Interview: Bob Santelli on the Songwriters Hall of Fame Experience exhibit at GRAMMY Museum - The Gotham Center for New York City History (2023)

Bob Santelli im Interview mit Ryan Purcell

Continue todayGotham, Editor Ryan Purcell interviews Bob Santelli, Executive Director of the GRAMMY Museum and Chief Curator of theSongwriters Hall of Fame Experience now on view at the CUNY Graduate Center.

What makes great music? What gives it the power to affect our hips and emotions? These are some of the questions behind theSongwriters Hall of Fame ExperienceExhibition at the CUNY Graduate Center. Established by songwriter Johnny Mercer in 1969, the Songwriters Hall of Fame (SOHF) celebrates the work and legacy of some of the most important songwriters in American popular culture. The distinguished ranks of SHOF nominees include prolific teams like Rogers and Hammerstein (who helped put together the Great American Songbook) and Holland-Dozier-Holland (the songwriting engine that powered Motown), as well as solo songwriters from Carole King to Mariah Carey. Curated by theGRAMMY-Museum, theSongwriters Hall of Fame Experiencefeatures a selection of artists with a particular focus on the creative processes historically behind American popular music. Visitors learn about the musical life of Smokey Robinson and Wood Guthrie through the handwritten lyrics, vinyl records, audio-video recordings, costumes and instruments on display in the exhibit.

There is virtually no aspect of American popular music that has not crossed the path of Bob Santelli. Started as a correspondent forRolling StoneMagazine in the 1970s, Santelli helped open the magazineRock'n'Roll-Ruhmeshallein Cleveland, Ohio. He has published books on blues and American folk music, and was a frequent lecturer in American music at Rutgers and Monmouth Universities, and now at Oregon State University, Santelli shares his knowledge and insights on popular music. Among other important accomplishments, Santelli was named founding executive director of the GRAMMY Museum and GRAMMY Foundation in 2017. As senior curator ofSongwriters Hall of Fame Experience, Santelli brings a touch of GRAMMY museum and his experience to New York.

What is your favorite story/artist in the exhibition?

My favorite is without question Woody Guthrie. And the reason I say that is because I've studied Woody Guthrie's work and life for as long as I can remember. Just recently, in November, Nora Guthrie, Woody's daughter, and I released aCollection of Woody Guthrie's writings and artwork. I was involved with theWoody Guthrie Archive. So everything to do with Woody Guthrie is dear to my heart and of course we have a notebook of his on display. This was a bit frustrating because we couldn't open the notebook. It's about seventy-five years old, and you just can't hold a notebook in one position at that age for as long as the exhibition is on. So what you see is the cover of the notebook. And hopefully that's enough inspiration for aspiring songwriters to know that included in this notebook are lyrics, song ideas, etc. dating back to the heyday of Woody Guthrie.

How does the GRAMMY Museum support emerging artists (who might one day win GAMMYS themselves)?

Our entire mission is truly based around the idea that we are an educational resource. Not only for fans, students or teachers, but above all for musicians and songwriters. Of course, the way you do that is by creating exhibitions like the one that's in New York right now. But also to offer public programs and initiatives, mentorships, workshops and all the things that allow aspiring songwriters to delve deep into their craft, and also to meet songwriters – successful songwriters – people who now write for a living earn songs. So, if you will, it's in our DNA to close the gap between successful songwriters and aspiring songwriters.

Can you share something about your path that led to your role as a curator?

I'm from New Jersey and back in the late 80's early 90's which I wrote forRolling StoneAmong other journals, I taught at Rutgers University and had just published an encyclopedia on itBlues.

At that time Jann Wenner fromRolling Stonewas the person behind the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame along withAhmet Ertegun, the great record company executive of Atlantic Records. And Jann posted five clerksRolling Stoneto be this new thing called Music Museum Curators, and I was one of them. And the reason is that I had just published a book on the blues, I knew the world of roots music thanks to my previous work as a journalist, that book too. So I jumped at the opportunity to do this. After the museum opened, two of the five, including myself, moved to Cleveland, Ohio and opened the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. That's when I left the board of trustees and became the first director of education and vice president of public programs in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame because I was the only one with teaching experience. So that's what I did until I was recruited by the LatePaul Allen formerly by Microsoft. to become its CEO at Experience Music Project in Seattle. So I left both the curatorial and the educational and became a museum director. Walking down the GRAMMY museum, I always retained my curatorial skills. And very often, this time too, he stepped in to curate. I love to curate. It's one thing I do best, and it's also the thing closest to me. So, during my seventeen years at the GRAMMY Museum, I was always busy curating.

The GRAMMY Museum claims to explore the "enduring power of music." As a journalist and curator of popular music, what gives you strength?

Interview: Bob Santelli on the Songwriters Hall of Fame Experience exhibit at GRAMMY Museum - The Gotham Center for New York City History (2)

One of America's greatest, if not the greatest, cultural representation for so long has been popular music. It persists simply because the unique qualities of American music, where there is this incredible coming together of traditional Anglo music with West African rhythms - something that no other country in the world had - not only allows this music to have great representation and reflection to be who we are but it isgut, It is great. The rest of the world is routinely catching up. So hip hop is the pop music of the world. Well, for almost fifty years it was our pop music, but now the world is embracing it. As Americans, we make great popular music and it's the envy of the world.

I've traveled all over the world, from Russia to Brazil to South Africa, and wherever I've been I've listened to American music - sometimes not interpreted very well, but I've heard it. Whenever I say who I am and that I work with the GRAMMYS, people pour in questions about Michael Jackson, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, whatever it is. So American music has this magnetic power that just doesn't go away.

What role does music play in your life?

music is playingtheRole, the most important role in my life outside of my family. There isn't a day that I don't listen to music, there isn't a day that I don't think about music and most days I write about music. So music was an identifiable part of who I am, how I see the world, what I believe in and how I feel about myself.

Ever since I saw thisBeatles 1964 in der Ed Sullivan Show, like so many people of my generation, the baby boomer generation, that moment changed everything. And so from that point on, I can clearly say that I had my eyes set on something related to American pop music.

That was a long time ago, and in those many, many years I've explored so many avenues and avenues of American popular music: a musician, a journalist, a museum educator, a museum curator, a university lecturer, a museum curator, a concert producer, an album producer, the ones Won GRAMMY for album production on Pete Seeger, worked at the Smithsonian on their music initiatives, brought concerts to the White House for President Obama. I had such a really, really good ride, and I got to experience the world in a very unique way, and I owe all of that to my ongoing, ongoing love affair with American music.

Are there lessons about music and history in the exhibition that are relevant to Americans today?

Interview: Bob Santelli on the Songwriters Hall of Fame Experience exhibit at GRAMMY Museum - The Gotham Center for New York City History (3)

The first thing I hope you'll learn is that songwriting, as an art, isn't easy to do. Being able to express yourself musically, with lyrics and melody, and being able to relate what you've come up with to a lot of people is really difficult. Everyone can say that he writes songs, but not everyone can say that he writes good songs. So we want you to know that this songwriting art is something you work hard towards; It's something that never ends. You learn about the craft, you learn about yourself, you learn how to express yourself in different ways. Any artist featured in the exhibition, from Smokey Robinson down, will tell you that this is something that takes not only skill but also time and patience. This is the first.

The second thing is that our country, our nation, our culture is really built on a musical experience. If you go all the way back in time, before we were even a country, there were songwriters selling something like broadsides. Old English drinking songs expressed the freedom and desire of the Thirteen Colonies to resist British imperialism and authority. So you have this kind of situation where it's always been a part of who we are. And by understanding songs we become more sophisticated listeners, and by becoming more sophisticated listeners we can better understand our culture and ultimately ourselves. So it's not just an art form to be entertained, but also an art form to learn from and be inspired by.

You can visit the Songwriters Hall of Fame Experience from June 15 to July 24, 2022 at the James Gallery, CUNY Graduate Center, 365 Fifth Avenue at 35th Street.

  • Curator:Bob Santelli(Founding Managing Director, GRAMMY Museum)

  • Co-Curator:Jason Emmons(Chief Curator and Vice President, Curatorial Affairs, GRAMMY Museum)

Bob Santelli is executive director of the Grammy Museum and former CEO/artistic director of the Experience Music Project. He is the author of nearly a dozen books and a contributor to magazines such as Rolling Stone.

Ryan Purcell is an editor atGotham.


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