New Acquisitions

Selected works by Mingering Mike

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The Mingering Mike Collection is comprised of well over 100 pieces of musical ephemera made between 1968 and 1976 by a self–taught Washington, D.C. artist who has consistently chosen to conceal his true identity. The collection consists of “vinyl” LP albums (made from painted cardboard), original album art, song lyrics and liner notes, 45 rpm singles, and more pertaining to the artist's youthful fantasy of being a famous soul singer/songwriter. The lines between reality and fantasy are fluid in this body of work—commercially produced tapes with Mingering Mike’s fabricated labels mingle with tapes and demo records holding his original music; made–up reviews supposedly written by real musicians (such as James Brown) dot the covers, and recordings are stamped with claims of having been made live in D.C. venues such as the Howard Theatre. Comprehensively, the uncanny detail of Mingering Mike's synthetic career powerfully evokes black America in the 1960s and 1970s.

The collection, which was lost to the artist in the 1980s, was rediscovered at a D.C. flea market in 2004 by "record digger" and music advocate Dori Hadar. Hadar recognized that as a collection this body of material reflected an historical moment when D.C. played a pivotal role in music history and therefore held tremendous cultural significance. Black radio was new and musicians like Marvin Gaye, who grew up singing on D.C. street corners, were claiming national attention. Mingering Mike was among the countless kids who dreamed of being discovered. Untrained as either musician or visual artist, Mingering Mike nonetheless embodies a critical component of the American Dream, in which a poor black youth conquers tough circumstances by actualizing—to whatever extent possible—a world filled with fame, fortune, and happiness.

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