From Martha’s Vineyard to the Grammy awards at 78 rpm

Jonathan Ward, MVRHS graduate, has been nominated for a Grammy. — Photo courtesy of Jonathan Ward

On Their Way is an occasional series in which The Times introduces people who grew up on Martha’s Vineyard and have moved on to establish themselves in careers on or off Island. We are looking for young people who have distinguished themselves by their accomplishments in the arts, business, in social services, in the military, in academics, in fact in any meaningful way. Your suggestions are welcomed by The Times.

Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School graduate Jonathan Ward, class of 1990, is learning what it is like to play against the big boys. The album he co-produced, “Opika Pende: Africa At 78 RPM,” was nominated for a Grammy, in the category of best historical album.

HIs four CD collection of early African recorded music is up against albums by Paul McCartney, the Beach Boys, and Woody Guthrie, among others. The award winners will be announced Sunday, February 10, at the Grammy award ceremonies in Los Angeles.

Given the competition, Mr. Ward doesn’t think his chances of winning are very good, but he is honored to have been selected and has used the occasion as an opportunity to buy a new suit. He has received tickets for various events and parties and he plans to attend but said he didn’t have proper attire. The award ceremony for his category will not be part of the Sunday evening prime time television spectacle but rather earlier in the day.

The album grew out of Mr. Ward’s hobby as a collector of 78s — but not just any 78s. His focus is on early recordings of African music, but his collection of 2,000 or so records includes recordings from around the globe.

Mr. Ward assembled the collection of 100 African songs and wrote a 112-page book to describe the music that accompanies the CDs. He produced the CDs in conjunction with Dust to Digital, a producer and curator of projects, combining rare recordings with historical images and descriptive texts. Cuts from the album can be accessed at the Dust to Digital website,

Jonathan Ward’s family moved to Martha’s Vineyard in 1973, when he was one year old. He, his two older sisters, his late mother, Sally, and his dad, Ken, took shelter in an unheated, family-owned Gay Head shack, a summer cottage. His mother had summered on the Island.

They moved to Vineyard Haven where he grew up, attending the Tisbury School. He graduated from the Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School in 1990. “The problem with me back then was that I was precocious, and being a teenager I was a real jerk. In general I was the snotty intellectual,” he said.

Mr. Ward earned a degree in film at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University in 1994. He worked in film production off and on in New York but decided that he wanted to be involved in something like teaching that would help people and not just focus on making money.

He visited Los Angeles in late 1996. “I had such a good time there and I was tired of not having two nickels to rub together for the subways, so I packed up a couple of duffel bags put all my stuff in storage and moved to L.A., where I got a job working in a film library.”

That job morphed into one working with stock photos as well as film. He said his work with the hierarchical structures of vocabularies used to access film information both on the Web and in a database led to his current position at the Getty Research Institute.

He is now just a couple of classes from receiving his Masters in library science from San Jose State University.

He commutes about an hour each way to his job from an apartment in a 1908 Victorian house in the Angelino Heights of Echo Park. His day job for the last ten years has been as an editor with the Getty Vocabulary Program, an esoteric division of the Getty Research Institute, on the campus of the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. He said it is a private library and research institute and a philanthropic organization rolled into one. “The work I do is so complex and is such a niche thing it’s hard to talk about. I maintain, edit, and research data for four thesauri.”

He works with a group that creates and maintains large thesauri for the art and architecture community, which are used by museums, libraries, as well as the general public, as both research tools, and as database tools in collection management systems. Their work provides authoritative information for cataloguers and researchers, and is used to enhance access to databases and websites.

He has run into several people in L.A. who grew up on the Vineyard around the same time he did. “We have so much in common, so many shared experiences. I may be waxing rhapsodic, but I think it was a special time. There was an element of freedom and the natural beauty of the Island,” he said. “It would be so great to move back.”

While he was disappointed when his dad moved from the Island to Maine last year, he said he hopes to continue visiting the Island every year, maybe with his Grammy the next time.

Jonathan Ward’s website contains information on his record collection at

The album is Opika Pende: Africa At 78 RPM, Steven Lance Ledbetter & Jonathan Ward, compilation producers; Michael Graves, mastering engineer (Various Artists) [Dust-to-Digital].