Warner Music traces its corporate lineage back to 1811 through its ownership of the music publisher Warner Chappell, whose business then was selling sheet music and the machines to play it: pianos. Among the finds is a black-and-white photo of a Chappell piano being delivered to Buckingham Palace. Songbooks dating to the 1830s are among the oldest items. More recent materials include drawings by Maurice Sendak, who produced cover art for Elektra Records before he became famous as a children’s illustrator; a hand-written history of Atlantic Records by its co-founder Ahmet Ertegun; and recording contracts for some titans of American music.
“Aretha’s contract is right there,” said Mr. Dantzic, referring to Aretha Franklin and pointing to a box on a shelf above his computer. In another box is Ray Charles’s original recording contract, signed with an ‘X.’ In a separate office is a piano from the 1920s that George Gershwin played, come upon in a cluttered storage area.
A photocopy of a letter from Beethoven to a former pupil recommending Chappell as a music publisher, dated 1819, has sent Warner’s archivists digging for the valuable original