Bob Dylan nearly chose ‘Little Willie’ for his stage name

An "unprecedented" collection of love letters written by the US singer-songwriter fetched $670,000 (£563,000) at auction

Bob Dylan was nearly called ‘Little Willie’, according to love letters sent by the singer.

The iconic US singer-songwriter – real name Robert Allen Zimmerman – considered a variety of potential stage names including ‘Little Willie’ and ‘Elston‘, as revealed in a collection of 42 love letters handwritten between 1957 and 1959.

The letters were written by Dylan when he was around 16-years-old to school sweetheart Barbara Hewitt, who shared a history class with the singer, in which he declared his love and spoke of his dream of selling a million records.


Hewitt died two years ago, with the 150 pages of letters left to be discovered by her daughter. They were sold at auction in Boston, United States for $670,000 (£563,000) in a bid won by Livraria Lello, a Portuguese bookshop.

Bobby Livingston, RR Auction House executive vice president described the archive as “unprecedented” (via Boston Globe).

“It’s the formative years of Bob Zimmerman transforming into Bob Dylan,” Livingston added. “The beginning of the Bob Dylan myth.”

In one letter he invited Hewitt to a Buddy Holly concert, shortly before the singer’s death. He also drew an invented band with text that read: “‘Little’ Willie, lead singer of the Night Gales.”

“In his myth, he hides everything,” Livingston added. But in these letters “he’s wearing his heart on his sleeve.”


Later letters also revealed the end of the relationship, when Dylan asked Hewitt to return the photographs he gave to her. Select photos can be viewed online here.

Bob Dylan
Bob Dylan. Credit: Keith Baugh/Redferns

Last week, Dylan announced the ‘Time Out Of Mind’ Bootleg Series box set.

Set to arrive on January 27, ‘Fragments – Time Out Of Mind Sessions (1996-1997)’ will feature a remixed version of Dylan’s 30th studio album, plus unreleased recordings such as outtakes, demos, alternate versions and live cuts. It will be available physically in both a five-CD and 10-LP format.

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