The following is a guest post by Stephen Winick, American Folklife Center.
Staff members from the Library of Congress’s American Folklife Center (AFC) have identified a one-minute-long segment of silent color footage as film of David “Honeyboy” Edwards, shot by Alan Lomax for the Music Division in 1942. Although the meeting between Edwards and Lomax was well documented in published accounts by both men, neither of them mentioned Honeyboy being filmed. On a typescript sheet of paper accompanying the films from his 1942 field trip, Lomax or an assistant identified the performer as “Charles Edwards,” a mistake that led to it remaining obscure for seventy years. But AFC staff members noticed that the musician on the film looked like a young Honeyboy, and also identified strong similarities to Lomax’s description of the young bluesman, from his rakish hat to his thumb pick.
Eventually, their suspicions were strong enough that they sent screen captures like this one to Honeyboy’s manager, Michael Frank, who showed the shots to Honeyboy’s stepdaughter, born in 1940. Her verdict: “That’s my Daddy!”
We think AFC’s film is the first known image of Honeyboy of any kind; we haven’t found any other photos earlier than 1967, twenty-five years after the film was shot.
Honeyboy Edwards was one of the greatest blues artists of all time, having won a place in the Blues Hall of Fame (1996), a National Heritage Fellowship Award from the National Endowment for the Arts (2002), an Acoustic Artist of the Year award from the W.C. Handy Blues Awards (2005), an Acoustic Artist of the Year award from The Blues Music Awards (2007), a Grammy Award for Best Traditional Blues Album (2008), and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award (2010). He passed away in 2011.
AFC’s archive was founded as the Archive of American Folk Song in 1928, and was part of the Library’s Music Division for almost fifty years. Shortly after the creation of the American Folklife Center by Congress in 1976, the Archive, including this small but important piece of motion picture film, was moved to AFC. The beautiful state of the film is a testament to the Music Division’s archivists, who took care of it for over thirty-five years, as well to those of AFC.
To learn about other items from the American Folklife Center, please “like” AFC’s Facebook page.