GUTHRIE, Woodrow Wilson (1912-1967), and AMBELLAN, Harold (1912-2006). An archive including song lyrics and partial draft of Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People [New York], ca.1940s.

85 pages, various size and paper stocks, 215 x 280mm to 215 x 430mm, mainly typescript (but with one autograph page), occasionally lightly annotated (a few pages brittle with chipping at margins).

The Papers of Harold Ambellan include a partial draft of Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People as well as over 60 typescript pages of song lyrics not included in the book (of these, approximately 33 are not listed in Tulsa’s Woody Guthrie Center finding aid). These 60 pages include variant titles and variant verses to recorded or published versions, as well as a handful of items attributed to other musicians, namely Leadbelly. “The Ballad of Harry Bridges” is warmly inscribed by Woody Guthrie to Ambellan.

In Nora Guthrie’s introduction to Woody Guthrie’s landmark work Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People, she tells the story of Woody Guthrie and artist, sculptor, and part-time musician Harold Ambellan. It was 1940, and Ambellan and his wife, artist and writer Elisabeth Higgens, had a loft on 21st Street that would serve as home-base for Guthrie over the course of the year. “Evenings at the loft often included impromptu hootenannies, where Woody and Pete’s [Seeger] musician friends would gather to raise some money to help pay the Ambellans’ rent.” There was a lot of singing, and a lot of songwriting, and it was in the 21st Street loft that Hard Hitting Songs came into existence:

Alan Lomax’s father, John Lomax, had collected a group of songs that dealt with migrant workers’, share crop farmers’, and industrial workers’ issues, many of the lyrics protesting workers’ conditions and advocating for their rights. At the time, the material was considered ‘too hot to handle’ by government employees, so Alan handed it over to Pete [Seeger] and Woody to browse through. They loved the material and together with Alan, they decided to create a new songbook they would embellish with their own writings and commentary, as well as some additional original songs. Working fourteen hours a day, they completed the songbook in about five months. […] The manuscript, which they had titled Hard Hitting Songs for Hard-Hit People, was left behind in the loft, literally saved by Elisabeth Higgens until its existence became known in the 1960s, when it was first published in 1967.

As Nora Guthrie notes, these early songs inspired Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, playing a pivotal role in shaping their work and creating the icons known around the world today. A more detailed inventory of this lot is available upon request.
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