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Alix B. Williamson papers

Collection Data

The Alix Williamson Papers document the career of one of New York City's prominent publicists for classical music from the 1940s through the 1990s.
Williamson, Alix (Creator)
Kraus, Lili, 1903-1986 (Contributor)
Simon, Stephen, 1937-2013 (Contributor)
Slenczynska, Ruth, 1925- (Contributor)
Dates / Origin
Date Created: 1918 - 2001
Library locations
Music Division
Shelf locator: JPB 06-69
Concerts -- New York (State) -- New York
Music publicity
Press agents -- United States -- 20th century
Press agents
Biographical/historical: Alix B. Williamson was born on April 6, 1916 in New York City, where she lived and worked until her death in August 2001. While attending Hunter College in the 1930s she wrote for the school's weekly newspaper The Bulletin, and received prizes for "best editorial" in 1934, and "best contribution to a student publication" in 1935. She was also the president of Hunter's Shakespeare Society and dramatic society, and earned extra money as a reporter for the New York Journal-American. After graduating in 1935, Williamson joined the leading public relations firm of Constance Hope Associates, where she handled the accounts of notable personalities, such as Lotte Lehmann, Lauritz Melchoir, and Lily Pons. Her early career included a large amount of ghostwriting, both under the names of her accounts (e.g., Pons) and fictional creations (e.g., Catharine Hoffman). Williamson left the Hope office in 1938 after a dispute over her freelancing activities, specifically a column about New York theater in Promenade. She opened her own agency with one client, Moriz Rosenthal, with office space at 55 West 42nd Street. Her early clients included a number of Philadelphia music institutions, such as the Robin Hood Dell concert series, which she publicized with a stunt involving the so-called last descendant of Robin Hood riding down Broad Street on a black horse to sell the season's first tickets to the mayor of the city. One of Williamson's techniques that she frequently used was to highlight the client's personal hobbies, or skills unrelated to the talent that she was charged with representing. A related approach was using the client's home and family as a setting for photographs, which aimed to make the celebrity more appealing to his or her potential audience. Her client roster expanded in the 1940s. One significant achievement featured a picture of the Metropolitan Opera soprano Helen Traubel on the front page of the New York Times, donating an armored costume to the war effort. Williamson's relations with the press, however, reached deeper than occasional stunts. She became known for consistently informative press releases, written to a degree that allowed editors to use them word-for-word - as demonstrated by a letter she received from the editor of Musical America, which thanked her for being "unfailingly clear and to the point." An important period in her career was her position as press representative for Stadium Concerts, Inc., the organization that staged symphony concerts during the summer at Lewisohn Stadium in Manhattan. She held this post from 1950-1964 while continuing to work with other clients, such as Ruth Slenczynska and the New York City Opera Company. In 1964 Williamson began working with the conductor Stephen Simon and pianist Lili Kraus on a project to record and then perform the complete Mozart piano concerti. The performances were held at Town Hall during the 1966-1967 season. More telling than the success of the series, though, is the relationship Williamson developed with Kraus. She handled a wider range of affairs past publicity, such as Kraus's concerts outside the U.S., and their correspondence shows that Williamson was a source of advice and comfort to Kraus. Williamson expanded her work into a pseudo-management role when she presented concerts, such as the Kraus-Simon project. These were major events in the New York music world, with full-page ads in the New York Times, and resulted in a brand name status both for her and the client involved. She was responsible for stimulating interest in renaissance music through programs by the Waverly Consort, or Rodrigo de Zayas and Anne Perret's "A Renaissance of Lute Song." In some cases she represented the artist over a course of years surrounding the event, but often the concert series was the extent of her work. Williamson's personal life was not separated far from her profession. Her husband, Joseph A. Lippman, was the vice-president of Herbert Barrett Management, and she occasionally represented the artists he managed, or the Barrett office itself. They had one daughter, Victoria, and lived in an apartment in mid-town Manhattan near her office on 57th Street. They vacationed in Provincetown, MA in the 1950s, and took regular trips to Europe in the 1960s and 1970s (sometimes combining business with the vacation). Lippman passed away after a long illness in 1978. Beginning in the late 1960s and continuing through the 1980s, Williamson promoted chamber music and other ensembles. These client relationships often lasted for a significant number of years, such as her work with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, which she took on at its inception in 1968 and represented until 1990. Another considerable client tenure was the Juilliard String Quartet, with whom she worked with from 1971-1994. In the 1990s her pace slowed imperceptibly, as she still oversaw prominent artists and organizations, but perhaps not as many as she was once capable of. The significant clients of this decade were The Little Orchestra Society under Dino Anagnost, the Arizona Opera under Glynn Ross, Rockwell Blake, and Thomas Buckner. The last clients Williamson worked with were the New York Grand Opera, and the Flushing Town Hall in Queens.
Content: The Alix Williamson Papers primarily contain documents related to Williamson's publicity business. This information is centered on her clients, rather than the firm's operations, of which there are few records. A highlight of the collection is Williamson's writing projects, with unpublished examples in the General Professional Papers series, and published columns in the Scrapbooks series. The majority of materials date from 1939-1996, which represents her most active years; there is only one item from her college days - a draft of an article for the school paper and accompanying notes, and no earlier personal data. Williamson began working on her memoirs towards the end of her life, but there is only one folder that is clearly part of this effort (in General Professional Papers). The note "ABW book" appears on some items found throughout the collection, and may refer to her wish to include it in either her memoirs, or more likely, a scrapbook. There are many photographs in the collection, primarily in the Client Files, but also portraits of Williamson in Series I, and enlarged images in the Oversized Materials series. The photographs are often in the form of contact sheets, negatives, or slides; individual portraits or group shots are not prevalent except for certain clients.
Physical Description
Extent: 62 linear feet (101 boxes)
Type of Resource
NYPL catalog ID (B-number): b16500352
MSS Unit ID: 20375
Archives collections id: archives_collections_20375
Universal Unique Identifier (UUID): 5ef64900-fcf5-0138-45ab-0242ac110004
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