Carl Van Vechten Photographic Portrait Collection

Identifier: MSS.1061

  • Staff Only


The Carl Van Vechten Photographic Portrait Collection (1933-1955) consists of 33 black and white photographs of notable African American musicians and performers of the day. The subjects of the portraits cut across genres of opera, musical theatre, jazz, folk, and popular song. The collection includes Marian Anderson (sontralto), (Pearl Bailey (jazz and popular singer), Harry Belafonte (popular singer and actor), Margaret Bonds (classical composer), Carol Brice (contralto), Cab Calloway (singer and bandleader), Diahann Carroll) (actress, singer, model),Gloria Davy (soprano), Ella Fitzgerals (jazz singer), John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (jazz trumpeter and bandleader), Juanita Hall (musical theatre and film actress), W.C. Handy (composer and bandleader), Roland Hayes (tenor and composer), Chippie Hill (blues and vaudeville singer), Nora Holt (composer, singer, pianist), Claude Marchant (actor and choreographer), Mabel Mercer (popular singer), Leontyne Price (soprano), Paul Robeson (bass-baritone singer), Phillippa Schuyler (pianist and journalist), Ethel Waters (popular singer and actress), Camilla Williams (soprano), and Josh White (blues, gospel, folk singer and guitarist).


  • 1933 - 1963

Conditions Governing Access

This collection may be viewed only in the reading room of Special Collections in the Jean and Alexander Heard Library. Collections should be requested 2-3 days prior to visiting in order to facilitate easier access. For questions or to request a collection, contact

Biographical / Historical

Carl Van Vechten (1880-1964) was born in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where both his parents were well educated. His mother established the Cedar Rapids Public Library and was musically talented. At a young age, he developed a passion for music and theatre. Van Vechten left Iowa to continue his education at the University of Chicago, where he studied, among other topics, music, art, and opera. He also began writing for a student newspaper and after graduating became a columnist for the Chicago America. He occasionally contributed photographs for his columns. Later he moved to New York, where he worked as an assistant music critic. Shortly after that, his interest in opera led him to travel to Europe. He continued to write essays on music and literature, among other subjects. Between 1922 and 1930, he published several novels. Although he was married for most of his life, Van Vechten has relationships with men and credited for building connections between the African-American, white, and gay communities.

Despite expressing controversial attitudes about African Americans in his early writings, Van Vechten has been credited with a role in the Harlem Renaissance. However, it may be that it consisted of popularizing Harlem nightlife among white audiences. His novels were dismissed by scholars and writers from W.E.B. DuBois to Ralph Ellison and David Levering Lewis. By the early 1930s, he stopped writing and took up photography. He used his apartment in Manhattan as a studio and photographed many notable people. That location is now a historical landmark. (Source: Wikipedia)


in progress Linear Feet (2 LF, 1 Hollinger, 1 Oversize box )

Language of Materials


Physical Location

Offsite Storage, Special Collections and Archives

Related Materials

Vanderbilt also holds photos by Van Vechten in the Francis Robinson Collection (MSS.0367), and holds collections relaated to the career of John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie (MSS.1000) and recordings by Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, Chippie Hill, and others in the PHil Schaap Collection (MSS.1070).

In Progress
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Vanderbilt University Special Collections Repository

Special Collections Library
1101 19th Ave. S.
Nashville TN 37212 United States


About this Site

This site contains collection guides, or finding aids, to the archival collections held by Vanderbilt University Special Collections and University Archives, the History of Medicine Collection, and the Scarritt Bennett Center. Finding aids describe the context, arrangement, and structure of archival materials, allowing users to identify and request materials relevant to their research.

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