Pop culture legend Schurk keeps renowned collection spinning


Bowling Green has been the center of pop music history for nearly 50 years and “Wild” Bill Schurk is the
face that goes with those sounds. More to the point, Schurk has the brain that goes with the recordings,
and the brain is back.
Little Richard’s first 45 rpm record is at the Bill Schurk Sound Archives, and so is the Italian printing
of Art Tatum’s “Stardust Memories,” with the Woody Allen cover. These rare recordings are among the more
than 30,000 pieces at the Bowling Green State University library named in honor of Schurk, on his
retirement in 2016. However, he did much more to warrant getting his name on the building than making a
big donation — he started it.
The “it” under consideration is the very thought of archiving popular musical recordings as part of
historical preservation. Before Schurk, popular music recordings were considered disposable at BGSU. At
most, any specific college might have something called a recordings collection, but it existed in
individual departments and reflected only that department’s needs. For example, Anthropology might have
recorded field notes and Political Science might have recordings of political speeches.
“It was pioneering; collecting and promoting pop music and making it worthy of scholarly attention. Now
there are books, courses and conferences on these topics. Previously, it was uncharted territory,” said
Andrew Leach, senior director of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame library and archives.
After receiving a degree from BGSU in 1966, Schurk started the library’s music archive in 1967.
“My attitude was different from other librarians. Ray Brown, originally in Folklore, came over and asked
to have the library started. I knew my subject when I started here. The provost and I talked about jazz
records for my whole job interview,” Schurk said.
Before coming to BGSU, Schurk had read and written for “Abstracts of Folk Lore Studies.” He describes it
as being full of, “cool people, like musicians, doing poetry, prose, and drama, all pop culture.” That
was Schurk’s formal working world.
Collecting for the library came naturally. It may have all started with a pile of records he found in his
parent’s kitchen cupboard. He was in elementary school and playing the records evolved into a game his
friends called “DJ.” One kid would play a record and the others had to name the artist, album and song.
There was also a love of stamp collecting, with weekends spent searching the Cleveland arcades that
housed the various postage stamp dealer stalls. Schurk’s legendary ability to find rare pieces could be
based on a combination of those two sources.
Some might say that it was the force of his personality that made the archive happen. Having “Wild”
informally added to your name doesn’t happen accidentally. It’s rare to see an academic in jeans and a
rock band T-shirt doing the work of a librarian. BGSU Pop Culture Professor Matthew Donahue said, “Bill
is a doer. When he does it, he does it big time. With the gift pick-ups, we drove across the country and
into Canada to move thousands of records.”
Long before the naming of the building, Schurk was almost synonymous with the music archive. Stories have
been written in the Wall Street Journal, newspapers, websites and at the Smithsonian.
“Bill and I met up when I was working at Boogie records. Bill came in hunting for records for the
archive. I was developing my undergrad major in Cultural Studies. … I’d read an article in Rolling
Stone about the archive and here was the guy doing it. Bill is such a character. He changed my life.
Bill and Ray Brown, if it wasn’t for them, the pop culture library, the music archives, the department,
they wouldn’t exist,” Donahue said.   
Schurk’s advice for collectors is to become a picker. Searching for the next amazing thing has been his
life. While there were many gift pick-ups, like the entire record shop that was gifted to the
university, many pieces were found in thrift shops, bargain bins, websites, swap meets and even piles
left as trash on the side of the road. WFOB, out of Fostoria, gave the university the entire contents of
“There were these windowed buildings, without the windows. There were recordings of advertisements and
16-inch discs covered in bird crap. I took them all,” Schurk said. “There are so many ways I’ve acquired
things. We’re holding back on taking huge batches of records. We don’t pick them up any longer. Some
filled flatbeds. I know in a flash which ones we need now. There might be only 10 in a big load.”
Schurk has worked with a number of music industry people, for example, Art Rupe who made a historically
significant donation that included pieces from his Specialty Records label, famous for Sam Cooke, Little
Richard and John Lee Hooker. But pop culture encompasses more than just jazz and rock ’n’ roll. Steve
Allen, Ray Bradbury and Mel Blanc have also worked with the library.
“I was always a contact for other donors and the size of the collection encouraged others to add to the
collection,” Schurk said.
In a strange way, the library has become even more complete this month, if only for short periods. Bill
Schurk himself can now be found at the Bill Schurk Archives.
“There are special projects to do. I can’t lose touch.”

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