Collecting New York's Music Stories

Tuesday, January 7, 2020 by Leslie Richin

The Museum of the City of New York has been collecting and telling New York's stories since 1923. We saw things "Through a Different Lens" with photographs by Stanley Kubrick, went "Cycling in the City" to discover New York’s rich bicycling heritage, looked back at fifty years of public art in the city, featured striking before-and-after images of Hurricane Sandy's impact on the New York region with Rising Waters, and countless other exhibitions have shared stories of the world’s most influential metropolis.

Now, a new exhibition, Collecting New York's Stories: Stuyvesant to Sid Vicious, features highlights drawn from hundreds of additions to the Museum’s permanent collection over the past three years, including photographs which will intrigue anyone who appreciates music legends who have made their mark on the city throughout the years.

In December 1957, CBS aired "The Sound of Jazz," one of the first programs featuring jazz to air on American network television. Milt Hinton (1910-2000), a jazz bassist and photographer, shot fellow jazz greats Billie Holiday (1915-1959) and Count Basie (1904-1984) rehearsing in New York City for the live show. Columbia Records released an album comprised of various artists who performed on the program and a few who did not.

Over 40 years have passed since Sex Pistols bassist Sid Vicious (born: John Simon Ritchie) died unexpectedly in February 1979 while awaiting trial for the murder of his girlfriend Nancy Spungen. And while we may never know what actually happened on October 12, 1978, at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, where Spungen’s body was found, we do know that Vicious was arrested, charged with her murder, pled not guilty, and died of a heroin overdose at 21. That and The Sex Pistols are credited with bringing punk music to a more mainstream international audience.

Photographer Allan Tannenbaum stated on Instagram“I took this photo after photographing the removal of her [Nancy Spungen’s] body from the Chelsea Hotel earlier in the day. The Sex Pistols bass player was perpwalked from the NYPD 17th precinct in midtown.”

Black and white photograph of Sid Vicious. A man to his left grabs his arm and leads him away.
Allan Tannenbaum. Sid Vicious Under Arrest for the Murder of Girlfriend Nancy Spungen, New York, 1978. Collection of the Museum of the City of New York. 2019.6.4

Blondie got their start playing gigs at legendary East Village music venue CBGB in 1975, released their eponymous debut studio album in 1976, and landed their first Hot 100 No. 1 hit on the Billboard charts in 1979 with "Heart of Glass," followed by “Call Me” in 1980 and “The Tide Is High” and “Rapture” in 1981. We can assume that singer Debbie Harry and guitarist Chris Stein were “on top of the world” when they were photographed by Allan Tannenbaum on their rooftop in 1980. Tannenbaum, known for capturing New York’s music scene in the ‘70s, has shot everyone from The Ramones to Patti Smith, in addition to the next photograph highlighted in the exhibition of John Lennon and Yoko Ono.

Black and White photograph of a man and woman standing on a roof, facing the camera. The woman has her arms crossed, the man holds a hand up to his temple.
Allan Tannenbaum, Deborah Harry and Chris Stein of Blondie on their Roof, New York, 1980. Collection of the Museum of the City of New York. 2019.5.4

This photograph of John and Yoko standing in front of The Dakota in 1980 – where only days later the Beatle was fatally shot – will forever remain a poignant moment in time, depicting peace and love. Lennon and Ono gave us what is arguably the most famous anthem for peace ever recorded; the song "Imagine," which earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and an induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.

Black and white photo of Yoko Ono, left, and John Lennon, right in front of the Dakota apartment building.
Allan Tannenbaum, John Lennon and Yoko Ono in front of the Dakota, New York, 1980. Collection of the Museum of the City of New York. 2019.5.2

In 2005, after 30 years in business, New York City said goodbye to the beloved Footlight Records located at 113 East 12th Street in the East Village. Around the time the shop opened in 1978, photographer Robert Herman began shooting on the streets of New York. Selections of his work can be found in the Museum’s permanent collections, and shop owner Bruce Yeko keeps the spirit of the shop alive online.

Color photograph of a girl in a red shirt sifting through records in a music store.
Robert Herman, Footlight Records, East Village, New York, 1980 (printed later). Collection of the Museum of the City of New York. 2017.52.1

Photographer Janette Beckman has shot everyone from The B-52s to The Beastie Boys and was previously featured in the Museums' 2015 exhibition, Hip-Hop Revolution, which also included a photograph of Salt-N-Pepa. In 1984 she met up with Hip Hop group RUN DMC, who hold several impressive records under their belt, including the first rap act to have a video played on MTV and the only rap group to perform at Live Aid in 1985. Their hit collaboration with Aerosmith, "Walk This Way," was also the first rap single to land in the Top 10 on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart, and countless journalists have analyzed the song's game-changing impact on the industry (and the world).

Black and white photograph featuring Run DMC posing in front of a car on a residential street.
Janette Beckman, RUN DMC with Posse, Hollis, Queens, 1984 (printed later). Collection of the Museum of the City of New York. 2016.5.12

Collecting New York's Stories: Stuyvesant to Sid Vicious is now on view through December 31, 2020.

By Leslie Richin, Digital Community Manager

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