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Frank Driggs dies at 81

Jazz historian had vast collection of related photos

Record producer, historian and archivist Frank Driggs died of natural causes in Manhattan on Tuesday, Sept. 20. He was 81.

Driggs became a jazz fan as a boy listening to latenight broadcasts in Vermont. He moved to Manhattan after graduating from Princeton in 1952.

Inspired to begin collecting jazz photos and memorabilia by the 1955 publication of Bill Grauer and Orrin Keepnews’ “A Pictorial History of Jazz,” Driggs amassed a collection estimated at between 78,000 and 100,000 pieces over the years.

Driggs’ archives supplied illustrations for dozens of major label jazz and blues reissues and TV shows like Ken Burns’ 2000 PBS series “Jazz.” The cream of his collection was placed on view in the 1982 book “Black Beauty, White Heat,” co-authored by Harris Lewine.

From the late ’50s through the mid-’70s, Driggs produced and annotated a variety of jazz and blues reissues for Columbia, where he worked for John Hammond, and other labels. He supervised collections by Duke Ellington, Fletcher Henderson, Art Tatum, Billie Holiday, Earl Hines, Leadbelly, Glenn Miller, Bukka White and many others.

His single most famous production is possibly the 1961 Columbia album “Robert Johnson: King of the Delta Blues Singers,” the first LP devoted to the legendary musician’s work. Johnson’s “The Complete Recordings,” co-produced by Driggs, won a Grammy as best historical album in 1991.

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