Dena J. Epstein papers




Center for Black Music Research, Columbia College Chicago


11.0 Linear feet


Bulk, 1955-1998




Epstein, Dena J., 1916-2013

Biographical note

Dena Julia Polacheck Epstein was born November 30, 1916 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, the second of four children of William S. Polacheck of Wisconsin and Hilda R Satt of Wloclawek, Poland. After the death of her father when Epstein was 11, she and heDena Julia Polacheck Epstein was born November 30, 1916 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. She attended the University of Chicago, where she received a bachelor of art in music in 1937, and later in 1943 a master of arts in library science from the University of Illinois. She was the cataloger in art and music at the University of Illinois (1939–1943); Senior Music Librarian at the Newark [NJ] Public Library (1943–1945); Music Cataloger and Reviser, Music Section, Copyright Cataloging division at the Library of Congress (1946–1948). Noticing the absence of any historical writing chronicling the origins of black slave music, Epstein conducted research from approximately 1955 until the publication of her monumental work Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War published in 1977 by the University of Illinois Press. She has written numerous articles, made many presentations, served on committees and boards from the local library to the Center for Black Music Research and the National Endowment for Humanities project review committee.

Scope and Contents note

The papers consists of files, correspondence, and notes, a personal oral history transcript and other biographical information spanning Epstein's nearly 60 year career as music librarian and historian. Correspondents of particular interest include scholars, publishers, and personal family members, as well as several descendants of the abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison. Among her correspondents are African-American historian Henry Louis Gates Jr., founding director of the Sophia Smith Collection at Smith College Margaret Storrs Grierson, noted American music historian H. Wiley Hitchcock, musicologist Eileen Southern, composer, historian and author Helen Walker-Hill, CBMR founder and musicologist Samuel Floyd Jr., and other noted scholars. Reference and research notes, illustration photographs and other materials for her book Sinful Tunes and Spirituals: Black Folk Music to the Civil War (Urbana and Chicago, Illinois: University of Illinois Press, 1977) make up a large portion of the papers, in addition to the correspondence. Also included are notes and correspondence concerning her other publications and writings, including information and correspondence about the origins of the banjo.

Custodial History note

Donated by Dena J. Epstein, 2002–2005. Additional donations expected.

Processing Information note

This collection was surveyed as part of the Black Metropolis Research Consortium's Survey Initiative on 2011 January 3 by Lisa Calahan.