Welcome to The International Association for the Study of Popular Music UK and Ireland Branch

David Sanjek (1952-2011)

Posted: November 29th, 2011 | Filed under: Remembrances | No Comments »

This piece on the life and work of David Sanjek was provided to the website by Mark Duffett.

Dave Sanjek

In his lifetime, Professor David Sanjek established himself as a leading international scholar in the burgeoning field of Anglo-American popular music studies. He contributed to the academic discussion of a wide range of topics, including popular music history, copyright law, genre cinema, and popular culture. David’s infectious warmth, compassionate outlook, strategic ability to foster community, scholarly excellence, and experience in the music industry did much to develop the US branch of IASPM. His friend Reebee Garafalo noted that he was the person who “incorporated the US chapter as a tax exempt, non-profit.” On the IASPM-US memorial site, Professor Garafalo added, “Such bureaucratic actions, of course, only begin to scratch the surface of the love and commitment he felt toward IASPM and its members.” David’s final four years, were, however, spent as a global academic based at the University of Salford in England; his untimely passing left a significant legacy on both sides of the Atlantic.

Professor Sanjek died of heart failure at JFK airport in November 2011, on his way to present the case for the inclusion of a funk record by Parliament in America’s National Recordings Registry. Librarian of Congress, James Billington wrote to the family, “I will especially remember David for his advocacy of historically and culturally significant recordings by musicians of the past who were not fairly rewarded by wealth or recognition in their day.”

Sanjek’s career hit its stride when he became Director of Archives at Broadcast Music Incorporated in 1991. He retained the post until he transferred to a full professorship in popular music at the University of Salford. During and after his years at BMI, David was widely considered a world expert in popular music. Not only was he instrumental in developing IASPM-US, as Secretary, Vice-President and President; he was also recruited in advisory roles for a number of organizations, including The Library of Congress, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, Blues Foundation, Centre for Black Music Research, Experience Music Project Museum, National Endowment for the Humanities, and National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences. He also served as co-chair of the Blues Hall of Fame in Memphis, in 1998 receiving the Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Award for Historic Preservation.

David Sanjek was born in September 1952. He received a first degree in English and Philosophy from Connecticut College, and also attained an MA and PhD in American Literature from Washington University in St Louis (his thesis was on the novelist William Dean Howells). In the summers of his early adult years, he was a popular youth leader at the Farm & Wilderness summer camps in Vermont. He also held lecturing positions at New York University, Hunter College, Fordham University and the New School for Social Research. His father, Russell Sanjek was a long-time executive at BMI. Russell wrote a multi-volume history of the American Music business. The first book beganwith Henry VIII, and the birth of the concept of royalties for music creators. After Russell passed away in 1986, David updated the books as American Popular Music in the Twentieth Century (1991), a condensation of Volume III covering from 1900 to 1984, and Pennies From Heaven (1996), a paperback reprint of Volume III in its entirety by Da Capo Press.

David Sanjek’s encyclopedic knowledge of popular culture was matched by his ability to deliver insightful cultural commentary. He published widely on rock and American vernacular music, writing chapters in numerous books, plus articles for many of the major popular music studies journals, as well as pieces for a number of film studies journals, and for online publication such as Pop Matters. He guest-edited Popular Music and Society, and organized a number of popular conference events.

Professor Sanjek’s work was unusual in simultaneously maintaining a concern for historical detail, industry issues, disciplinary concerns, personal ethics and social justice. He wrote on topics from female rockabilly to Northern Soul with eloquence and authority. In the Quarterly Review of Film and Video, Wheeler Winston-Dixon described David as “a remarkable film scholar and musicologist… his piece on William Castle’s film Homicidal (1961)… is perhaps the most perceptive reading of that film to date.”

In 2007 Doctor Sanjek took up the post of Professor of Popular Music and Director of the Music Research Centre at the University of Salford’s School of Media, Music and Performance. Writing on the IASPM-US website, his Salford colleague George McKay explained, “He came to the UK and made it, and Salford, a more interesting place to be. What generosity of spirit, what curiosity and love of music and culture.” During David’s final four years, he established himself as an important figure in UK popular music studies, and consistently participated in IASPM events on both sides of the Atlantic.

Professor Sanjek’s posthumous monograph, Stories We Could Tell, was released by Routledge in 2018. It examines the ethical consequences of pursuing various approaches to popular music history.

David treated his subject as a personal vocation. His dedication was reflected by the thousands of books he collected, which were donated as a legacy collection to the University of Salford. In a piece celebrating David’s time at Salford, his colleague Tim Wise recalled him writing an “impassioned response to the organizers [of one conference] and protesting against their prejudice towards younger colleagues.” The “colleague” in question who inspired Sanjek’s letter was an ambitious undergraduate. To celebrate David’s inclusive approach, IASPM-US offers a David Sanjek Memorial Graduate Student paper prize every year.

David Sanjek is survived by two brothers. Now in retirement, Roger Sanjek was Professor of Anthropology at Queens College, City University of New York. Meanwhile, Rick Sanjek, a Nashville-based music entrepreneur, is continuing the family tradition by writing a book for Oxford University Press about recent developments in the music industry.

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