Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Bob Grimes (1922-2011) - An Appreciation

Bob Grimes, photographed by Basya Petnick in "Bob Grimes - The Music Man," Nob Hill Gazette (January 1999), p. 20.

Musicians all over the world lost a dear friend when Bob Grimes passed away recently at the age of 89. We miss him at the Library as well. A recent obituary by Peter Hartlaub in the San Francisco Chronicle of October 14, 2011 provides a nice appreciation of Bob Grimes and his life.

Bob Grimes was a legendary collector of sheet music - his collection consisted of more than 34,000 pieces until he sold it to the Michael Feinstein Foundation near the end of his life. While Bob was happy to be known as a collector, his true passion was for the songs themselves. He wanted to play whatever part he could in bringing back what he saw as a Golden Age of American music. To that end he shared his collection and knowledge of this rich repertoire with countless singers and other musicians.

The Sheet Music Mogul of Post Street, source: Youtube - Channel 3 Evening News (2007).

In addition to possessing such a marvelous collection, he was a living encyclopedia, an endless font of knowledge about the songs of American film and stage. We librarians often called upon him to help library patrons. When you told him a song title he’d say, “That’s from [movie title], I pretty sure I’ve got it here, hold on a minute.” Or he’d answer “Oh, that one was never published.” Then you knew you were sunk.

He could recall significant details about every song often about their setting and creation. Today the internet, databases and recent reference books have made it much easier to track down an elusive piece of sheet music. But a mere twenty years ago the amazing memory of collectors like Bob Grimes and dealers like Dorothy Starr were absolutely essential.

Bob was always delighted to hold court and share his enthusiasm and knowledge with anyone who was interested. I’m sure many others can recount instances of Bob introducing them to some obscure, wonderful number captured on celluloid. I remain grateful for Bob playing me a movie scene where Lyda Roberti as Mata Machree sings the over-the-top number “It’s Terrific (When I Get Hot)” from the delightful W. C. Field’s vehicle Million Dollar Legs (1932). According to Frederick Nolan, famed lyricist Lorenz Hart anonymously contributed these lyrics to Ralph Rainger’s melody. But I’m sure Bob must have first told me that.

Matta Machree, The Woman No Man Can Resist (source bunæn’s Flickr photostream).

Bob was very generous with the Library and its patrons. Often after learning that Bob indeed did have a copy of a very elusive song, I would walk up to his apartment on Post Street where he would a have a copy awaiting me that I could provide for an astonished and grateful library patron.

We continue to aspire to provide what Bob Grimes did -- access to the vast ocean of American popular song. Our collection of sheet music is vast, if less focused than Bob’s. In 1990 we were fortunate have community members raise money to acquire the stock of Dorothy Starr’s music store. We have a database consisting of nothing but vocal sheet music that presently has more than 35,000 unique items. This supplements our already extensive collection of songbooks and piano / vocal scores to Broadway shows and film musicals. While we cannot provide this service with the same charm and aplomb that Bob did, we hope we aspire to continue his legacy of helping to unite singers with songs.

For those interested in learning more about Bob Grimes the Art, Music and Recreation Center has newspaper clippings about Bob Grimes spanning more than 30 years in our Musicians and Performing Artists File.


Bob Grimes biography at the Internet Movie Database.

Lorenz Hart: A Poet on Broadway by Frederick Nolan (Oxford University Press, 1994).

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