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Leonard Bernstein Centennial: My Father, Leonard Bernstein

To mark the centennial of Leonard Bernstein’s birth—he was born on August 25, 1918—we’re republishing a column by his daughter Jamie Bernstein from the May–June issue of LCM, the Library of Congress Magazine, in which she reflects on her famous dad’s legacy and on the Leonard Bernstein Collection at the Library of Congress. Issues of LCM are available online.

Leonard and Jamie Bernstein together in 1957.

After our father, Leonard Bernstein, died in 1990, my brother, sister and I realized we had a vast archive to contend with. Where would it reside? We chose the Library of Congress, because in those days, it was the institution most advanced and enlightened about digitization, thereby making their resources available to the public online.

It’s beyond gratifying to see that not only musicians and scholars can access these materials but also students of all ages—and, in fact, virtually anyone on the planet with an internet connection. This astonishing availability is in harmonious alignment with our own hopes for the Bernstein at 100 celebrations; my siblings and I see the centennial as our unique (and unrepeatable!) opportunity to remind Bernstein enthusiasts worldwide of his multifarious legacy—and, even more significantly, to introduce him to younger generations who might not know very much about him.

Over the past two years, I’ve been working on a memoir, “Famous Father Girl,” which comes out in June from HarperCollins. My research steered me to the Library of Congress many times. Not only did the online finding aid help me go on my various treasure hunts, but Mark Horowitz of the Music Division also was brilliant at helping me navigate the archive to find the items I was looking for.

Sometimes he even found me goodies I wasn’t looking for: On one occasion, he unearthed a manuscript of a silly song my father invented for my brother and me when we were very young. I had no idea that song existed anywhere but in my own memory. Seeing that manuscript gave me a profound thrill; it felt like being hurled backward in a time machine.

The word I so often find myself using to describe my father is not a word he knew in his lifetime: “broadband.” The Bernstein collection has this same broadband quality. The contents illustrate a career that traveled across multiple worlds. A partial list of those worlds includes musical theater, symphony orchestras, educational institutions, television and radio, audio and video recordings and extensive participation in humanitarian and civil rights movements. In fact, exploring the multifaceted universe of Leonard Bernstein is a fascinating means of exploring the 20th century itself.

Plus, I found all the family holiday cards! The Leonard Bernstein archive has certainly been an ideal playground for this Famous Father Girl.

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