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Collectible Newspapers

Here are two chilling newspapers that brought bad news to music fans of the day. This 1939 Harlem Jazz paper – selling for 10 cents and calling itself “The Negro Musician’s Own Monthly Newspaper” – heralded the sad news that bandleader Chick Webb had died at the age of 30. It isn’t until several paragraphs into the story that Ella Fitzgerald, the big band’s female vocalist, is mentioned. Ella, of course, would turn this event into a solo career as perhaps the greatest jazz singer who ever lived.

Unfortunately, no such good came out of Buddy Holly’s tragic plane crash, other than a memorable Don McLean song. This February 3, 1959 Iowa newspaper – Mason City was the closest burg to the accident with a daily paper – gives more than half of its front page over to the tragedy, which was discovered just hours earlier and covered in this afternoon edition. Souvenir reproductions of this front page abound, but this is one of two known absolute originals with nothing but other local news on the reverse.

Both items are exceedingly rare. Posters are usually made a few weeks ahead of time, but Harlem Jazz had a shelf life of just one month, and the newspaper just one day. As a serious collector with a real eye toward history, I pay top dollar for significant historical artifacts of this kind.

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Some details from the above two newspapers: Vol. 1, No. 1 of Harlem Jazz, dated July 1939. Top story: Chick Webb Dies; Band Carries On. Death A Shock To Band World. Featuring a cover cartoon titled “The King Is Dead,” and a photo of Ella Fitzgerald inside. Eight pages. Bonus: On the back page, in a gossip column called “The Vocalist’s Corner,” columnist Dee Williams writes, “Haven’t heard the new piece that Billie Holiday warbles, called ‘Strange Fruit.’ But we hear it is a small sensation down there at Café Society.”

The Mason City Globe-Gazette, “North Iowa’s Daily Newspaper,” dated Tuesday, February 3, 1959. Four Killed in Clear Lake Plane Crash. Nationally-Known Rock ’n’ Rollers, Lake Man Victims. Caption for top photo: “Bodies of two victims (arrows) lie near the demolished plane in corn field.” Caption for bottom photo: “PLANE’S WRECKAGE – This is a close-up view of the four-passenger plane in which four persons were killed early Tuesday. The arrow points to the body of ‘The Big Bopper,’ thrown beyond the wire fence and about 40 feet beyond the wreckage.” Also pictured are publicity photos of Buddy Holly and Ritchie Valens. The plane’s local pilot, Roger Peterson of Clear Lake, was the fourth victim. The ill-fated Winter Dance Party tour continued onward, despite the tragedy which killed its three top stars.


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