To millions of Africans, Leo Sarkisian (1921-2018) was “The Music Man of Africa” who returned their music to the airwaves of the post-colonial continent. To Voice of America (“VOA”), a federal agency charged with representing American “thoughts and institutions” overseas, Leo (as he was universally and affectionately known) was the creator and producer of the longest running radio program broadcast in English to the entire continent of Africa.
The materials that form a complete Leo and Mary Sarkisian Collection at the University of Michigan are clustered into three groups: (1) personal papers, musical instruments, and artifacts donated to Michigan by the Sarkisians; (2) audio recordings and documents from the Leo Sarkisian Library presently on long-term loan from the Voice of America; and (3) digital files created by the University of Michigan from the VOA Library.
Leo Sarkisian traveled throughout Africa and Central Asia with professional sound equipment provided by Tempo Records in Hollywood, CA, which had hired Leo to obtain music for films set in “exotic” locales. In 1962 at the invitation of Edward R. Murrow, Leo became Music Director for the VOA Program Center in Monrovia, Liberia. Working fifty years as a VOA employee, Leo recorded music in over thirty-eight African nations from Senegal to Ethiopia.
In his travels in Africa and Central Asia between 1953 and 1987, Leo and Mary Sarkisian acquired dozens of musical instruments and artifacts. The Sarkisians donated these materials to the University of Michigan between 2010 and 2016.