Click on the “Listen” link to get to the streaming platform. The shows we have up now are those for which we also have printed scripts, so you can read the script and listen to the show. The dates of the shows are 1968 to 1998. There are five hosts represented in this group. Sometime in January 2021, we are planning to upload 109 more shows. These are the ones that are missing scripts so all that is there is the full show. Then, in February, we are planning to add about 400 more shows from the period between 2007 and 2017. These are programs where Matthew Lavoie or Heather Maxwell are hosts. The website contains some background information on the project.”
FILE – Leo Sarkisian, center, his wife, Mary, and VOA Director David Ensor smile during a celebration that followed the renaming of VOA Studio 23 in Sarkisian’s honor, Jan. 29, 2014. (Source: VOA News)
In February 2013, Leo Sarkisian and his sweet wife, Mary, invited me to their home and studio in Maryland and I recorded what turned into a 3+ hour audio interview.
Sitting with him, time seemed to disappear as I was absorbed by stories about his travels and experiences. He was so kind and gracious–he even insisted that I walk away with one of his amazing drawings which I’ve since framed for my office.
Leo passed away on June 8, 2018 at the age of 97. Rest in peace, Leo.
Leo Sarkisian, the creator and longtime producer of The Voice of America’s “Music Time in Africa,” has died. He was 97.
Known by his fans as the “Music Man of Africa,” Sarkisian spent a half-century traveling Africa, listening to local musicians and capturing their performances. Those recordings became the basis of VOA’s longest-running English program.
“Leo always left you feeling like you were special. He didn’t treat anyone less or greater based on their social standing or age or anything, it seemed. He was a true gentleman and optimist and lover of the beautiful things in life,” said Heather Maxwell, an ethnomusicologist who succeeded Sarkisian as the host of “Music Time in Africa.”
Sarkisian arrived in Africa as a soldier in the U.S. Army. In 1961, a fateful encounter changed the course of his life. Edward R. Murrow, newly minted as the director of the U.S. Information Agency, came to Sarkisian’s apartment in Conakry, Guinea, and asked if he’d like to join The Voice of America. Four years later, he went on the air with “Music Time in Africa.”
He spent the next 47 years traveling the continent with his wife, Mary, whom he married in 1949. Together, they met thousands of local musicians and gave their art a global stage.
Sarkisian’s travels put him at the vanguard of African music. Maxwell said a favorite recording from Sarkisian’s collection was of Nigerian musician Fela Kuti, before he developed the Afrobeat style that would become his world-famous trademark.
Sarkisian was himself a musician and artist. He sketched performers, audience members and dignitaries. Some of his illustrations can be found in “Leo Sarkisian’s Faces of Africa,” a collection of portraits of people he met in his travels.
But his greatest legacy will perhaps be the original collection of about 10,000 recordings that he curated, representing every African country. In 2014, the University of Michigan acquired the collection from VOA on long-term loan. Their work involves digitizing the collection and preserving it for generations to come.
When asked what African music meant to him, Sarkisian said, “It’s been my entire life. It’s from my childhood right up to today, and maybe into the future. I’ll still be doing my art, and I’ll be dancing with my music. What else? It is passion.”
Sarkisian’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from Turkey in the early 1900s, according to The Washington Post. Born in 1921, Sarkisian studied art and drew maps for the Army, the Post reported.
Sarkisian lived by Murrow’s “last three feet” motto, Maxwell said. That meant the most important part of communication, even across international borders, came from a personal, human connection.
“We still care about Africa,” Sarkisian said in 2012. “We care about them. We love the African culture. And in turn, of course, we have their love, also. And that is the satisfaction of our work.”
Leo and Mary Sarkisian, after spending most of their lives living in Africa, settled in Boston. Leo Sarkisian died June 8 and will be buried in North Andover, Massachusetts, with full military honors.
From right to left: Leo Sarkisian, Heather Maxwell, and Mary Sarkisian. (Photo: VOA)
Many shortwave radio listeners know the name Leo Sarkisian, founder of the Voice of America show Music Time in Africa. For decades, Leo and his wife, Mary, traveled to every corner of Africa, lugging with them a large reel-to-reel recorder that Leo used to capture for broadcast the diverse music found across the continent. A monumental cultural record is the result. Earlier this year, at 91 years old, Sarkisian retired from VOA; he leaves his show and his wonderful library of recordings in the capable hands of radio host Heather Maxwell.
In addition, both the VOA and The Washington Post featured Leo and Mary earlier this year; both of these articles are delightful.The Washington Post article even describes Sarkisian’s work as “diplomacy.” I particularly love the following description:
Long before there was ping-pong diplomacy or perestroika, a short, balding Armenian American was lugging an enormous reel-to-reel from village to village, sweet-talking people into singing and playing for him.
[…]In Africa, he socialized with presidents, military dictators, accomplished musicians and tribal villagers. He outwardly steered away from politics, but under the surface he wove a subtle diplomatic tapestry based around grooving on tunes.
That’s one thing I love about shortwave radio–in all forms, in all countries, it offers a medium of accessible, lasting diplomacy–however “subtle” it may seem–for at least as long as the shortwaves continue to grace our airwaves. Of course, music is inextricably integrated into this diplomatic medium. Thank you, Leo and Mary, for a reminder of that, in the form of a truly extraordinary life’s work.
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