Celebrating 125: LaHache Music Library
On February 1, 1949, Theodore V. Martinez gifted the New Orleans Public Library $5,000 to establish a music lending service named in honor of his grandfather, Theodore Von LaHache, a well known composer and organ player. Originally housed in Milton H. Latter Memorial Library, the LaHache Music Library moved to Main Library when it opened at 219 Loyola Avenue in 1958.
In addition to records, Library cardholders could browse and borrow from a sheet music collection, including works composed by Lahache and other local artists.
In 1952, Dr. Edmond Souchon donated his historic jazz record collection to the Library, which grew the Lahache Music Library by 2,000 items, making it the largest public jazz collection in the nation, the Times-Picayune reported at the time. The Edmond “Doc” Souchon Jazz Collection featured notable recordings including the Library of Congress’ series of folk music, Alan Lomax interviews with Jelly Roll Morton, original Louis Armstrong recordings and more.
For decades, Library visitors could check out records to bring home, or listen to them at the Library in private soundproof rooms or with headphones at record players situated throughout the third floor’s Art and Music Department. The department was later reimagined as the Periodicals, Arts, and Recreation Department, which was dissolved in the early 2000s.
Aside from providing a free way to access music and technology, the Lahache Music Library helped pave the road for Library integration. The Library officially desegregated in 1954, four years before the collection was moved to Main Library, meaning the entirety of the Library’s music collection was at a location that did not serve non-white patrons. In 1953, Library board member Rosa Keller and Albert Dent, the then-president of Dillard University, distributed a petition to allow Black residents to access the collection. They hoped that by proving Black and white patrons could peacefully use the same collection side-by-side, the Board would be more amenable to integrating the new Library location being built at the time.
The fight was not an easy one, as detailed in Rosa’s autobiography:
“Logic had no role in the case at all; the red warning lights of emotion went on and blurred the members’ vision,” she wrote. “The board’s prophecies were dire: books and records would be destroyed, for Negroes took no care of things. Staff members were sure to resign in a body, rather than serve Negroes. Donations such as the one which established the music collection would no longer be made. More arguments ensued, and the meeting went on and on, getting nowhere. Would I explain, please, to the petitioning group, who were my friends, that if we granted their request it would ruin the [Library] system?”
These dehumanizing responses almost led Rosa to resign from the board. But, when she met with Morrison to explain her choice, he convinced Rosa to stand her ground. At her insistence, Morrison addressed the board directly. The result was more than Rosa even dared to hope for – the board agreed to integrate not only the music collection, but the entire Library system.