James L. Gulledge was born on 2 October 1932 in rural Moncks Corner, South Carolina, immediately northwest of Charleston. Jim was raised on a farm, where he acquired the charm, manners, and easy way with people that were so important to his future career. He died on 5 June 2001 in a hospice in Ithaca, New York, after a long illness.
After three years at the University of North Carolina (1950-1953), he enlisted in the U.S. Air Force (1954-1956). Assigned to the Philippines, he spent his off-time observing birds. After completing college at Syracuse University in 1964, Jim obtained his M.S. in 1969 at California State University at San Francisco, working with Robert Bowman who was a major influence on his future career. Here, Jim developed his interest in avian systematics, avian sounds, and the Mimidae. He learned computer programming and analysis at an early stage in the development of this indispensable tool of modern life. He continued his graduate studies with Wesley M. (Bud) Lanyon at the American Museum of Natural History-City University of New York and obtained his Ph.D. in 1974 with a dissertation entitled A study of the phonetic and phylogenetic relationships among the mockingbirds, thrashers and their allies.
In 1974, Jim became director of the Library of Natural Sounds in the Laboratory of Ornithology at Cornell University. At the time, it contained about 15,000 tapes, which were mainly the original collection of A. A. Allen and P. P. Kellogg. The collection had been ignored for about 10 years, and Jim set to work curating and enlarging the collection. He modernized storage conditions, developed a computer-based curatorial and inventory system, and established proper facilities for reproducing and listening to the tapes, basically making the collection available for study. He also developed an extensive data sheet to be filled in and filed with each recording, thereby greatly increasing the scientific value of the recordings. Jim successfully obtained two large National Science Foundation grants for collection improvement that allowed him to obtain the necessary curatorial equipment for duplicating and preserving the original tapes, proper storage cases, and salaries for technicians.
In addition, Jim trained and sometimes equipped a large network of contributors, largely amateur ornithologists. This enabled him to add the calls and sounds of species from all over the world. He urged workers such as Paul A. Schwartz, W. W. H. (Bill) Gunn, Ted Parker, B. N. Veprintsev, and Irby Davis, all with large private collections, to deposit their original tapes or copies of them in the collection. As a result, Library of Natural Sounds probably has samples of the calls and songs of more avian species than any other collection.
The magnitude of work facing Jim at the sound collection demanded all his time, and he did not publish his dissertation or undertake further scientific research. His publications were restricted to those dealing with sound recording, preserving, and curating such collections. Jim spent his career at the Laboratory of Natural Sounds developing these methods with great success. During his tenure at the Laboratory of Ornithology, the Sound Collection blossomed and grew into the largest such collection in North America and, perhaps, the world. At the time of his retirement in 1987, the collection had increased to nearly 140,000 specimens and was well curated and readily accessible. All this was accomplished because of Jim's southern charm; his ability to work with a diversity of people; his training in systematics, bird songs, and computers; and, most importantly, his devotion to the collection. Because his contract was not going to be renewed in 1987, apparently because of objections to his lifestyle, Jim took early retirement rather than fight this decision, which would only have harmed the collection. After he left, the policies and methods used in the collections remained those established by Jim during his tenure as director.
Subsequently, Jim supplemented his pension by working as a real estate agent and running a most pleasant bed-and-breakfast establishment on the Trumansburg Road west of Cayuga Lake, which was enjoyed by a number of ornithologists. More importantly, he served for many years as editor and computer expert for a monthly, annotated letter that dealt with all aspects of work associated with HIV-AIDS.
Never abandoning his ornithological connections, he maintained his interests in the Sound Library and made recordings of some of the unusual West Indian mimids. He also served for several years on an AOU committee in the early planning stages of Ornithological World Literature (OWL). In fitting tribute to all his efforts in developing the Sound Library as a world-class collection, Jim was elected a Fellow at the 1999 AOU meeting in Ithaca, which he treasured. Unfortunately, this was the last meeting that he was able to attend, largely because of the onset of a long terminal illness, aggravated by an operation and later radiation treatment for a deep skin cancer on his face.
During his career, Jim interacted with a great many professional and amateur ornithologists, who remember him with fondness as a delightful colleague and as a central person in the field of avian sound collections. With the construction of the new facilities at the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, one of the sound recording rooms was named for Jim in recognition of his contributions to the sound collection.