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Lilla Belle Pitts papers

 Collection 0044-SCPA

Lilla Belle Pitts (1884-1970) was a prominent music educator known for her advocacy of "child-centered" music education, the promotion of diverse cultural experiences through music, the use of folk and popular music for children, and the integration of music into the wider public school curriculum. The collection consists of manuscript, mimeographed and published music used in workshops by Pitts, manuscripts and typescripts of scholarly articles by Pitts, teaching materials related to her tenure at Columbia University, numerous press clippings arranged (by Pitts) by subject, personal and professional correspondence, and papers of a personal nature.


  • 1928-1961
  • Majority of material found within 1938-1960

Use and Access to Collection

The collection is open for research use.

Duplication and Copyright Information

Materials from this collection must be used in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library's Irving and Margery Morgan Lowens Special Collections Room, 10:00 am to 5:00 pm, Monday through Friday. Contact the curator for an appointment:


9.00 Linear Feet

Scope and Content of Collection

The Lilla Belle Pitts papers covers the period from 1928 to 1961; the bulk of the materials date from 1938 to 1961. The collection consists of both personal, professional, and scholarly papers including manuscript, mimeographed, and published music used in workshops by Miss Pitts; manuscripts and typescripts of scholarly articles by Miss Pitts; teaching materials related to her tenure at Columbia University; numerous press clippings arranged (by Miss Pitts) by subject; personal and professional correspondence; and personal papers related to Pitts’s career as a music educator and work as a scholar of music education.


Lilla Belle Pitts was born September 26, 1884 in Aberdeen, Mississippi. As a child, Lilla Belle excelled as a pianist, violinist, and singer. Pitts studied at the Kidd-Key Conservatory (North Texas Female College) in 1905 before moving to the Chicago Conservatory of Music in 1907 where she worked with Birdie Alexander. Between 1910 and 1923, Pitts worked for the Amarillo and Dallas public schools before becoming an educational representative for Columbia Records between 1921 and 1923. Pitts is thought to have established the first orchestra in the Texas panhandle during her tenure in Amarillo.

In 1923, Pitts resigned from Columbia Records and enrolled at Columbia University Teacher's College. Here she was first exposed to the progressive education ideas of John Dewey. Pitts left Columbia in 1924 for her first long-term teaching assignment at the Grover Cleveland Junior High School in Elizabeth, New Jersey, where she taught until 1938. Here Pitts developed and experimented with numerous progressive ideas in music education, such as using popular, ethnic, and folk music in the classroom and integrating music with other aspects of the curriculum, primarily history and social studies.

In 1935, Pitts received her bachelor's degree from Columbia at the age of 51, and in 1938, she was hired as an assistant professor of music education at Columbia and published her first book, Music Integration in the Junior High School. According to her biographer, Gerald L. Blanchard, Pitts became the most influential music educator in the nation, since teachers from all over the country came to Columbia for workshops and summer sessions. Pitts retired from Columbia in 1954, but remained active as a clinician. During this period, Pitts coauthored the influential textbook series "Our Singing World." Pitts was forced by illness to retire from active teaching in 1962. She died in 24 January 1970 in Nashville, Tennessee.


This collection is organized into ten series.

  1. Series 1: Classroom Music
  2. Series 2: Published Articles and Clippings
  3. Series 3: Personal/Professional Files
  4. Series 4: Special Topics for Music
  5. Series 5: Music and Related Arts
  6. Series 6: Education, Music Education, MENC
  7. Series 7: Miscellaneous
  8. Series 8: Illustrations
  9. Series 9: Catalogues, Pamphlets, Books, Bibliographies, etc.,
  10. Series 10: Singbooks and Scores

Custodial History and Acquisition Information

Lilla Belle Pitts left these papers to her brother, Miller B. Pitts, at the time of her death in 1970, who felt they should be housed with the official papers of the Music Educators National Conference, and so turned them over to the official MENC repository at SCPA in 1984.

Related Material

This material is part of the National Association for Music Education Historical Center.

For other related archival and manuscript collections, please see the following subject guides.

Processing Information

Processing supported by the Rose Marie Grentzer Fund.

Lilla Belle Pitts papers: A Finding Aid
Jim Alberts and Justin Indovina, November 2000. Reprocessed by David Travis, April 2012.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script
Language of description note
Finding aid written in English
Processing supported by the Rose Marie Grentzer Fund.

Library Details

Part of the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library

University of Maryland Libraries
8270 Alumni Drive
College Park MD 20742 United States