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Charles Keil papers

 Collection — Multiple Containers
Identifier: 16-8F-1064

Scope and Contents

This collection documents the academic and community work of Charles Keil for the duration of his time as a professor at the University at Buffalo. This includes information on courses, individual students, the Department of American Studies, publications, and community activism.

Keil's work as a professor and activist is documented in his correspondence, articles, interviews and research. Subjects covered include campus unrest, world politics (primarily African politics), world music, human rights, and community outreach.

III. records some of the Department of American Studies' activity through the notes and records Keil kept during his time there. The struggle for approval of a Ph.D. program and bureaucratic structuring and restructuring of the university, including the Tolstoy College experiment, are documented here.


  • 1965-1998


Language of Materials

Collection material in English.

Terms of Access

Charles Keil Papers, 1965-1998 (bulk 1970-1990) are open for research.


Copyright of papers in the collection may be held by their authors, or the authors' heirs or assigns. Researchers must obtain the written permission of the holder(s) of copyright and the University Archives before publishing quotations from materials in the collection. Most papers may be copied in accordance with the library's usual procedures unless otherwise specified.

Biographical Note

Ethnomusicologist Charles Keil was born August 12, 1939 in Norwalk, CT. He earned his undergraduate degree in American Studies from Yale University in 1961, and went on to the University of Chicago to earn his MA (1964) and PhD (1979), both in Anthropology. His MA thesis, Urban Blues, won the Roy D. Albert Prize, University of Chicago, for best Master's Thesis, 1963-1964. Village Voice music critic Robert Christgau comments on Keil's first publication:

It would be difficult to overstate how significant Urban Blues was for rock criticism and popular music studies, neither more than a gleam in a nerd's eye when he wrote it... for Keil to embark upon a serious study of currently popular entertainers who earned good livings with electric guitars was a radical departure that heartened a generation of like-minded listeners back when it still took chutzpah to admire James Joyce and James Brown in the same lifetime, much less the same sentence.*

His dissertation, Tiv Song, was the product of two years of fieldwork in Nigeria from 1965 to 1967, just before the outburst of the Biafra-Nigerian war. It was a study of song culture among the Tiv population, who live in nearly classless communities. The book was a co-winner of the Chicago Folklore Prize in 1980.

His interest in African culture and politics led him to become president of the Buffalo chapter of the American Committee to Keep Biafra Alive (1968-1970). Throughout his life, he has always kept apprised of political issues in Africa.

Though he published many papers during the 1980's, Keil did not publish a full length book again until Polka Happiness (1992), a collaboration with his wife, Angeliki Keil and photographer Richard Blau. He then published My Music (1993), Music Grooves (1994), Bright Balkan Morning: Romani Lives and the Power of Music in Greek Macedonia (2002), and Born to Groove (2006). Other than his first two publications, all of these titles were collaborations with other researchers and writers.

Keil spent thirty years as an American Studies (AMS) professor at the University at Buffalo before he retired in 2000. Playing an integral role in establishing the PhD program in AMS, he helped to make the department one of the most prestigious in the country. He taught seventeen different classes, many of which were cross-listed in the Anthropology and Music departments. He was director of Graduate Studies (1970-1977), acting chair of the Department of American Studies (1978-1979 and 1992), and he was director of Undergraduate Studies (1986-1989). He also spent summer sessions as a visiting lecturer at Trent University (1982-1983).

Active and outspoken in the University at Buffalo community, Keil was one of the 45 faculty members to be arrested during the 1970 protest against police presence on campus. He and colleague Michael Frisch (aka Vizzy Goth) co-wrote a song, "Hayes Hall Blues," about the incident in order to raise legal defense funds. [45 rpm phonorecord in University Archives collection # 3/5/33, Campus Unrest at the State University of New York at Buffalo Records]

A founding member of Buffalo's famous Afro-Latin dance band "Outer Circle Orchestra," Keil also spent time playing with the "12/8 Path Band" and "Biocentrics." Though a dedicated performer, his true passion is fostering musical expression in young people.

Frustrated with the state of public education, he helped to co-found the Central Community School in 1970. He and Angelika wanted their two children to attend a school that was committed to creative thinking and expression.

In 1990, Keil founded Musicians United for Superior Education, Inc.(M.U.S.E.). M.U.S.E. is a unique not-for-profit organization of artists and educators dedicated to increasing children's access to culturally diverse performing-arts instruction. "Activity and participation in a music-dance tradition prepares children for a life well-lived at many deep and mostly unconscious levels-how to be in time, in tune, in graceful synchrony with other people, how to be an energetic presence and shining individual in tight relationships with many others simultaneously," he says. "We have to reinvent the traditions before they're completely gone."

Currently in 2006 (at the writing of this Biographical Note), Charles Keil is collaborating on two books, Polka Theory: Perspectives on the Will to Party; and The Rhythm Section.


6.46 Linear Feet (15 manuscript boxes, 1 half manuscript box)


Collection of materials from Charles Keil, ethnomusicologist and professor of American Studies. Includes his teachings, publications, political activism, resource material, and his work in the University at Buffalo American Studies, Music, and Anthropology departments.


The collection is arranged into five series and subseries: Courses, Students, Department of American Studies, Publications and research, and Activism and outreach. Records are in chronological and/or alphabetical order when possible.

Acquisition Information

Records were donated by Charles Keil in 2000.

Accruals and Additions

No further accruals are expected to this collection.

Separated Materials

American Studies department records that were not directly related to Charles Keil or his work were moved to the Department of American Studies records.


  • Christgau, R. "Up from Darien." Village Voice, New York City, 1998. Available online at: /


  • Urban Blues, University of Chicago Press, 1966, revised edition, 1992.
  • Tiv Song, University of Chicago Press,1979.
  • (Written with Angeliki Keil and Richard Blau) Polka Happiness, Temple University Press, 1992.
  • (Editor with Sue Crafts and Dan Cavicchi) My Music, Wesleyan University Press, 1993.
  • (Written with Steve Feld) Music Grooves: Essays and Dialogues, University of Chicago Press, 1994.
  • Bright Balkan Morning: Romani Lives and the Power of Music in Greek Macedonia, Wesleyan University Press (Middletown, CT), 2002.

Processing Information

Processed by Erin Verhoef, June 2006.

Finding Aid for the Charles Keil papers
Finding aid prepared by Erin Verhoef.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Language of description note

Repository Details

Part of the University Archives Repository

420 Capen Hall
Buffalo New York 14260-1674 US
716-645-3714 (Fax)