Uncovering the American Folksong Revival: Coffeehouse Culture and The Caffé Lena Collection


The aim of this project is to arrange, describe and catalog three significant collections containing a documentary record of the 20th century American folksong revival movement. Caffé Lena is America's oldest continuously running folk music coffeehouse and a national treasure. The complete Caffé Lena archives comprises the Lena Spencer Papers and Performer Files, 1000 hours of field recordings and audio recordings of performances, and the Caffé Lena oral history project collection of taped interviews with major folk, country, blues, bluegrass and theater figures. Also included are 6,000 photographs taken at Caffé Lena between 1960 and 1968 from the accompanying Joe Alper LLC collection in both negative and print formats, and the Lively Lucys Coffeehouse Collection 1972-2011, revealing an important student run coffeehouse created with Lena Spencer. Documented subjects in New York state and in far-reaching nationally relevant geographic scope include civil rights pioneers; New York architectural history; prominent folk and jazz festivals; urban expansion; and the careers of influential performers Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Dr. Bernice Johnson Reagon, Emmylou Harris, and David Hyde Pierce. Also included are the personal papers of Lena Spencer relating to the Industrial Workers of the World, the inaugural visit of Robert Kennedy Jr. to Massachussets, postwar Italian American cultural history, and the New Left era.


Cataloging Hidden Collections

Amount Awarded

Year Added



Caffé Lena


  • Jocelyn Arem

Collection Size

38 boxes, 0 cubic feet, 16 linear feet

Date Range

1959 - 2011

Geographic Scope

The materials represent American music and transformational social movements in New York State and throughout the country.