Descriptive inventory for the Raeburn Flerlage photographs and papers, 1917-2006, bulk 1950s-1980s

Raeburn Flerlage photographs and papers

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Descriptive inventory for the Raeburn Flerlage photographs and papers, 1917-2006, bulk 1950s-1980s

Prepared by Armstrong-Johnston, LLC, Dana Lamparello, and Julie Wroblewski.
Processed with the generous support of the Delmas Foundation.
Please address questions to:
Chicago History Museum, Research Center
1601 North Clark Street
Chicago, IL 60614-6038
Instructions for accessing this collection

Collection Overview +/-

Title: Raeburn Flerlage photographs and papers, circa 1917-2006 (inclusive), 1950s-1980s (bulk)
Creators: Raeburn Flerlage
Nickol, Anna
Balkan Studios (Chicago, Ill.)
WSBC (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
WXFM (Radio station : Chicago, Ill.)
Dates: circa 1917-2006 (inclusive), 1950s-1980s (bulk)
Accession number: 2016.0030
Bib number: 00235679
Call numbers: MSS Lot F
2016.0030 PPL
2016.0030 PFL
2016.0030 0MM-0133
2016.0030 PPN-0405
2016.0030 PCT-0257
2016.0030 PCN-0035
Size: Approximately 65.75 linear feet (93 boxes, 150 audio reels, and 2 folders)
Language of material:Collection is written in English, French, and Japanese.

Provenance statement:

Museum purchase from the Estate of Raeburn Flerlage, 2016 (accession #: 2016.0030).

Terms governing use:

Credit photographer or photography studio where identified. The donor deeded all rights owned by the donor to this material, including copyright, to Chicago Historical Society. Other copyrights may be retained by the creators of items, or their descendants, as stipulated by United States copyright law.


Advance appointment required to view color material in cold storage or negatives in cool storage; please email

Alternate format available:

Select images are available to view digitally through the Chicago History Museum. See site:;action=show_content_page&language=en&set=20&ref=news.

Please cite this collection as:

Raeburn Flerlage photographs and papers (Chicago History Museum), plus a detailed description, date, and series/box/folder number of a specific item.

Exhibition Information:

Exhibited in "Amplified: Chicago Blues," Chicago History Museum, opening April 2018. Album covers from box 42: "Hard Drivin' Blues," "I Was Walking Through the Woods," "Evil," "Door to Door," "South Side Blues," "Blues on Highway 49," "Broke and Hungry; Ragged and Dirty, Too," "Blues Piano Orgy." Album covers from box 43: "Preachin' the Blues," "Urban Blues," "Slim's Got His Thing Goin' On," Blues and Lonesome," "Piano Blues Legends," Chicago Blues," "Big Joe Williams and His Nine-String Guitar," "The Blues Never Die!," "More Blues on the South Side," "Memphis Slim and the Real Honky Tonk," "Mississippi John Hurt 1963."

Additional Materials +/-

Related material:

Related materials at the Chicago History Museum, Research Center, includes publications by or about Flerlage, cataloged separately.

Separated material:

Separated materials include an Olympus camera in the artifacts collection of the Chicago History Museum and publications related to Flerlage or Chicago blues and folk music cataloged separately.

Collection Summary +/-

Collection includes black-and-white and color photographic prints, negatives, transparencies, and contact sheets; business and personal papers; journals; audio recordings; collected ephemera; and published works relating to, or produced by, Raeburn Flerlage.

In documenting Flerlage’s varied business activities, the collection includes approximately 29.5 linear feet of photographic materials, which are comprised of original black-and-white negatives (8 x 10 in. and smaller), color transparencies (120 mm and smaller), and color negatives (35 mm) and prints (16 x 20 in. and smaller). Images also include Flerlage’s freelance photography for recording artists and record companies, such as Folkways, Delmark, Prestige, and Testament. Associations between clients and assignments are noted in the container list when known. Significant examples of published materials using Flerlage’s photographs or writings, including record album covers, serials, newspaper clippings, and posters, are also included in the collection.

Additionally, the collection includes approximately 8 linear feet of sound recordings (205 programs on 150 reel-to-reel tapes) containing interviews and announcements produced for radio programs on Chicago-based stations, WXFM and WSBC.

Approximately 28.25 linear feet of business papers comprise radio scripts, article and book drafts, and assorted notes related to Flerlage's work for national and local publications, such as “Sing Out!,” “Down Beat,” and “Chicago FM Guide.” Business correspondence dating from 1941-2000 includes letters to and from colleagues at People’s Songs, Folkways, and the Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago, as well as other professional organizations and individuals working in the music industry.

While the collection largely documents Flerlage’s professional activities, it also includes substantial materials documenting his personal life. For example, journals and day planners that contain notes pertaining to professional activities also notably reveal thoughts and feelings about his personal relationships. Likewise, of the approximately 40,000 unique photographic images, more than one-third document personal aspects of his life, especially his family and friends. Personal correspondence related to his education and personal history also forms a portion of the collection.

Biographical/Historical Note +/-

John Raeburn “Ray” Flerlage was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1915, where he began his longtime personal and professional involvement with music. Flerlage began working as a record store promoter and record reviewer in Ohio in the late 1930s. By the early 1940s, he had formed the Gramophone Society under whose auspices he lectured on classical music. During World War II, Flerlage served as the Director of Employee Recreation and Industrial Music at Wright Aeronautical Corporation in Lockland, Ohio.

Flerlage continued his career in music after moving to Chicago in 1944 and residing at various South Side locations. He wrote a music column, “The People’s Music,” in the “Chicago Star” newspaper and conducted a successful series of lectures at the Parkway Community House called, “The People in Their Music.” This work brought him to the attention of People’s Songs, an organization formed in New York City in 1945 by Pete Seeger and others, which aimed to “create, promote, and distribute songs of labor and the American people.” (People’s Song’s Newsletter. Vol. 1 No. 1.1945). In 1946, Flerlage became the Midwest Executive Secretary of People’s Songs, a position he held for less than a year.

Following his exit from People’s Songs, Flerlage held a variety of jobs including serving as a steward on the New York Central Railroad (1950-1955) and as a record salesman and distributor. In 1955, he became a sales representative for Folkways Records through their Midwest distributor K. O. Asher. The Folkways label represented the same folk artists – Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, Lead Belly – that Flerlage had followed while at People’s Songs.

Although he never received a degree in photography, Flerlage began taking photography courses at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Institute of Design at the Illinois Institute of Technology in 1959. The latter included coursework with photographer Harry Callahan from 1959-1960. Flerlage’s first professional photography assignment came from Moe Asch of Folkways, shortly thereafter in 1959. Knowing Flerlage’s interest in photography, Asch contacted him for some last-minute photographs of blues singer and pianist Memphis Slim to be used as an album cover. Flerlage’s photographs of Slim taken at the Pershing Hotel did not make the cover, but they were used in an accompanying booklet. This assignment soon led to other freelance projects, work that continued through the early 1970s.

Flerlage’s photographs were commissioned by music publications such as “Down Beat,” “Rhythm and Blues,” and “Chicago Scene,” as well as recording artists, music producers, and record labels. His work often appeared on the covers of albums produced by Testament, Chess, Prestige, Delmark, and Folkways Records. Flerlage also photographed in blues clubs, at folk festivals and clubs, in recording studios, and accompanied interviewers on assignment.

In his work, Flerlage documented a wide variety of artists in recording studios and in music venues of all sizes - small clubs like Pepper’s Lounge, Sylvio’s, McKie’s, and in large theaters like the Trianon and the Regal. His subjects included some of the 1960s most prominent blues artists such as Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, John Lee Hooker, Memphis Slim, and Howlin’ Wolf. Flerlage also photographed icons of the burgeoning folk scene – Frank Hamilton, Pete Seeger, Frank Profitt, and Ella Jenkins at locations including the University of Chicago’s Annual Folk Festival and the Old Town School of Folk Music.

During his most prolific years as a photographer, Flerlage continued to work as a record distributer for K. O. Asher. He additionally produced and hosted a number of radio programs for local stations including Folk City, Blues International, Meetin’ House, and Critic’s Choice. By the late 1960s, changes in the publishing industry resulted in fewer buyers for his pictures. When K. O. Asher closed his operation in 1971, Flerlage not only lost his job, but smaller labels such as Testament and Arhoolie lost their distributor. With few opportunities to make money through photography, he went into record distribution on his own, forming Kinnara Inc. in 1971.

Kinnara required all of Flerlage’s attention. He eventually stopped taking pictures and gave up his radio programs. Despite his and his wife Luise’s best efforts to keep the business afloat, Kinnara folded in 1984. While Flerlage was not producing any new photographs, the 1980s and 1990s brought an increase in licensing requests for his pictures of musicians for use in books, magazines, album art, and exhibitions. In 1995, Charles K. Cowdery featured a large number of his photographs in the book "Blues Legends." This exposure led to a number of new relationships, and in the late 1990s, he was connected with film editor Lisa Day. The result was the 2000 publication “Chicago Blues as Seen from the Inside: The Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage.” Raeburn Flerlage died in Chicago on September 28, 2002. He was survived by his fourth wife, Luise Flerlage, and six children.

Catalog Subject Headings +/-

Art fairs--Illinois--Chicago
Art, Japanese
Blues (Music)
Folk music
Gospel music
Radio programs, Musical
Record stores
Trade shows--Illinois--Chicago
Asch, Moses
Baez, Joan
Barker, Horton--1889-
Bland, Bobby
Bloomfield, Michael
Charles, Ray--1930-2004
Coltrane, John--1926-1967
Davis, Gary--1896-1972
Dvořák, Antonín--1841-1904
Dylan, Bob--1941-
Feeney, Ellen
Fitzgerald, Ella
Flerlage family
Flerlage, Raeburn--Archives
Gillum, Jazz--1904-1966
Gray, Arvella--1906-1980
Gross, Bernard--1913-1966
Guthrie, Woody--1912-1967
Guy, Buddy
Hamilton, Frank
Hooker, John Lee--1917-
Hopkins, Lightnin'--1912-1982
Hopkins, Willie
Horton, Big Walter
House, Son
Howard, Hugo
Howlin Wolf
Hurt, Mississippi John--1892-1966
James, Janell
Janell, Retina
King, B. B
King, Freddy--1934-1976
Little Walter--1930-1968
Mayfield, Curtis
McDowell, Fred
Memphis Slim
Montgomery, Little Brother--1906-1985
Muddy Waters--1915-1983
Pineda, Elba
Reed, Jimmy--1925-1976
Rush, Otis
Sandburg, Carl--1878-1967
Seeger, Pete--1919-
Shankar, Ravi
Simone, Nina--1933-2003
Sinatra, Frank
Staples, Mavis
Stedham, Arbee
Stracke, Win--1908-1991
Sunnyland Slim--1907-1995
Terkel, Studs--1912-2008
Ward, Betty Ann
Watson, Doc
Welding, Pete
Wells, Junior--1934-1998
Wells, Mary--1943-1992
Wilson, Jackie
Wilson, Nancy--1937-
57th Street Art Fair (Chicago, Ill.)
Bud Billiken Parade
Chess Records (Chicago, Ill.)
Chicago History Museum--Amplified: Chicago Blues (Exhibition)
Critics choice (Radio program)
Dave Brubeck Quartet
Delmark Records
Folk city (Radio program)
Folk-Legacy Records
Folkways Records
George and Norma
Kinnara, Inc. (Firm)
Newport Folk Festival
Old Town School of Folk Music
Pan American Games (3rd : 1959 : Chicago, Ill.)
People's Songs (Organization)
Prestige Records (Firm)
Record review (Radio program)
Staples Singers
Testament Records
University of Chicago Blues Festival
University of Chicago Folk Festival
Vandellas (Musical group)
Vivekananda Vedanta Society of Chicago
Wednesday meetin' house (Radio program)
Wright Aeronautical Corporation
Contact sheets
Film negatives
Film negatives--Color
Film transparencies
Film transparencies--Color
Journals (notebooks)
Photographic prints
Photographic prints--Color
Sound recordings
Chicago (Ill.)--Music
Japan--Social life and customs

Organization and Arrangement of Collection +/-

The collection is arranged in four series by subject and format and subdivided by document type.

Click on heading to view series description.

Series 1. Journals and planners, 1932-2002, undated (28 boxes)
Subseries 1. Pocket notepads, calendars, and address books, 1942-2002, undated (9 boxes)
Subseries 2. Diaries and journals, 1932-2000, undated (18 boxes)
Subseries 3. Loose notes and journal entries, 1935-2001, undated (2 boxes)
Series 2. Business materials, 1941-2002, undated (196 boxes, 2 folders)
Subseries 1. Correspondence, 1941-2002 (3 boxes)
Subseries 2. Typescript and manuscript drafts, 1946-2000, undated (2 boxes)
Subseries 3. Professional affiliations, 1943-2000 (1 box)
Subseries 4. Legal and financial, 1946-2000 (1 box)
Subseries 5. Work history, 1962-2002 (2 boxes)
Subseries 6. Audio recordings, 1961-1975, undated (150 reels)
Subseries 7. Black-and-white photographic prints, 1940-1989, undated (7 boxes)
Subseries 8. Photographic contact sheets, 1939-1977, undated (4 boxes, 1 folder)
Subseries 9. Black-and-white photographic negatives, 1955-1976, undated (19 boxes)
Sub-subseries 1. Art and artists, 1960-1965
Sub-subseries 2. Art fairs, 1959-1968
Sub-subseries 3. Events, 1959-1965
Sub-subseries 4. Landscapes and buildings, 1960-1970
Sub-subseries 5. Models, 1959-1966
Sub-subseries 6. Music, 1955-1976, undated
Sub-subseries 7. Vivekananda Vedanta Society, 1965-1976
Subseries 10. Color photographic transparencies, 1958-1973, undated (1 box)
Sub-subseries 1. Art and artists, 1960-1970
Sub-subseries 2. Art fairs, 1958-1965
Sub-subseries 3. Events, 1959-1963
Sub-subseries 4. Landscapes and buildings, circa 1960
Sub-subseries 5. Models, 1960-1966
Sub-subseries 6. Music, 1959-1970
Sub-subseries 7. Vivekananda Vedanta Society, 1969-1973
Subseries 11. Photomechanical printing blocks, circa 1945-1970 (1 box)
Subseries 12. Collected ephemera, circa 1935-2002 (3 boxes, 1 folder)
Subseries 13. Color photographic negatives, circa 1958-1970 (2 boxes)
Sub-subseries 1. Art and artists, 1959-1960
Sub-subseries 2. Art fairs, 1958-1960
Sub-subseries 3. Events, 1959
Sub-subseries 4. Landscapes and buildings, circa 1960
Sub-subseries 5. Models, 1958-1966
Sub-subseries 6. Music, 1960-1970
Subseries 14. Color photographic prints, circa 1950-1969 (1 box)
Series 3. Personal materials, 1917-2002, undated (19 boxes)
Subseries 1. Personal correspondence, 1926-2002, undated (3 boxes)
Subseries 2. Education, 1926-1970 (1 box)
Subseries 3. Personal history, 1954, undated (1 box)
Subseries 4. Black-and-white photographic prints, 1917-2002, undated (1 box)
Subseries 5. Black-and-white and color photographic transparencies and negatives, 1939-2000 (10 boxes)
Sub-subseries 1. Art, 1960
Sub-subseries 2. Education, 1959-1965
Sub-subseries 3. Family and friends, 1939-1980, undated
Sub-subseries 4. Landscapes, 1958-1970, undated
Sub-subseries 5. Miscellaneous, 1958-2000, undated
Sub-subseries 6. Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage, 1950-1995
Subseries 6. Color photographic prints, 1950-2002 (1 box)
Series 4. Published works, 1933-2006 (7 boxes, 1 folder)
Subseries 1. Albums: records and CDs, 1960s-1990s (4 boxes)
Subseries 2. Books including licensed images, 1966-1997 (1 box)
Subseries 3. Calendars and postcards, 1993 (1 box)
Subseries 4. Clippings and scrapbooks, 1946-2002 (3 boxes)
Subseries 5. Posters, 1964-2000, undated (1 folder)
Subseries 6. Serials, programs, and catalogs, 1933-2006, undated (2 boxes)

About This Finding Aid +/-

Creation: Finding aid encoded by Brienne Callahan and Dana Lamparello.
Language: Finding aid is written in English.
Other Finding Aids: Finding aid also submitted to the Explore Chicago Collections Portal.
Processing Note:Collection processed between May and September 2017 by Armstrong-Johnston, LLC. The following negatives are missing as of final processing in September 2017: 120799-120833 (digitized), 146083-146084, 100222-100242, 131522-131527, 140483-140485 (digitized), and 134509. Note also that accessioned empty negative sleeves were retained and processed into Box 75, Folder 1.
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