Collection F0717 - Robert Witmer collection

Collection 15 : Leive, Cynthia - Mu50. Interview Transcripts Collection 21 : Van Der Bliek, Robert. Toronto : Jazz Dixieland. ETHN. (see also Collection 21 : ...

Title and statement of responsibility area

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Robert Witmer collection

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  • Textual record
  • Graphic material
  • Sound recording
  • Moving images

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  • Source of title proper: Title based on supplementary textual material.

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Physical description area

Physical description

ca. 1.25 m of textual records
ca. 518 audio cassettes
ca. 77 audio reels
ca. 22 computer diskettes
17 videocassettes : VHS
8 videocassettes : Video8
8 videocassettes : beta
2 videocassettes : Hi8

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Archival description area

Name of creator


Biographical history

Robert (Earl) Witmer (b. in Kitchener) is a bassist and ethnomusicologist with research interests in North American and Caribbean music with a focus on Indigenous, Jamaican, and jazz music. Witmer also developed instructional material for the pedal steel guitar.

Witmer received a Bachelors and Masters of Music from the University of British Columbia in 1965 and the University of Illinois in 1970. He studied bass with J.P. Hamilton, the principal bass of Vancouver Symphony Orchestra, and played with the orchestra and various jazz groups between 1962 and 1965. In 1970 he taught at the University of West Indies in Kingston, Jamaica during a year of doctoral field research on Jamaican popular music.

In 1971, Witmer joined York University, Faculty of Fine Arts where became the founding director (1972-1976) and co-director (1976-1988) with John Gittins of Canada's first program in jazz studies at the university level. In 1974, he was instrumental in the development of York University's ethnomusicology laboratory and archives. In 1985, Witmer directed the university's graduate program in music. In 1995, Witmer received the inaugural Faculty of Graduate Studies’ Teaching Award.

Witmer is the author of ‘The Musical Life of the Blood Indians’ (1982), editor of ‘Ethnomusicology in Canada’ (1990) and co-editor of ‘Canadian Music: Issues of Hegemony and Identity’ (1994).

He is a Professors Emeritus of the School of Arts, Media, Performance, and Design.

Custodial history

Scope and content

Collection primarily consists of Witmer's audio-visual field recordings of interviews and musical performances, in addition to students' ethnomusicology research field recordings. His research files as an ethnomusicologist are also included and consist of lists, indexes, musical scores, notes, interview transcripts, programs, essays, newspaper clippings, song books, correspondence, and newsletters.

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The fonds has been arranged in two series, reflecting the received arrangement of the material which was organized by the donor.

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General note

Finding aid and material may contain language from the era in which it was written. This includes historical, unclear, or biased terminology which may not have been selected by Indigenous peoples. To learn more about historical and contemporary terminology, see resources listed at

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Dates of creation, revision and deletion

2018/09/06 Anna St.Onge. Created stub record to link into YUDL records.
2018/09/25 KCP. Uploaded file listing created by J. Chojnacka under the supervision of S. Dubeau.
2018/12/21 KCP. Added fonds and series level description.
2020/03/26 KCP, N. Somerset. Added subject access points.
2020/10/26 KCP. Added historical language note.

Language of description

  • English


Accession area