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Emory celebrates 50 years of ‘The Wiz’ with Rose Library collection opening

Members of the Emory community gathered Nov. 16 to view the personal collection of Geoffrey Holder, director and costume designer of the original Broadway production of “The Wiz,” and his wife Carmen de Lavallade, acclaimed actress and choreographer. The items were acquired by Emory’s Stuart A. Rose Manuscript, Archives and Rare Book Library in 2018.

The event honored nearly 50 years of the legendary musical theater production, which held its first performance in 1974. The celebration coincided with the pre-Broadway revival tour of “The Wiz,” which ran at Atlanta’s Fox Theatre Nov. 14-19.

“We wanted this event to coincide with the performance coming here to the Fox, and highlight some of the collection,” said Anicka Austin, a collections processing archivist who joined the Rose Library three years ago to organize the Holder-de Lavallade papers.

The event emerged from a developing partnership forged between the Rose Library and Emory’s Pathways Center, encouraging opportunities for Emory students to engage with the archive and conduct research within the arts and humanities.

Perhaps the best embodiment of this goal is the leader of the Pathways Center himself, Branden Grimmett. While working at Emory as the vice provost for career and professional development, he also serves as the co-producer of the current revival of “The Wiz.”

“As a classically trained pianist and organist who had a professional career in music and theater prior to my career in higher education, I am thrilled that my role at Emory allows for such a serendipitous occasion,” said Grimmett.

“The Pathways Center is a resource for all students, and I am particularly interested in helping students in the arts, humanities and social sciences utilize their Emory education to achieve their full potential,” he added.

Grimmett highlighted the plentiful collections residing alongside the Holder-de Lavallade papers in the Rose Library. He also expressed his hope that the Emory community continues to dive deeper into the papers.

“‘The Wiz,’ Geoffrey Holder and all of us here today join this incredible canon,” said Grimmett. “My sincere hope is that Emory faculty, staff, students, alumni and scholars will continue to build on today’s energy and enthusiasm.”

Jennifer Gunter King, director of the Rose Library, expressed appreciation for Grimmett’s passion for building pathways to the Rose Library, given the vastness of the collections.

“The Rose Library holds an incredible archive of African American history and culture,” said King. “These papers are a gateway to learning about the lives and the work of many influential and inspiring artists, thinkers, writers and activists.” 

A generations-long legacy

Valeda Dent, vice provost of libraries and museum at Emory, was among the crowd of theatergoers in 1975, seeing the original Broadway production of “The Wiz” as a young girl with her parents. Just before the event at Rose Library, she saw the revival at the Fox Theatre and noted the line around the block to get in the door.

“There’s still so much interest in ‘The Wiz,’” said Dent. “I don’t think we recognized the impact that it had culturally. There’s a lot of people in my age category that saw the original, and here we are 50 years later.”

She’s right — generations later, the cultural impact of “The Wiz” continues to be felt. Noah Lian, a third-year student majoring in English and politics, philosophy and law, said he enjoys the arts scene around Emory and takes any opportunity to get involved in musical theatre. Though he’s never seen “The Wiz,” he’s always heard about its importance.

“I’ve heard glowing reviews of the show, especially from my parents telling me about it when I was younger,” said Lian. “Having the chance to actually look at anything original from Broadway is such an exciting thing.”

Aldyn Goheen, Lian’s classmate and a third-year student majoring in film and media, agreed.

“It’s so neat to have the opportunity to see these artifacts in Atlanta,” said Goheen. “I love seeing original manuscripts and original artifacts. It takes me back and makes me realize, ‘This is great today, but the impact is just so much more than if it were just a nice musical.’”

Both Lian and Goheen made sure their hands were clean before poring over original scripts with Holder’s directorial notes, his original costume sketches, correspondence with young audience members and other artifacts from the collection on display in the exhibit room.

Speaking about the items she curated from the Holder-de Lavallade collection for the celebration, Austin encouraged the audience to go beyond “The Wiz” and take a deeper look into the lives of Holder and de Lavallade.

“Do this not just to witness the history and culture that framed them, but also to be inspired by their boundless, visionary thought,” said Austin.

Noah Lian and Aldyn Goheen flip through the pages of one of the original scripts for “The Wiz,” with Geoffrey Holder’s notes on it, at the Rose Library celebration.

A collection for all

While the celebration of “The Wiz” performance and the Holder-de Lavallade collection lasted only a few hours, King shared that the archive is open to the entire Emory community Monday-Friday.

“It’s important to realize that Emory University has a robust archive reflecting some of the most creative and innovative parts of American history,” she said. “These resources are available for historical research and inspiration for artistic work. They are also available for deepening our knowledge of humanity.”

To visit the Holder-de Lavallade collection, and the many others held by the Rose Library, visit their website to schedule a visit or learn more about archival collections on display in exhibitions.

Photos by Bita Honarvar.

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