in Williams’ work and a reevaluation of her significance in jazz history in the form of recordings, concerts, scholarly papers and books, exhibitions, symposia and a documentary scheduled to air on PBS in 2014. She received a commendation from NEH for her leadership on the project.
While at IJS, Kuebler, who retired in February of this year, helped negotiate acquisition of the collection of the great stride pianist and composer James P. Johnson. She also planned exhibits; assisted in grant writing; did regular broadcasts for Jazz from the Archives, the Institute’s long-running series on WBGO in Newark; and presented programs as part of IJS’s Jazz Research Roundtable. She enjoyed a long friendship and collaboration with Bill Holman, the eminent West Coast arranger whose work first emerged during his stint with Stan Kenton beginning in 1952 and who has been enjoying a late-career resurgence over the last decade.
“Annie’s coming to IJS was a blessing. Her first task was the huge and multi-faceted Mary Lou Williams Collection, which she transformed from the random contents of over 160 boxes to a model of intelligent organization and accessibility,” said jazz historian and writer Dan Morgenstern, the Institute’s director since 1976 until his retirement at the end of last year. “The many other things Annie did for the Institute, ending with her work on James P. Johnson, she did in the same calm and natural way, for Annie was a model colleague, with a fine sense of humor and a keen intelligence that would zero in on the essence of a problem or task. We all loved Annie.”
Andrew Homzy, a professor of jazz history and musicology at Concordia University in Montreal, wrote, “She was the definition of love: Love of family, love of friends, love of colleagues, love of jazz. She rose like the Phoenix out of the ashes of a difficult life experience and triumphed. Kuebler of the Flame became Keeper of the Flame. ‘So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.’”
Jazz bassist and graduate of the Rutgers-Newark master’s program in jazz history and research Ratzo B. Harris spoke for many when he said, “Annie was a great person and dedicated archivist. She went the extra mile for students and always made us feel like we were doing something important when, in fact, she was doing the important work! My world is a little smaller today, but she helped make our world of jazz a little bigger.”
“Mom was also a high level quilter, former little league first base coach, master puzzle solver, avid beachcomber and even enjoyed a stint as a birdwatcher in the summer of 1992 before she realized it was not as exciting to track cardinals in Gunpowder State Park as it was to watch the Baltimore Orioles play baseball!” recalled her son Austin on Thursday.
She savored vintage jazz recordings while at the same time could be counted on as a regular at each summer’s Vision Festival, a showcase for avant-garde jazz in New York whose exponents she counted among her friends and occasional subjects of Jazz from the Archives.
She was a member and speaker on behalf of a national burn survivors’ organization for several years.
Kuebler was born in Baltimore on July 9, 1951 to the Michael and Marguerite Byrnes Sr. She graduated from Fontonne Academy in Pittsburgh and later attended the University of Detroit. In addition to her mother, she is survived by one daughter, Blanche Ryder and husband Chris of Fanwood, NJ; three sons, Austin and wife Joanne of Locust Valley, New York, Roman Kuebler and Amy Datsko of Baltimore and Jackson Kuebler, also of Baltimore; and grandchildren, including Austin’s three children, Joseph, Margaret (Meg) and Katherine Kuebler, and Madeline, Kenny and Timmy Ryder. She was preceded in death by her brother, Michael (Mickey) Byrnes.
A Mass will be given to honor her memory at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, 200 Ware Avenue, Towson, Maryland at 10 a.m. Tuesday, August 28, with another to be held at St. Bartholomew of the Apostle Church, 2032 Westfield Avenue, Scotch Plains, New Jersey at 11 a.m. on Saturday, September 15. She was cremated.
In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to be made in Annie’s name to the Morroe Berger-Benny Carter Jazz Research Fund established at the Institute of Jazz Studies in 1987. Half of the awards are designated for students in the Rutgers-Newark Master’s Program in Jazz History and Research and half are awarded to scholars from other institutions or unaffiliated researchers to enable them to visit IJS in conjunction with their projects. Donations may be sent to: Institute of Jazz Studies, John Cotton Dana Library, 185 University Avenue, Newark, New Jersey, 07102.
“My mother was always our biggest fan, counselor, friend and most of all, an example of true love. She was a light,” said Austin. “Survival was not her destination; our mom was determined to build a remarkable life, and she did just that. She will be missed.”
Prepared by Tad Hershorn, Institute of Jazz Studies