Guide to the Ernie Smith Jazz Film Collection

Collection ID:
Basie, Count, 1904-
Smith, Ernie
Webster, Ben
Armstrong, Louis, 1901-1971
Ellington, Duke, 1899-1974
Fitzgerald, Ella, 1917-1996
Goodman, Benny (Benjamin David), 1909-1986
Jamal, Ahmad, 1930-
Robinson, Bill, 1878-1949
Davis, Miles
Physical Description:
30 Cubic feet
352 film reels
16 mm
More than 300 reels of 16mm black and white and color film, silent and sound, fiction and documentary motion picture film documenting jazz and related musical performances, social and popular dance styles and performances, jazz musicians, performance locales, and documentation of African-American popular culture. A list of featured performers in the collection is shown below. The films are frequently compilations produced by Smith for lectures.

Scope and Contents
Scope and Contents
The collection consists of 352 reels of 16mm motion picture film. Most of the film is 16mm black and white and sound (composite optical track print), although a few titles are silent or in color. The collection is comprised of compilation reels created by Ernie Smith to accompany his lectures, topical compilation reels created by Ernie Smith, compilation reels created by the Archives Center, and single title reels. The Archives Center produced master and reference video copies using a wet-gate telecine film-to-tape transfer system. Titles were often combined to allow for increased ease of handling, storage, and duplication.
The collection is strongest in the areas of jazz dance styles including Lindy Hop and tap, overviews of jazz musical performers and styles; specific jazz musicians and performers including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Woody Herman, Artie Shaw, Bob Crosby, Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, Jack Teagarden as well as a wide range of female vocalists; and documentation of the New York jazz and club scene. The collection includes feature films and excerpts from feature films, Soundies and other film shorts, television kinescopes, and documentary films.

The collection is arranged into one series and is not arranged in accordance with standard archival procedures. The breadth of the collection and the existence of so many multiple topic and/or performer compilation reels made it impossible to impose traditional archival series order. Therefore, each reel is described at the item level in the container list.

Ernest (Ernie) Smith began collecting jazz and jazz dance films during the mid-1950s. An Art Director for a New York advertising agency, Smith had a long-standing interest in jazz and jazz dance that began during his youth in Pittsburgh, Pa. Early on, Smith discovered that jazz music was best appreciated while dancing. He became an accomplished Lindy Hopper, frequenting both white and African American ballrooms.
His job at the advertising agency supported Smith's two passions - painting and jazz dance and music. Smith was also a film enthusiast so, in 1954, after taking a jazz class at the New School taught by Marshall Stearns, a leading jazz scholar, he began collecting examples of jazz and jazz dance on film. In the process of creating his film collection, Smith became one of the leading authorities on jazz and jazz dance films. He collaborated with Stearns on the 1964 book
Jazz Dance
, compiling the book's jazz dance film listing. He also wrote the extensive entry on jazz film for the 1988 edition of
New Grove Dictionary of Jazz
Smith built his film collection by identifying films of potential interest and acquiring them through trade and purchase. He created lecture reels on specific topics -- the history of jazz, social dance, tap dance, Duke Ellington, Lindy Hop -- and presented lecture/screenings nationally and internationally. He also provided footage for numerous documentaries and maintained active relationships with filmmakers, other film collectors, jazz scholars, the swing dance community, and musicians.
Ernie Smith donated his film collection to the Archives Center in 1993. He continues to lecture and participate in swing dance activities, but he devotes the majority of his time to painting and related artistic pursuits.

Ben Pubols, Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., and Wendy Shay
America's Jazz Heritage: A Partnership of the The Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund and the Smithsonian Institution provided the funding to produce many of the video master and reference copies.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The Archives Center acquired the collection from Ernie Smith in 1993.
Processing Information
Ben Pubols (volunteer), Franklin A. Robinson, Jr., archivist, and Wendy Shay, afilm archivist, February 2001.

Using the Collection
Conditions Governing Use
Collection items available for reproduction, but the Archives Center makes no guarantees concerning copyright restrictions. Other intellectual property rights may apply. Archives Center cost-recovery and use fees may apply when requesting reproductions.
Conditions Governing Access
Collection is open for research but the films are stored off-site and special arrangements must be made to work with it. Contact the Archives Center for information at or 202-633-3270.
Preferred Citation
Ernie Smith Jazz Film Collection, Archives Center, National Museum of American History.

More Information

Keywords table of terms and types.
Keyword Terms Keyword Types
Tap dancing -- 1930-1970 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Motion pictures and music -- 1930-1970 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Dancing in motion pictures, television, etc. -- 1930-1970 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Television and music -- 1930-1970 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jazz -- 20th century -- United States Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jazz musicians -- 1930-1970 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Harlem (New York, N.Y.) -- 20th century Geographic Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Jazz dance -- 1930-1970 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
African Americans in the performing arts -- 1930-1970 Topical Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Motion pictures (visual works) -- 20th century Genre Form Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid
Apollo Theatre (New York, N.Y.) Corporate Name Search Smithsonian Collections Search ArchiveGrid

Repository Contact
Archives Center, National Museum of American History
P.O. Box 37012
Suite 1100, MRC 601
Washington, D.C. 20013-7012