Howell Begle Collection, 1949-2008

Creator: Begle, Howell, 1944-
Collection number: 20441
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Abstract: Howell Begle is an entertainment and media lawyer and long-time activist on behalf of early rhythm and blues recording artists. In 1982, Begle met Ruth Brown, recording artist with the Atlantic Recording Corporation in the 1940s and 1950s, who had had difficulty securing royalty payments. He agreed to represent her pro bono against the recording company. Over time, his list of pro bono clients grew to more than 30 artists who had recorded for Atlantic. Begle was also a major figure in the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, founded in 1988 in Washington, D.C., with $1.5 million in initial funding from Atlantic in partial fulfillment of a legal settlement with Brown and others represented by Begle. The collection includes detailed royalty statements from the Atlantic Recording Corporation that document payments to Ruth Brown, 1955-1964. There are also copies of contracts and correspondence related to royalty payments owed to other artists who recorded for Atlantic and other labels during the 1950s and 1960s, among them Nellie Lutcher, Jimmy Scott, Joe Turner, Harry Van Walls, the Clovers, the Coasters, and the Drifters. Also included are legal documents, articles of incorporation, correspondence, news articles, and other materials relating to the formation and administration of the Rhythm & Blues Foundation; scattered correspondence between Begle and Atlantic executives, including Ahmet Ertegun, Jerry Wexler, Michael Resnick, and Sheldon Vogle, documenting negotiations leading to the royalty settlement of 1988; correspondence with musicians involved in the Foundation, particularly board member Bonnie Raitt; letters relating to Begle’s dissatification with and 1998 resignation from the Rhythm & Blues Foundation; photocopied news and periodical articles relating to Foundation; and calendars and promotional materials for the Foundation, some relating to the Foundation’s annual award ceremony. Other items include Billboard chart research documents, 1950s-1960s; a chronology documenting efforts to reform royalty payment accounting at Atlantic Records, 1983-1993; programs from Ruth Brown’s memorial service in 2006; correspondence with activists including Jesse Jackson, politicians including Congressmen John Conyers Jr. and Dennis J. Kucinich, and members of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (AFTRA); and 45rpm, 78rpm, and LP record albums collected by Begle.

Repository: Southern Folklife Collection

Collection Highlights: Series 1 contains correspondence, contracts, and news clippings related to Begle’s work with the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, which included a number of African American musicians such as Ruth Brown and the Drifters.

Folders 7-10 also contain correspondence with political activists such as Jesse Jackson as well as Democratic representative John Conyers.

Series 2 (Audio Recordings) also contain Begle’s personal collection of albums, which include records by Bessie Smith and B.B. King.