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Lee Erwin Papers

Identifier: AOIAL-ATOC-RG0003
The collection includes materials dated from approximately 1943-1981.  The bulk of the collection is dated from 1949-1959 and is mostly comprised of original handwritten and published arrangements, as well as song lyrics created by Lee Erwin. Arrangements Lee Erwin co-authored to accompany Norman Brooks's songs and photocopies of arrangements by other composers are also included in this collection.

Printed materials include promotional fliers, press releases, and articles written about Erwin.  Program guides and calendars from the Carnegie Music Hall and Bleecker Street Theatre are other printed materials in the collection and are dated from 1976-1981.  Finally, there are magazine clippings containing poetry by various authors that were published from approximately 1940-1942.

In addition to musical arrangements and printed materials, there are also manuscripts written by Lee Erwin incuding "Classic Films of the Twenties with Live Organ Accompaniment," song lyrics, and notes.  A few manscripts written by other authors are housed within the collection as well.  The remainder of the collection is comprised of some correspondence, agreements between Erwin and organ companies, and an autographed portrait of Ann Perry.  The collection is primarily reflective of Erwin's career as a professional organist and composer, but does not contain much material relevant to his personal life.


  • circa 1940-1981
  • Majority of material found in 1949-1959

Language of Materials


Conditions Governing Access:

The collection is open for research use.

Conditions Governing Use:

Any use of archival materials outside of the scope of education and/or research must be approved by the AOIAL staff and may be subject to copyright law.


3.50 cubic feet

Administrative History:

Lee Erwin was a prolific organist who composed scores for more than seventy silent films and played a vital role in reviving silent films during the 1970's.  He was born on July 15, 1908 in Huntsville, Alabama.  His mother was a church organist and the main musical influence in Erwin's life.  By the time he entered the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music, he was already an accomplished theatre organist, learning the craft by subbing for local organists in Huntsville while in high school.  While at the conservatory, he took up a position at a local theatre where he worked seven nights a week for $20.00, "which more than paid the rent," according to Erwin.

In 1930, Erwin moved to Paris to study harmony and composition with Nadia Boulanger and organ with Andre Marchal.  While in Paris, he took great interest in the music of Olivier Messiaen, often attending mass at Église de la Sainte-Trinité to hear the master at work.  Upon his return to Cincinnati, he secured a job as a radio musician at WLW, where he accompanied various radio dramas and was featured in a late night program of pop tunes called "Moon River", often accompanying dramatic romantic poetry.  After eleven years at WLW, Erwin joined the staff of the CBS radio and television network in New York where he appeared both in radio and on camera, most notably as "Moneybags Erwin" on the Arthur Godfrey show.  In the mid 1960's, CBS decided to move away from live music, forcing Erwin to pursue new paths.

In 1967, the American Theatre Organ Society commissioned Erwin to compose a score for Erich Von Stroheim's 1929 silent classic "Queen Kelly" starring Gloria Swanson.  After this successful project, dozens of requests started coming his way, including an entire collection of Buster Keaton films.  In the 1970's, Erwin made several recordings for Angel Records while some of his soundtracks were recorded by the BBC for theatrical and home video releases.  Erwin continued performing into his 90th year.  On September 21, 2000, at the age of 92, Lee Erwin died at his home in Greenwich Village.

Arrangement of Materials:

The collection is arranged alphabetically and then chronologically by folder title, with exceptions made for materials that require separate housing (oversized, ephemera, etc.).

Physical Location

1 oversize box: AOIAL Unit 001 Shelf 004; 4 boxes: AOIAL Unit 001 Shelf 005; 2 boxes: AOIAL Unit 001 Shelf 006

Custodial History:

Collection was formally housed in the the American Theatre Organ Society's Archive.

Acquisition Information:


Separated Materials:

Oversized printed materials that were orginally found in the Lee Erwin Papers were separated from the collection and stored in the flat file.

Processing Information:

The collection orginally contained several copies of a single printed document.  Two copies of each document were included in the collection, but the rest were weeded from the collection.
Guide to the Lee Erwin Papers AOIAL.ATOC.RG0003
Finding Aid Authors: Michelle Merriman and Andrew Schaeffer.
Language of description
The collection description/finding aid is written in English

Repository Details

Part of the The American Organ Institute Archives and Library Repository

2101 W. Tecumseh Rd
Suite C
Norman Oklahoma 73069 United States