Howell Begle lawyer who championed penniless r&b stars dies at 74

Ruth Brown was a chart-topping rhythm-and-blues singer whose popularity in the 1950s brought her label, Atlantic Records, a reputation as “the house that Ruth built.” Years later, scraping by as a domestic, she heard a familiar sound on the air. “I turned on the radio while I was scrubbing,” she recalled, “and I heard my records come on.”

Like many artists from R&B’s original heyday in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, Brown — remembered for numbers such as “(Mama) He Treats Your Daughter Mean” and “Teardrops From My Eyes” — was a victim of what ABC News once declared the “dirty little secret of the music business.” Through skewed contracts and sloppy bookkeeping, record companies reaped the profits of original R&B sales and subsequent reissues while leaving performers, many of whom were African American, in poverty.

“Where’s the check?” Brown demanded to know.

[Ruth Brown, R&B Singer Who Championed Musicians’ Rights, dies at 78]

In 1983, she found a champion in Howell E. Begle, then a partner in a Washington law firm and a boyhood fan of her music who by then had amassed a library of old 78s — many of them Brown’s recordings — numbering in the thousands.

During a years-long pro bono legal fight, Mr. Begle represented Brown and other R&B artists, helping them claim royalties from past sales, industry-standard royalty agreements going forward, and other benefits in what became known as the royalty reform movement.