Scope and arrangement
The Philip Sterling Research Materials on Bert Williams primarily contain clippings, correspondence, notes, and other research materials compiled by Sterling, mainly between the years, 1959-1962, a period in which he was preparing to write a biography of the African American entertainer. Sterling began conducting research on Williams during the late 1950s in the hope of writing a biography, which, apparently never was completed. He performed extensive research at a number of libraries and also traveled to Riverside, California to speak with individuals who may have known Williams as a teenager, as well as to Chicago, Illinois to interview Lottie Tyler, one of his surviving nieces. He also corresponded frequently with another one of Williams's nieces, Eunice Shreeves, who agreed to authorize Sterling's project and assisted him with research advice. Sterling was in contact with several other individuals with firsthand memories of Williams as well, including Andy Razaf and Carl Van Vechten. In addition to making audiotapes of rare Williams's recordings, Sterling appears to have taped many of the interviews he conducted. While no complete transcripts exist for any of the extant tapes, notes from a few of these sessions or conversations (including one with W. E. B. Du Bois) can be found among the correspondence and research notes in the collection. Audiotapes have been separated from the collection and will be cataloged separately. Also included with the collection is a small set of photographs and printed ephemera relating to Williams and other contemporary African American performers, including the wives of Williams and his professional partner, George Walker, Lottie Williams and Aida Overton Walker.
The Philip Sterling research materials on Bert Williams are arranged in two series:
- 1941 - 19812 boxes
The Research Materials series is comprised of clippings, correspondence, notes (handwritten and typescript), and subject files relating to Philip Sterling's research on Bert Williams and other African American entertainers. Of special interest is correspondence between Sterling and some of Williams's surviving contemporaries and relatives, including his niece, Eunice Shreeves. Sterling's letters to Shreeves most fully document his progress on the project. Other correspondents of note include Carl Van Vechten. In addition to these items, the collection also includes notes that Sterling made from his conversations with Van Vechten and other individuals who had seen performances by Williams, including Dr. W. E. B. Du Bois.
- 1899 - 1921
The Photographs and Printed Ephemera series contains several original photographs of Bert Williams and other prominent African American performers, including his wife, Lottie Williams, as well as Bob Cole, S. H. Dudley, Ernest Hogan, and Aida Overton Walker. Also included are a few promotional materials relating to Williams's appearances with the Ziegfeld Follies and his recording career. Some of these items were included in the Vaudeville Nation exhibition that opened at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in 2005. It is not clear whether or not any of these materials ever belonged to Philip Sterling.