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Howell Begle, Defender of R&B Artists’ Rights, Is Dead at 74

on January 7, 2019 No comments

By Ben Sisario

Howell Begle, a Washington lawyer who found a second career crusading on behalf of underpaid black R&B stars of the 1950s and ’60s, leading to industrywide royalty reform and the creation of the charitable Rhythm & Blues Foundation, died on Dec. 30 at a hospital in Lebanon, N.H. He was 74.

His wife, Julie Eilber, said the cause was injuries he sustained in a skiing accident on Dec. 24.

Mr. Begle (rhymes with eagle) was a successful corporate lawyer with a specialty in media mergers and a roster of high-profile arts clients, like the Kennedy Center, when, in 1982, a friend encouraged him to meet Ruth Brown, the singer of 1950s R&B classics like “Teardrops From My Eyes” and “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean.”

A lifelong fan of Ms. Brown’s music, Mr. Begle met her after a performance and brought along some records for her to sign. When she told Mr. Begle that she had not received any royalties in decades, he said he would look into the problem.

Ms. Brown had spent years trying to recover royalties from her former record company, Atlantic. One of the label’s earliest and biggest stars, she was so associated with Atlantic that it was sometimes called “the house that Ruth built.” But she had not been paid since leaving the label in the early 1960s. In the fallow years of her career, she had worked as a maid and a bus driver.

Howell Begle with, from left, the singers Carla Thomas, Ruth Brown and Bonnie Raitt at an awards show in Memphis in 1990. Ms. Raitt said that Mr. Begle’s “dedication and tenacity in fighting for royalty reform” made him “a hero.” © Julie Eilber

Like most artists of her generation, Ms. Brown had signed contracts with very low royalty rates — hers was 5 percent, compared with a standard of about 15 percent today. Many of those artists, particularly black ones in genres like blues and R&B, were further exploited through shoddy bookkeeping and questionable business practices. Excessive expenses were often charged against artists’ accounts, leaving them eternally indebted to their labels and therefore ineligible for royalties.

Digging through the accounts of Ms. Brown and other Atlantic artists, including the Coasters, the Drifters and Big Joe Turner, Mr. Begle found further problems. Since 1969, for example, the label had simply stopped mailing quarterly statements, although they were contractually required to. For a 1985 Atlantic R&B compilation, Ms. Brown and Mr. Turner’s accounts had been charged for new mastering, editing and mixing expenses.

Mr. Begle with Ms. Brown and Little Richard in the 1990s. A few years earlier, Mr. Begle had helped Ms. Brown get her first royalty payment in 28 years, for about $20,000. © Julie Eilber

Such practices were widespread, but Atlantic was a vulnerable target. Ahmet Ertegun, the most prominent of the label’s founders, was revered in the industry and had a reputation for treating artists well. Ms. Brown’s case threatened to undermine that.

As a seasoned Washington insider, Mr. Begle also knew how to pressure Atlantic and its parent company, Warner Communications. Ms. Brown testified before a congressional panel and was interviewed by a sympathetic Meredith Vieira on “West 57th,” a CBS newsmagazine. In 1986, Steve Ross, the chief executive of Warner Communications, met with Mr. Begle and the Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Throughout this campaign, Mr. Begle considered Ms. Brown his most valuable weapon.

“I truly believed in Ruth because this woman was tough as nails,” he was quoted as saying in “The Last Sultan: The Life and Times of Ahmet Ertegun,” a 2011 biography by Robert Greenfield. “I knew I could trust her, and I believe Atlantic knew she was not going to be bought off.”

Mr. Begle did his work pro bono; his firm, Verner, Liipfert, Bernhard, McPherson and Hand, wrote off at least $60,000 in expenses. Both Ruth Brown and Ahmet Ertegun died in 2006.

In 1988, as pressure mounted on Mr. Ertegun leading up to the celebration of Atlantic’s 40th anniversary, the label announced that it would waive the unrecouped debts and recalculate royalties for Ms. Brown and others of its R&B artists back to 1970. (Files were incomplete before that date, the company said.) Ms. Brown received her first royalty payment in 28 years, for about $20,000.

A donation from Atlantic of nearly $2 million that year helped create the Rhythm & Blues Foundation, which gives grants to artists in need. Mr. Begle was its first executive director.

In time, most other major labels followed Atlantic’s lead in giving legacy artists improved royalty rates.

The singer-songwriter Bonnie Raitt, a founding board member of the foundation, said in a statement, “Howell’s dedication and tenacity in fighting for royalty reform and recognition for the whole generation of pioneer R&B artists who were denied both in the measure they deserve will always make him a hero to me.”

 

So heartbroken at the tragic loss of my dear friend, Howell Begle. A true hero and founder of the R&B Foundation, with whom I worked for many years. –Bonnie Raitt

 

Howell Edward Begle Jr. was born in Detroit on Jan. 4, 1944. After his parents divorced, he moved with his mother, Lucille, to Scottsdale, Ariz., and later to Stuart, Fla. He graduated from the University of the South, in Sewanee, Tenn., in 1965 with a degree in political science. His wife said he had fed his love of R&B at wild parties on the campus, where bands like Doug Clark and the Hot Nuts performed.

Mr. Begle received a law degree from the University of Michigan in 1968 and was soon drafted into the Army. He was commissioned a captain despite having no military education. Stationed in Okinawa, he worked in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps, the military law division. While there he also booked concerts by acts like Ike and Tina Turner.

He moved to Washington and joined Verner, Liipfert after leaving the Army in 1973, becoming a partner.

In later years he operated his own firm, Howell Begle and Associates, based at his home in Boston. He continued to represent the Kennedy Center for its annual honors event, as well as the American Film Institute and the Academy Awards, clearing the rights to film clips for the Oscars broadcast.

Besides his wife, his survivors include three sons, Mark, Matthew and Charles; a daughter, Kristin Edwards; a sister, Cathy Deggeller; and three grandchildren.

In a 1990 interview with Rolling Stone, Ms. Brown said that in the midst of her battle with Atlantic, Mr. Ertegun once visited her backstage while she was performing in the Off Broadway show “Staggerlee.” They embraced, and he told her that “everything’s going to be all right,” that he would never let anything happen to her.

Then, Ms. Brown recalled, before Mr. Ertegun left, he added, “You know, Ruth, you got a good lawyer.”


Source: © Copyright The New York Times

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Bonnie Raitt’s Life of Giving Back to the Blues

on November 8, 2011 No comments

| Performing Songwriter – November 8, 2011

When Bonnie Raitt was 14 years old, she heard the album Blues at Newport and it lit her flame for slide guitar, blues music and the legendary masters who played it. By the time she was in her 20s she was the opening act for these legends, soaking up music lessons as well as life lessons. As a matter of fact, Sippie Wallace, Son House, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker all played a part in raising this fiery-haired blueswoman.

It’s easy to see the profound influence they had on Bonnie Raitt, who to this day carries with her an unmatched soulfulness in all aspects of her life. “I’m certain that it was an incredible gift for me to not only be friends with some of the greatest blues people who’ve ever lived, but to learn how they played, how they sang, how they lived their lives, ran their marriages and talked to their kids,” she says.

One of the most admirable qualities Bonnie Raitt possesses is her unwavering commitment to people and causes she believes in. She doesn’t just talk the talk, she digs in and walks the walk. When she was made aware of the injustice in financial compensation to the blues musicians who had made millions for the recording industry, Bonnie joined forces with other like-minded souls and co-founded the Rhythm & Blues Foundation. Since its formation in 1988, the organization has launched programs and services to educate the public and provide financial assistance to those R&B community members in need.

For Bonnie Raitt’s birthday today, I’m shining a spotlight on the Rhythm & Blues Foundation with a conversation I had with her in 2000 about the program’s beginnings and the impact those blues giants had on her life. Thank you so much, Bonnie, for passing those lessons along to us, and for a lifetime of paying it forward. You’ve made such a difference in this world, and we’re so happy and grateful you were born.

 

How did you first become aware of the plight of the rhythm and blues artists and their failure to receive royalties?

My friend, Howell Begle, is an attorney in Washington who has long been a music fan of R&B and blues, and he informed me that he had approached Atlantic Records to find out why some of the giants that they had recorded over the years still hadn’t received any royalties: Laverne Baker, Ruth Brown, The Clovers, The Drifters. So he formed the Rhythm and Blues Foundation from an endowment from Atlantic Records president Ahmet Ertegun.

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20th Annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Awards Show

on September 12, 2008 No comments

R&B Foundation/Pioneer Awards
430043_r-n-b_logo

An Unforgettable Night of Great Performances, Long Awaited Reunions and Special Honors for Music Legends Bill Withers, Kool & The Gang, Donny Hathaway, Sugar Pie DeSanto and More; the Queen of Soul Surprises Pioneer Awards Honoree Chaka Khan.

PHILADELPHIA, PA–(Marketwire – September 12, 2008) – It is indeed a rare occasion when an event exceeds expectations. The cream of the R&B crop recently congregated at Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center Verizon Hall to honor not only legends, but more importantly, those overlooked throughout the genre’s rich history. The occasion was the Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s 20th anniversary, as well as its 15th Pioneer Awards Show Gala.

Co-hosted by former Pioneer Award honorees Dionne Warwick, Bonnie Raitt, and Jerry Butler, along with Emmy winner Wayne Brady, the evening’s festivities kicked off with a musical montage, culminating in Pioneer Awards handed to Bill Withers, Teena Marie, R&B/blues singer Sugar Pie DeSanto, Kool & The Gang , the Whispers, and Motown session superstars the Funk Brothers. Chaka Khan received the Foundation’s “Lifetime Achievement Award”; former Stax and Motown Records executive Al Bell received the Ahmet Ertegun Leadership Award, newly named for the late Atlantic Records founder; and the Legacy Award was given to the family of soul legend Donny Hathaway.

Rhythm amp; Blues Foundation

Stax Records Musical Tribute at R amp;B Foundation

Al Bell Acceptance Speech.avi

Kool amp; the Gang Honored At the R amp;B Foundation

Bill Withers honored at the R amp;B Foundation

The Funk Brothers Honored at the R amp;B Foundation Pt 2 of 2

The Funk Brothers Honored at the R amp;B Foundation Pt 1 of 2

Donny Hathaway honored at the R amp;B Foundation Pt 2 of 2

Chaka Khan honored at the R amp;B Foundation Pt 2 of 2

Donny Hathaway honored at the R amp;B Foundation Pt 1 of 2

Chaka Khan Honored at the R amp;B Foundation Pt 1 of 2

Teena Marie Honored at the R amp;B Foundation Pt 2 of 2

Teena Marie Honored at the R amp;B Foundation Pt 1of 2

2008 Pioneer Awards - Show Opening Pt 2 of 3

2008 Pioneer Awards - Show Opening, Pt 1 of 3

2008 Pioneer Awards - Show Opening, Pt 3 of 3

The Whispers Honored at the R amp;B Foundation Pioneer Awards

Sugar Pie DeSanto at the 2008 Pioneer Awards - The R amp;B Foundation

2008 Pioneer Awards Excerpts

The evening kicked off with a seven-minute overture, conducted by Musical Director Bill Jolly and his orchestra musically telling the story of Rhythm and Blues development through — the drum, cotton field chants, gospel, jazz, blues, R&B, doo-wop, rock, soul, funk, hip-hop, rap, and neo-soul. Visual montages included Clara Ward, the Dixie Hummingbirds, B.B. King and others. During the big band segment, Raitt broke ranks with pop and the blues to sing the jazzy “In the Mood,” as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway and Count Basie’s images weaved in and out. Butler and Warwick sang their signature songs, “For Your Precious Love” and “Walk On By,” respectively. And Brady flashed his versatility with electrifying renditions of James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s World” and “Sex Machine.”

R&B Foundation’s Chairman Kendall Minter and Executive Director Patty Wilson Aden welcomed the Pioneer Awards audience and highlighted the Foundation’s 20 year mission.

Former Spinner G.C. Cameron sang his “It’s So Hard to Say Goodbye to Yesterday” (later made popular by Boyz II Men), to an accompanying video of Isaac Hayes, Ertegun, Brown, and others who passed away over the past two years; Public Enemy’s Chuck D covered rap and hip-hop, and included PE anthem “Fight the Power”; Kenny Lattimore and Brady sang a Donny Hathaway segment that included a raucous turn with “The Ghetto”; The Funk Brothers were accompanied by Kindred the Family Soul on a Motown medley: Neo-soul superstar Anthony Hamilton performed “I Can’t Let Go,” with an ensemble of Gary “U.S.” Bonds, Mabel John, Maxine Brown, Chuck Jackson,, Kindred the Family Soul, Vivian Green, Jaguar Wright, Stax session guitarist Steve Cropper, Steve Jordan, Jean Wright, Betty Wright, Bunny Sigler, Warwick, Butler, Brady, Raitt and many others. And that was just the first 20 minutes!

Chaka Khan at The 20th Annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation's Pioneer Awards Show.

Chaka Khan at The 20th Annual Rhythm & Blues Foundation’s Pioneer Awards Show.

This special evening featured performances by honorees Bill Withers, DeSanto, the Whispers, Khan, Marie, the Funk Brothers and 76-year-old DeSanto, who stole the show when she performed “I Wanna Know” and threw in an amazingly limber forward flip that won her a standing ovation. The surprise of the evening was a rare appearance by the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, who presented a “Lifetime Achievement Award” to a tearful and grateful Chaka Khan. The finale, “I’ll Take You There” turned into a once in a lifetime reunion music fest that included the aforementioned performers as well as the Dixie Cups, Martha Reeves & the Vandellas, Kim Weston and John Oats.

The 2008 Pioneer Awards Honorees are:

Lifetime Achievement – CHAKA KHAN

Individual Artist Award – TEENA MARIE

Individual Artist Award – BILL WITHERS

Individual Artist Award – SUGAR PIE DESANTO

Group Award – KOOL & THE GANG

Group Award – THE WHISPERS

Sidemen Award – THE FUNK BROTHERS

Legacy Award – DONNY HATHAWAY

Leadership Award – AL BELL of STAX RECORDS

The evening’s hosts included:

DIONNE WARWICK

BONNIE RAITT

JERRY BUTLER

WAYNE BRADY

In addtion to performances by this year’s honorees and hosts, the 2008 Pioneer Awards featured appearances by:

WILLIAM BELL

JERRY BLAVAT

GARY US BONDS

MAXINE BROWN

G C CAMERON

STEVE CROPPER

CHUCK D

VIVIAN GREEN

ANTHONY HAMILTON

MABEL JOHN

KINDRED THE FAMILY SOUL

KENNY LATTIMORE

THE HONORABLE MICHAEL NUTTER, MAYOR OF THE CITY OF PHILADELPHIA

JOHN OATES

BUNNY SIGLER

JUSTINE “BABY” WASHINGTON

CODY RYAN WISE

JAGUAR WRIGHT

BETTY WRIGHT

The Rhythm & Blues Foundation was founded in 1988 with the intention of preserving the genre’s historical and cultural importance, as well as providing a helping hand to those in need. Respect was the over-riding sentiment, as tears and hugs flowed freely from the stage.

For more information on the Rhythm & Blues Foundation log on to www.rhythmblues.org.

Source: © Copyright Marketwired But wait, there's more!