Mar 30 at 12:00 PM - Sale 2631 -

Sale 2631 - Lot 206

Estimate: $ 5,000 - $ 7,500
(ENTERTAINMENT--MUSIC.) Papers of pianist-composer Lawrence Brown relating to Paul Robeson and more. Several hundred items (2 linear feet) in 2 boxes; the bulk of the collection is laid down and stabilized on adhesive photo album leaves, and it may be difficult to safely remove the contents from the leaves. Various places, bulk 1925-1954

Additional Details

The pianist, composer and singer Lawrence Benjamin Brown (1893-1972) is most often remembered for his decades-long musical collaboration with Paul Robeson. He was born in Jacksonville, FL to a father who had been born into slavery. He went to Boston to study piano, and from 1918 to 1923 toured as an accompanist to the great Black tenor Roland Hayes. He began serving as Robeson's longtime accompanist in 1925, also providing vocal harmonies. Robeson also performed many of Brown's arrangements and compositions. Brown published "Negro Folk Songs" in 1930, and was a scholar of folk music from around the world. He never married, and is described as gay in Stephen Bourne's 2017 book "Fighting Proud," page 145.

Much of the collection relates to Paul Robeson. Highlights include: 16 mostly long and personal letters from Robeson's wife Eslanda "Essie" Goode Robeson, 1946-1960, along with her photograph signed "To Larry with love, Essie"; two contracts in which Brown agrees to serve as Robeson's exclusive accompanist for the 1925 to 1927, each signed by Brown and both Robesons; a pair of "short snorter" banknotes signed by Robeson and other flight companions, circa 1940s; and an envelope with a signed birthday greeting from Robeson ("To dear Larry, wishing him many another happy one, Paul"). A file of about 100 programs and handbills for Robeson perfomances (most naming Brown as accompanist) has escaped mounting on the photo album leaves. A printed passenger list for the R.M.S. Queen Mary from 1949 lists Robeson and Brown as passengers, embarking on a European tour. One piece which predates Brown's life is a pamphlet, "Songs, Sketch of the Life . . . of Blind Tom, the Marvelous Musical Prodigy, the Negro Boy Pianist," issued circa the late 1860s.

The collection contains approximately 160 photographs, ranging from personal snapshots to copy prints to formal portraits. At least a dozen show Paul Robeson, including one 8 x 10 print showing Brown and Robeson in concert. Also included are a formal portrait of Marian Anderson by Walter Miesse, and one of Anderson shaking hands with Eleanor Roosevelt.

Files on Brown's travel expenses and arrangements, mostly on tour with Robeson, include about 200 items, most of them documenting hotel and transportation expenses from the 1940s. They include typescript and carbon tour itineraries for both Brown and Robeson, such as a Robeson itinerary for a trip to the American West in February 1941. Files on Brown's royalties and copyrights for his recordings, songwriting credits and publications include about 200 items, most dated from the 1930s through 1954.

The collection also includes numerous letters addressed to Brown, including 10 letters and 2 postcards from renowned gospel singer J. Robert Bradley (1919-2007), 1951-1953 and 1968; 4 letters and 2 postcards from singer/actor William Marshall (1924-2003), 1953-1954; and 12 letters from the baritone singer John C. Payne (1872-1952), who Brown served as accompanist, 1943 and 1950-1951. Photographer Carl Van Vechten sent a letter in 1943: "I am enchanted with the appearance of your songs! How wonderful that each of them can be advertised as having been sung by Marian Anderson and Paul Robeson!" Also among the correspondents are quiz-show host Clifton Fadiman, singer Nora Holt, composer Clarence Cameron White, and Shirley Graham Du Bois (wife of W.E.B. Du Bois, who extended a dinner invitation in 1952). British opera singer Amanda Ira Aldridge signed a calendar. Also included is a publishing contract for Brown's "Negro Spirituals" book project from 1925, signed by him and the great poet and editor James Weldon Johnson.

18 items relate to Brown's longtime friend and contemporary William Leonard King, who was born on 13 August 1894 in Philadelphia, served in the United States Army during World War One; went to England to pursue musical studies in 1922, accompanied singers Roland Hayes and Marian Anderson, moved to Manhattan circa 1950, and died after 1966. Included are King's passport dated 1922; 8 personal letters to King from Marian Anderson; shorter letters to King from composer Roger Quilter and singer Leontyne Price; two sheet music covers inscribed by Quilter; a photograph of Roland Hayes signed and inscribed "To my dear friends, the Kings, from Roland, March 1920"; a photograph signed for King by musician Gwendolyn Avril Coleridge-Taylor; and other photographs of King, or signed for him.

The bulk of Brown's papers were sold to the Schomburg Library in 1970. The present group was acquired by the consignor's mother from Brown's estate in 1972; she had been one of his vocal students. Two items have been removed from the lot for separate sale: the first and only issue of the Magazine "Fire!!" (see lot 236) and a personal letter from Colonel Charles Young to William King (see lot 259).