November 3, 2020

Explore the Musical Legacy of Indiana Avenue

Explore the Musical Legacy of Indiana Avenue

Narrated by musician Herman “Butch” Slaughter and Produced by Cultural Manifesto host Kyle Long, Echoes of Indiana Avenue is a new weekly audio documentary from WFYI. Each episode focuses on the cultural achievements of Black artists and musicians from central Indiana.

Also known as “Funky Broadway,” “The Yellow Brick Road” and “The Grand Ol’ Street,” Indiana Avenue was the commercial and cultural hub for Black residents during the segregation era in Indianapolis. Decades of development and policy have erased many of the cultural landmarks of this area, but the impact of this vibrant community can still be felt today.

Read on to hear from producer Kyle Long and host Herman “Butch” Slaughter about the show and how it brings the legacy of this community to today’s listeners.

Can you give us a summary of what the show is about, and who you think would enjoy listening to it?
Herman “Butch” Slaughter: I believe the show’s purpose is to bring to light some of the little known facts about the talent that came out of Indiana Avenue, and the influence it’s had on the rest of the world. I think that some of the younger musicians who may not be familiar with this history, and some of the older citizens of Indianapolis who were alive during the Avenue’s prime will be interested.

Kyle Long: I hope this show can capture the enormous scale of creative expression on the avenue, and the impact this culture had on the development of popular music on a global level. I hope the show will resonate with younger listeners who, like me, never had a chance to experience the avenue, but want to hear the sounds and voices of those that made the neighborhood famous.

Is there an episode, interview, or story from the show that really stuck out to you?
Long: We recently did an episode for Hispanic Heritage Month that documented the role of Indiana Avenue musicians on the history of Latin American music in North America. I thought this episode really illustrated the expansive and diverse palette of sounds Avenue musicians were working with. The Avenue is typically pigeonholed as being a jazz mecca, but there was so much more than that happening in the neighborhood.

If you could hop in a time machine and spend a day on Indiana Avenue, what year would you visit, and what would you do?
Slaughter: I’d go back to the night in the early 1960s when Jimi Hendrix played on Indiana Avenue. I wish I could’ve been at George’s Bar on the night that Hendrix lost a guitar battle against Alphonso Young from The Presidents, who were the house band at the bar.

Long: While I would be tempted to go back and see some of the landmark concerts that happened on the Avenue from legendary artists like Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, Little Richard and John Coltrane, I think I’d rather just experience a regular night at a club with the usual local crowd. In particular, I’d go back to 1966 to The Flame, a club that offered a wild bill of local artists each week. A typical night might feature local R&B legends Billy Ball and The Upsetters, and during the intermission you’d see acts like Tangi Dupree, a trans woman who performed a sensual dance with live snakes, and Iron Jaw Memphis, who performed feats of strength with his jaws while roller skating!

Besides listening to the show, what are some other ways people today can honor the legacy of Indiana Avenue?
Slaughter: I’d like to see a non-profit venue developed where promoters, artists and talent agents could work on the Avenue. I’d like to see a venue created for that, because there’s currently a void. But frankly, I don’t think that will happen. Traditionally, the city hasn’t supported initiatives to develop opportunities for artists on the Avenue.

Long: This is a very important question, and cuts to the heart of why Echoes of Indiana Avenue was created. While the majority of the physical structures that lined the Avenue have been destroyed, thankfully, so many of the people who made the Avenue great are still here in the city. You can honor the Avenue’s legacy by supporting the work of people like David Williams, who has written a couple definitive books on the neighborhood’s music history. I would also suggest supporting the work of Avenue musicians like Debbie Nelson, Rodney Stepp and Lester Johnson, who are still performing and recording new music.

Listen to Echoes of Indiana Avenue Thursdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 7 p.m. on 90.1 WFYI Public Radio or stream it live.