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Scrapbooks acquired as a gift from Helen Marie Black on January 18, 1984. Dolores Plested and Elsie L. Smith, co-personal representatives of the estate of Helen Marie Black, donated a portion of the collection on July 18, 1988. University of Wyoming donated their entire collection July 15, 2008.


The collection is open for research.


Literary rights and copyrights have been assigned to the Denver Public Library where other copyrights do not apply.


All requests for permission to publish, reproduce, or quote from material in the collection should be discussed with the appropriate librarian or archivist. Permission for publication may be given on behalf of the Denver Public Library as the owner of the physical item. It is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which also must be obtained by the customer. The Library does not assume any responsibility for infringement of copyright or publication rights of the manuscript held by the writer, heirs, donors, or executors. Reproduction restrictions are decided on a case-by-case basis.


[Identification of item]. Helen Marie Black Papers, WH528, Western History Collection, The Denver Public Library.


Number of boxes: 4 (3.5 lf)

Audio/Visual Material: 1 box

Oversize: 3 boxes

Photographs: 1 Photobox (1 lf), 1 PhotoOVBox, 1 PhotoOVFolio




December 2003


Jo Anne Lee


Merrie Jo Schroeder

Ellen Zazzarino


Kellen Cutsworth


Katie Rudolph



Ellen Zazzarino


Helen Marie Black was born June 2, 1896 in Washington, D.C. Her father, Henry Mortimer Black, was a mining engineer. Her mother Palma Lanier Black, had a medical degree but never established a practice. Helen had two siblings, William Alden Black, born March 9, 1898 and Blanche Cecelia Black, born June 17, 1899. William Black became a Denver District Court judge.

Palma Black moved to Denver with the children due to the family’s failed investments in a wax mine and a coal mine in Utah. Henry remained in Salt Lake to try to salvage some of the business. After graduation from Manual High School in Denver at the age of 16, Black went to the editor of the Rocky Mountain News seeking advice on what university to attend to study journalism. He advised Black against school and told her to report to work the next morning. As a reporter in the 1920s, Black interviewed numerous celebrities including Charles Lindbergh, Helen Keller and Harry Houdini. In 1930, Black moved from reporter to theater critic and amusements editor. In the interim, Black earned a degree from the University of Colorado.

She left the Rocky Mountain News to work as a stylist for the Denver Dry Goods Company from 1930 to 1931. From 1932 to 1934, Black had her own advertising and public relations agency in partnership with Elizabeth Kuskulis and Laura Gilbert. In 1934, Black went to work for the Daniels & Fisher department store where she remained until 1945.

Black's labor of love - creating the Denver Symphony - began in the 1930s, when it was called the Denver Civic Symphony. In 1934 while working full time in the advertising department of the Daniels & Fisher department store, Black, Jean Cranmer, and Lucille Wilkins organized the Symphony. Black became business manager of the symphony two months after its organization, working long hours and without pay. Her duties included: fund drives, union negotiations, bookings, guest artists and ticket sales. In 1945, Saul Caston was hired as conductor, and Black began to earn a salary. She was the first and, until 1951, only woman in the nation employed in symphony management. In 1964, Caston was fired and Black resigned.

In the September 26, 1983 Special Edition of the Rocky Mountain News, Helen Black stated, I was in love with the idea of bringing beautiful music to Denver. That's why I worked so hard for the orchestra. Do you realize what a miracle a symphony performance is? There are all those people playing those millions of notes and merging it into one glorious sound. That is a marvelous thing. Please don't make me out some kind of paragon. I'm just a very human being. You can say I just had an idea (to build the Denver Symphony Orchestra) and I got busy doing it and I loved the whole thing.

Along with her orchestra duties, Black helped to establish the Central City Opera. She served as the publicity director of the July 1932 gala marking the return of opera to Central City. The festivals' opening show, "Camille", starred Lillian Gish. Through Black's efforts, the opera grew into one of the nation's most famous summer festivals. She also was active in the Central City Opera House Association, working as unpaid publicist for the summer opera festival until 1947.

A third enterprise, begun in the late 1940s, was the symphony's Red Rocks Music Festival, which thrived until its demise in the late 1950s. Unlike the rock, jazz and country events later featured at the amphitheater, the festival brought classical performances such as a full-scale production of Wagner's Die Walkure, complete with Valkyries on horseback and sound effects supplied by cannon from Fort Carson.

Describing the 1957 production of Die Walkure, Henry Lowenstein, former directing producer of the Bonfils, now Lowenstein, Theatre, had this to say about Black's creativity: "She had three of the lady singers taken up by three mountain climbers to the top of the rocks, so that when the time came, the voices would respond from way up there," he said. "She was a truly entrepreneurial spirit who had the sense of vision to go with it and make it happen…She inspired all the other people to do it." [ Rocky Mountain News, February 22, 1988]

In 1983, the Helen Black Arts and Letters Award was established in honor of Black to recognize "individuals who have accomplished excellence in the field of arts and letters within the community; and/or who have contributed leadership in their field." The sponsors of the award were the Denver Woman's Press Club and the Rocky Mountain News. Black was the first recipient of the award.

She helped organize the University Civic Theatre (later Bonfils Theatre), The Denver Children's Theater and the Martha Carlson Ballet Library at Colorado Women's College. She served on the original board of Warren Village - a home for single parents - and on the board of the Arthur Mitchell Memorial Gallery.

She held honorary memberships in the Denver Woman's Press Club, the Altrusa Club, Zeta Phi Eta, National Federation of Music Clubs, Colorado Authors League and American Symphony Orchestra League, among others.

The recipient of numerous awards, Black was named the Business and Professional Women's Club 1948 Woman of the Year and the 1974 Beautiful Activist by the Altrusa Clubs of Colorado. She received the Zeta Phi Eta Distinguished Service Award, and in 1984 was given an honorary degree by Metropolitan State College.

She was listed in Personalities of the West, World Who's Who of Women, Notable Americans, Who's Who of American Women, Who's Who Women of the West, and both National Social Record and the Denver Social Record.

Helen Marie Black died January 31, 1988 in Denver, Colorado and was inducted into the Colorado Women's Hall of Fame in 1991.


The Helen Marie Black Papers span the years 1863-1999. The collection contains business records of the Denver Symphony Orchestra, the Denver Symphony Society, and the Certificate of Incorporation, meeting minutes, nominations and invitations for the Helen Black Arts and Letters Award.

The collection also includes biographical information, personal correspondence, a watercolor painting of Black, scrapbooks of newspaper clippings about the Central City Opera and the Denver Symphony Orchestra, audio/visual material by or about Helen Black and signs, cartoons and sketches from the 1988 Tribute to Helen Marie Black as well as both black and white and color photographs.


Caston, Saul (C MSS WH988)

Denver Symphony Guild - Colorado Symphony Guild (C MSS WH1002)

Denver Symphony Orchestra and Association (C MSS WH941)

Denver Woman’s Press Club (C MSS WH957)

SERIES 1 BUSINESS 1926-1995 BOX 1-3 :

This series is organized according to subject. Subjects include Denver Symphony Orchestra, Denver Symphony Society, Central City Opera, Red Rocks Music Festival and the Helen Black Arts & Letters Award. The series contains business papers: correspondence, budgets, balance sheets, reservation sheets and meeting minutes, pertaining to each of the subjects.

SERIES 2 PERSONAL 1863-1999 BOX 3-4 :

Series contains material from Helen's father Henry, correspondence to and from friends including Katherine Anne Porter and Sol Fielding, biographies, obituary, lists of items donated to the American Heritage Center in Wyoming and an honorary proclamation for Helen Black Day. The series also contains a program, agenda, notes and correspondence regarding the 1988 Helen Marie Black Tribute.


The series consists of cassette tapes, a reel-to-reel tape and a videocassette by or about Helen Black.

SERIES 4 OVERSIZE 1938-1988 OVBOX 1-3 :

Six scrapbooks of newspaper clippings about the Central City Opera and the Denver Symphony Orchestra, a watercolor painting of Helen Black and signs, cartoons and sketches from the Helen Marie Black Tribute. There are also numerous awards won by Helen throughout her life.


Photographs document Helen Marie Black during her time as business manager of the Denver Symphony Orchestra and as a reporter for the Rocky Mountain News. Also included are, personal photos of her receiving awards and accomodations; and personal photos throughout her life as well as numerous autographed photos of opera, symphony, stage and silent film stars. The collection contains both color and black and white prints.



  • Black, Helen Marie, -- 1896-1988 -- Archives.
  • Denver Symphony Orchestra.
  • Denver Civic Symphony (Denver, Colo.)
  • Denver Symphony Society (Denver, Colo.)
  • Red Rocks Amphitheater (Colo.)
  • Central City Opera House Association (Central City, Colo.)
  • Symphony orchestras -- Colorado -- Denver.
  • Opera -- Colorado -- Central City.
  • Central City (Colo.) -- Social life and customs.
  • Denver (Colo.) ǂx Social life and customs.
  • Business records.
  • Personal papers.
  • Photographs.