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Bob Dylan Archive of 6,000 Items Acquired by Group of Institutions in Oklahoma


Oh the history books tell it
They tell it so well
The cavalries charged
The Indians fell
The cavalries charged
The Indians died
Oh the country was young
With God on its side
- Bob Dylan, With God On Our Side, 1963

Bob Dylan’s personal archive of over 6000 items has been acquired by the George Kaiser Family Foundation and the University of Tulsa in Oklahoma. The New York Times reports the acquisition as costing between $15 million to $20 million dollars. The Bob Dylan Archive will be housed at TU’s Helmerich Center for American Research, and will be transferred to the center from various locations over the next two years. A statement on the newly created Bob Dylan Archive website read: “The materials – nearly all of which have never been viewed or accessed by outside parties – will be made available to scholars and curated for public exhibitions in the near future.”

The Helmerich Center also houses The Woody Guthrie Archives, Dylan’s early musical idol, and is repository for more than 250,000 anthropological specimens covering prehistoric and historic archaeology and ethnographic materials from Native American, Hispanic, and Anglo-American cultural traditions. Its holdings also include more than 100,000 rare books, manuscripts, documents and maps ranging from 1494 to the present, including the John Ross Papers. Ross, also known as Koo-wi-s-gu-wi, was the Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation from 1828-1866. The center also holds over 12,000 paintings, drawings, prints and sculptures by 400 artists from colonial times to the present.

In a statement, Bob Dylan said, "I'm glad that my archives, which have been collected all these years, have finally found a home and are to be included with the works of Woody Guthrie and especially alongside all the valuable artifacts from the Native American Nations. To me it makes a lot of sense and it's a great honor."

Items from The Bob Dylan Archive. University of Tulsa/George Kaiser Family Foundation

The archive includes handwritten lyrics -annotated, revised, and omitted material - plus essays, poems, liner notes, correspondence, and recording and publishing contracts, from Dylan’s 1964 album Another Side of Bob Dylan, to the present. Extensive film and video works are also included in the archive. 

"Chimes of Freedom” lyrics scrawled on hotel stationery and dotted with cigarette burns. University of Tulsa/George Kaiser Family Foundation

Dylan has long been a friend to the Native American community, having worked with such Native luminaries as Karen Dalton (Cherokee) and John Trudell (Santee Dakota-American). Of Dalton, who he performed with at venues such as the Café Wha? in his early Greenwich Village days, Dylan stated in his autobiography, Chronicles Vol. 1: “My favorite singer in the place was Karen Dalton. Karen had a voice like Billie Holiday’s and played the guitar like Jimmy Reed.” Reputedly, Dalton is also the subject of Robbie Robertson and Richard Manuel’s song “Katie’s Been Gone” on the album The Basement Tapes, by The Band and Dylan. 

Bob Dylan, Karen Dalton, and Fred Neil at the Cafe Wha? in 1961. Photo by Fred W. McDarrah

In a 1986 Rolling Stone interview, Dylan stated that Grafitti Man, Trudell’s 1986 debut, was the best album of the year, and in 1987 he performed alongside Trudell, with George Harrison and Jesse Ed Davis.

John Trudell, Bob Dylan, Jesse Ed Davis, George Harrison at the Palomino Club, North Hollywood on 19 Feb 1987

No doubt Dylanologists and music lovers everywhere will be planning a trip to Tulsa in the years to come.