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John Donald Robb Papers

Identifier: MSS-497-BC

Scope and Content

The multi-faceted Robb Collection is arranged in six series: Personal and Professional Papers; Folk Music; Compositions of John Donald Robb; Oversize; Sarah Robb Addition, Robb Diaries, and Ellen Robb Addition.

The Personal and Professional Papers relate to Robb's work as an educator, author, lecturer, and composer. The series includes the following subseries: Biographical Materials; UNM Teaching Materials; Writings; Lectures; Composition Materials; Miscellaneous Concerts and Compositions; Programs of Robb Compositions; Correspondence; Transcriptions of Robb Reminiscences; Oversize Works/Recordings Indexes; Miscellaneous Music Scores (Other than Robb). Correspondence related to Robb's work as a composer is interfiled with general and musical correspondence.

The Folk Music series relates to Robb's work as a collector of folk music. Subseries include General Research; Collected Notebooks; Oversize Folk Music Materials; Project Materials; UNM Teaching Materials; Lectures; Folk Music Archive; Hispanic Folk Music of New Mexico and the Southwest; Robb Folk Music Collection; Indexes, Ephemera; Vicente Mendoza; Miscellaneous Folk Music Materials.

The third series, Compositions of John Donald Robb, includes music manuscripts and recordings on compact disk. The manuscripts are original compositions dating from 1917-1989. The series includes the following subseries: Piano/Organ Solos, Unaccompanied Solos, Piano Duets, Solo Instrument with Accompaniment, Instrumental Duos, Instrumental Trios, Instrumental Quartets, Instrumental Quintets, Chamber Music with at Least Six Instruments, Orchestral Works, Concertos, Chamber Orchestra Works, Marching Band Music, Operas, Chorus and Accompaniment, Vocal Solo and Piano, Trios with Voice, Requiem, Musical Plays/Comedies, Chamber Ensembles with Electronic Instruments, Electronic Music, Computer Music, and Unfinished Music Projects.

Each piece is identified by one of four numbers: an opus number (Op.), a works without opus number (WWO), no opus number (NON), or a posthumous number (PTH). There are three PTH numbers and there is no sheet music for these pieces, but they are recorded onto CD 64. Each piece is catalogued by genre and then by number. Information on each piece includes instrumentation, dates, notes, and type of copy (onion skins, printed part, pencil sketch). For the pieces that had many versions and copies, the performance copy is marked.

Compact disk recordings of Robb's compositions are at the end of this series. An index to Robb's compositions and recordings by opus number follows the contents list, as does an alphabetical listing of performers/conductors with the corresponding cd's on which they appear. 17 CDs were added to the collection in June 2011 (CDs 66-81). They were reformatted from LPs produced by the Opus One Record Company (CDs 66-77) and Folkway Records (CDs 78-81) on which labels Robb and other contemporary composers had a number of recordings made between the 1960s and 1980s.

Robb collected a series of field recordings, 1944-1979. They contain over 2500 songs representing a variety of traditional Southwestern and South American music. The recordings, song text and melodies are scanned on the New Mexico Digital Collection.

Material is in English and Spanish.

Addition to collection made by Sarah Celeste Robb in August 2016. These are items that John Donald Robb, Sr. gave as family keepsakes to his son JDR, Jr. and that were later passed down to his grandson Bradford Robb. They were found in the home by Bradford’s daughter Sarah, who donated them to the CSWR.

Addition to collection of personal diaries of John Donald Robb made in April 2017, transferred from the Robb Trust Collection. They cover the years from 1911 to 1958, with a few years missing. The early years have more detail and the later ones much less. John Donald Robb said in the diaries that for some years he did not have time to keep a diary or to write much, and he had lost a couple of them. The early diaries contain some copies of letters and studies he had written. Among other topics are life at home, his parents and siblings, college days, travels, military training and service in France during World War I, including training in Douglas, Arizona, and comments on Pancho Villa. Others show his experiences and views of working in business and law in New York City, with comments on banking, Wall Street, capitalism, imbalance of wealth, commerce, need for fairness in America, the needs of farmers, workers, union rights of workers, Washington, D.C. and state politics, the progressive movement, the League of Nations, world peace efforts, Russia, Europe, Asia, China, international affairs, the depression and World War II. He also writes about his idealism, faith, religion, meaning of life, philosophy, self struggles, dreams, meaning of life and his personal goals to become an effective political leader to help the problems of the world. Included are some of his poems, sketches of buildings he saw, preliminary music scores, and comments on musical studies, love of music and culture, and need for education. Includes some business cards of associates, golf score cards, concert programs, receipts and expense lists. He also writes about personal feelings on marriage, family, children, career, the importance of his visits to Shelter Island, sailing, sports teams he played on, travels abroad, comments on people he had known, and some references to the University of New Mexico, teaching and folklore research.

Ellen Robb made an addition to the collection in March 2018. Among the items are thirty of John Donald Robb’s personal planning calendars, an address book, four sets of sheet music, a 1973 Albuquerque Choral concert program, his 1962 reports on teaching in San Salvador, and a book printed in London in 1852.


  • 1915-1989


Language of Materials


Access Restrictions

The collection is open for research.

Copy Restrictions

Limited duplication of CSWR material is allowed for research purposes. User is responsible for compliance with all copyright, privacy, and libel laws. Permission is required for publication or distribution.


John Donald Robb, professor emeritus of music and dean emeritus of the College of Fine Arts at the University of New Mexico, was responsible for the growth of fine arts at UNM in the l940s and l950s and, in turn, for the impact that UNM had in the fine arts throughout the state. Robb, a composer of stage, classical, and electronic music, is also known as a collector of folk music. He was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota and died in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Robb had a first career as a lawyer. Educated in eastern schools, Robb graduated from Yale University in l9l5. He taught in China for one year and served in the armed forces for two years during World War I (l9l7-l9l9). After completing his legal training at Harvard Law School, Robb practiced law in New York City and in Europe from l922 to l94l. Musical activities and studies, particularly the art of composition, were, however, Robb's constant avocation.

In l941 Robb began his second career as professor of music and head of the Department of Music at the University of New Mexico. He became acting dean of the College of Fine Arts in l942, and was appointed dean in l946. He retired from this position in l957. While at UNM, Robb was instrumental in the ultimate building of the Fine Arts Center and the establishment of a folk music archive. He was also active as a composer, while continuing to build support for contemporary music throughout the state.

During his retirement years, Robb was active primarily as a composer and lecturer, although Robb's long-time interest in law and politics prompted him to run for Congress in l960. During l962 and l963, he taught composition as a visiting professor at the National Conservatory of San Salvador under a grant from the Secretary of State, and he also made a music tour of Central America, conducting the national orchestras of Venezuela, Guatemala, and El Salvador. In later years, Robb appeared as guest conductor of various American symphony orchestras, and made several record albums featuring folk and electronic music.

Robb had been intensely interested in music since his teenage years. During his years as a lawyer, he composed music and played the cello, meeting informally with friends every week to play string quartets. He began the study of composition with Nadia Boulanger in l936 and he participated throughout his life in master classes with such leading American and European composers and teachers as Roy Harris, Paul Hindemith, Darius Milhaud, and Horatio Parker. His more than 200 compositions range from solo instrumental and vocal music to music for small and large ensembles, operas, musical plays and dances. He was also a pioneer composer of electronic music, beginning in the l950s.

Always fascinated by folk music, Robb made recordings in the field and transcribed over 3,000 songs and dances from areas as diverse as Nepal, South America, and the American southwest. This collection forms the nucleus of the more than 25,000 items that comprise the John Donald Robb Archive of Southwestern Music. One of the most extensive collections of southwestern music and oral histories, the Robb Archive is housed in the University of New Mexico's Center for Southwest Research.

Robb published numerous articles on both legal and music subjects in national and regional journals and newspapers. The first of his two books, Hispanic Folk Songs of New Mexico, was published by the University of New Mexico Press in l954. In l970 he received a grant from the Rockefeller Foundation for the preparation of a book of Hispanic folk music of the Southwest. This work resulted in the publication in l980 by the University of Oklahoma Press of Hispanic Folk Music of New Mexico and the Southwest -- a Self Portrait of a People.

John Robb received numerous honors in his lifetime. Among them was the Award for Achievement and Excellence in Music bestowed in l975 by the New Mexico Arts Commission. In l980, the UNM Alumni Association, recognizing Robb's legacy, honored him with the Bernard D. Rodey Award. In l986 the University of New Mexico granted him an honorary doctorate degree. The l989 UNM Composers' Symposium was dedicated to the memory of Robb, whose leadership and sponsorship had been in part responsible for the international scope and success of the annual symposium.

John Robb and his wife Harriet Block Robb were married in l92l. Nearly seventy years later, and within ten days of each other, John and Harriet Robb died in January l989. They were survived by three children: Priscilla McDonnell, John Robb, Jr., and Nancy Briggs, and their families.

"He's a man of a hundred hats--adventurer, sportsman..., educator, composer..., folklorist..., lawyer, traveler, writer. John D. Robb has made Albuquerque his home for many decades, but his life stretches out in all directions, both behind him and before him, in time and space like a colorful oriental carpet--refined yet brilliant, refrained and organized, yet exuberant and artistic." Daniel Gibson, Albuquerque Heights Outlook.


157 boxes + 2 oversize folders

Alternate Forms Available

The John Donald Robb Field Recordings are available online.

Robb's field recordings on compact disk are catalogued individually in LIBROS.

Related Material

"A Few Minutes with John and Harriett Robb". Booklet was compiled by Marilyn Fletcher, Professor Emerita, UNM Libraries, 2019. [PDF file - check your download folder] Center for Regional Studies and the Center for Southwest Research Fellows presentation, Jenna Charles and David Garcia Center for Regional Studies and the Center for Southwest Research Fellows presentation, Joy Zalkind. John Donald Robb Field Recordings Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico John Donald Robb Musical Trust Records Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Grace T. Edmister Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Thomas M. Pearce Papers Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico John Donald Robb Photograph Collection Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico University of New Mexico. College of Fine Arts. Music Collection, Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico Helen Chandler Ryan New Mexico Federal Music Project Collection Center for Southwest Research, University Libraries, University of New Mexico

Separated Material

Photographs from MSS Collection transferred to John Donald Robb Photograph Collection. Two photos from Robb diaries transferred to Robb Photograph Collection. One photo from Ellen Robb donation transferred to same.

Gradual - melodies of the service of the Mass, inscribed Manual Pio Barroso, handwritten on vellum, dated 1785-1786. Transferred to CSWR rare book collection.

Book, The Dodd Family Abroad, by Charles Evers, London, 1852, Nos. 1 - 20, with album cover, from Ellen Robb donation, transferred to CSWR book collection.

Processing Information

Note on box numbering, there are no patron use boxes 129 to 145 (they had reel to reel or lp masters and after reformatting were transferred to B3 Masters storage.

Robb Masters - A detailed list of Master recordings and box numbers is available in the Robb Collection accession file.

For help correlating reformatted recordings from reels,LPs, and cassettes with compositions and sheet music, see the Index Table below.

The original Robb field folk recordings have been reformatted to CDs. The original reels and archival Masters are stored in B3. The content of the field recordings has been catalogued in and is searchable in UNM's Library catalog. The field recording CDs are located at the CSWR and Fine Arts Library. The Robb field recordings also have been digitized and are available on the New Mexico Digital Collection. The song melodies and texts for the field recordings are also available in volumes at CSWR and FAL. In addition, these have been digitized and are located on the New Mexico Digital Collection.

Robb's recorded compositions and lectures on reel to reels were reformatted to CDs, May 2003. They are noted in the collection inventory.

An addition 17 CDs were added in June 2011 (CDs 66-83). These were reformatted from LPs produced by the Opus One Record Company on which label Robb and other contemporary composers had a number of recordings made between the 1960s and 1980s.

In 2015-2017 the LP recordings from a January 18, 1948 performance of Little Jo in Paris were reformatted to CDs 94-225, but the performances were taped out of order, and were therefore needed to be resequenced and then put on a second set of CDs numbered 339, 340 and 341 in Box 150. The old Paris LPs and first CDs are stored with the Masters in B3. The resequenced material is also on the Robb Hard Drive. The resequenced set was checked against the Little Jo, Op. 17, green book, hardbound score, Final edition, marked by Vardot, in Box 84. Using the CDs, in file viewer, the TITLE column refers to reference points in this book; the NAME column refers to different version. Titles are from the green book version. Missing No. 11 and 12 (pg. 33-38). Extra material between No. 26 and 27, not in Green Book Little Jo CDs 134 and 135 never existed, misnumbered.

In 2015-2017 the remainder of Robb's LP recordings of compositions and performances were reformatted to CDs and are described in the collection inventory. The originals are with the Robb Masters in B3.

Robb's Wire Recorder - String Recorder is stored in B3 with Robb archival Masters, Box 149. There are several string recordings - spools in Box 154 also with the Masters.
Finding aid of the John Donald Robb Papers, 1915-1989
Processed by CSWR Staff
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
Finding aid is in English

Revision Statements

  • June 28, 2004: PUBLIC "-//University of New Mexico::Center for Southwest Research//TEXT (US::NmU::MSS 497 BC::J. D. Robb Papers)//EN" "nmu1mss497bc.sgml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).
  • Monday, 20210524: Attribute normal is missing or blank.

Repository Details

Part of the UNM Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections Repository

University of New Mexico Center for Southwest Research & Special Collections
University Libraries, MSC05 3020
1 University of New Mexico
Albuquerque NM 87131