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Long-Time VOA Radio Host’s Music Collection Finds New Home

Leo Sarkisian traveled to every country in Africa throughout his career at VOA.
Leo Sarkisian traveled to every country in Africa throughout his career at VOA.

VOA broadcaster Leo Sarkisian retired in 2012 after more than 50 years, but his name still lives on at VOA headquarters in Washington, where a studio is dedicated in honor of the man known as VOA’s “Music Man for Africa.”

During his years at VOA, Leo travelled to every country in Africa, which constituted 53 countries at that time, and compiled a large collection of music: at least 10,000 audio reel and cassette tapes of original field recordings and radio station collections, including rare recordings of many legendary musicians. For years Leo’s collection was housed within VOA, but it now has another home.

In 2010, the University of Michigan library came to an agreement with the Voice of America to digitize 360 of Leo’s field recordings. But under a new agreement, the University of Michigan library will now receive, on long-term loan from VOA, the entire collection. It’s a win for VOA, which will continue to have access to everything in the collection, and for the University of Michigan.

Paul Conway, associate professor at the University of Michigan School of Information, said, “The Sarkisian collection will be a great resource for students and faculty across the University of Michigan.” According to the professor, the university will make use of the Sarkisian collection in courses on archival processing and the preservation of sound recordings, and it will also provide opportunities for students “to work directly with unique materials.” Sarkisian works will also be one of three historical music collections featured on a new online streaming site that "helps break the barriers to hearing the past."

Not only is Leo the Music Man for Africa, he is also a talented artist. His portraits of people he met during his travels in Africa – he and his recording equipment were in every country on the continent –were recently on display at a gallery near Washington, D.C.