Collections Spotlight: Lewis Richards papers

18 05 2016

Lewis Richards

Lewis Richards was born April 11, 1881, the son of Reverend Jonathan and Huldah Richards, in St. Johns, Michigan. After attending school in Ann Arbor, he studied music at the University of Michigan Conservatory.  He then continued his studies at the Royal Conservatory of Music in Brussels, Belgium. Richards graduated with distinction in piano from the Royal Conservatory, the first American to do so.

Richards married Berthe Smedt, a native of Belgium, in 1908, and they had two children, Elsa Loomis and Roger Lewis.


Berthe and Lewis on their wedding day, 1908

Also in 1908, Richards began his professional music career, touring Europe and America. In America Richards played at the White House, Steinway Hall, Carnegie Hall, and many others.

Richards took a hiatus from touring during World War I to become General Secretary (later Director) of the London Office of the Commission for Relief in Belgium.  Its purpose was to organize food supply routes from France to Belgium, which was occupied by German forces. The Commission was part of the U.S. Food Administration, headed by Herbert Hoover. Richards was awarded the Médaille de la Reconnaissance française in 1919 for his efforts.

After living abroad, Lewis Richards and his family returned to Michigan. In 1927 he became head of the Music Department at Michigan State College. He was not only instrumental in expanding the music program, but also in the planning of the modern music building on the Michigan State College campus built in 1939.

music bldg dedication

Music Building dedication program

Richards was a member of several professional organizations: the Capet String Quartet, Societe des Instruments Anciens of Paris, Beethoven Association of New York, Alpha Epsilon Mu, Phi Mu Alpha, Association of American University Professors, and Kappa Sigma. He also received an honorary M.A. from Wesleyan College.



Richards’ conducting baton

The Lewis Richards Collection contains correspondence, newspaper clippings, scrapbooks, musical programs, legal documents, and other items primarily involving the musical career of Lewis Richards.

Most notable among the correspondence is Queen Mary’s secretary stating payment for the Queen’s purchase of two cushions at an exhibition of Belgian Lace supporting the Belgium Relief Commission.

royal letter

Also included is correspondence from President Herbert Hoover thanking Lewis for a performance at the White House, and a second letter extending sympathy to Mrs. Richards at the death of her husband in 1940. Correspondence from MSC Presidents Shaw and Hannah is also included in the collection. The bulk of the correspondence deals with family matters.


Richards’ children, Elsa and Roger

Also in the collection are many newspaper clippings announcing Richards’ recitals throughout the United States, and a collection of obituary notices after his death in 1940.

The four scrapbooks in the collection provide a detailed account of Richards’ activities on tour and at Michigan State College. The first scrapbook contains newspaper clippings announcing his performances and critiques of his playing ability in the United States and in Europe. The second scrapbook contains clippings from local newspapers about campus life during Richards’ years at the college. The third scrapbook contains newspaper clippings about his recitals. The fourth scrapbook, given to Richards by the Department of Publications at Michigan State College, contains newspaper clippings pertaining to the new MSC music building and dedication festivities.

Several programs from Richards’ recitals are also included within the collection, from Carnegie Hall to the MSC Concert Course at the People’s Church in East Lansing. Also in the collection is an issue of the Bulletin containing an announcement of artists for the 1929 season at Steinway Hall, listing Lewis Richards as harpsichordist. MSC publications within the collection include the 1931 MSC Music Department catalog with short biographies of music faculty.

The collection also contains legal documents involving royalties for a musical composition, a monetary valuation of the estate of Lewis and Berthe Richards, passports, marriage certificates, and population registers from Belgium.

The Arthur and Gertrude Farwell papers in the collection contain a nativity ceremonial by Gertrude and a music composition by Arthur, head of theoretical subjects at the MSC music department.

The Lewis Richards papers are open to researchers at the Michigan State University Archives & Historical Collections. The finding aid for the collection is available online:


Content curated by Megan Badgley Malone, collections & outreach archivist





Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: