4. Formal and Informal Education

Crispus Attucks High School

Crispus Attucks High School

In 1927, Crispus Attucks High School became Indianapolis’ first all-black high school. The school, located at 1140 N. West St. (now 1140 N. Martin L. King St.), was named after the Black American Revolutionary War hero who was the first causality of the Boston Massacre in 1770. A legion of dedicated teachers were hired, including several who held masters or even doctoral degrees and the faculty successfully set out to create an institution of excellence in every area of study. Jazz musicians who graduated from Attucks in particular remember the dedication of music teachers, Norman Merrifield, Russell Brown, Lavern Newsome and Mr. Compton. Most of the professional jazz musicians from Indianapolis received early training at Attucks.

Norman Merrifield (seated at piano), L-R Marion Burch, Russell Brown, Anderson Daily and Laverne Newsome

Russell Brown giving an organ presentation at Crispus Attucks High School

Reginald DuValle, Sr., pianist, accordionist, music teacher, band leader (1892-1953)

Video: Reginald DuValle, Jr. talks about his father teaching Hoagie Carmichael piano. (interviewer, K. Taborn in collaboration with The Indiana State Museum)

Reginald DuValle, Sr. cut his teeth in the Russell Smith Orchestra alongside, Indianapolis native, Noble Sissle and Eubie Blake. From there, DuValle established his own orchestra, the DuValle Blackbirds who opened the Walker Theatre in 1927 . DuValle’s. contribution to early 20th century jazz in Indiana is extraordinary and extensive. He excelled as a pianist/accordionist, band leader, radio host, teacher and composer, and played with the leading Black entertainers of his day. As an educator, DuValle played a significant role as a teacher and an inspiration to no less than Hoagie Carmichael. As a young, aspiring jazz pianist, Hoagie used to sit on the DuValle’s front porch in Indianapolis and listen in as Reggie practiced until he was finally invited to come in and take piano lessons. DuValle taught Hoagie how to improvise and how to play stride on the piano. In turn, Hoagie always remembered DuValle in his memoirs and, once he became nationally renowned he would stop by to visit the DuValle family when passing through Indianapolis.

Reginald DuValle, Sr. and his Blackbirds

Reginald DuValle, Jr., trombonist, music educator

Reginald DuValle, Jr.

Reginald DuValle, Jr. was active as a jazz trombonist, music educator and composer for his entire adult life. DuValle played trombone in Jimmy Coe’s big band for c. 20 years and taught music in the Indianapolis Public School system for 37 years. On his breaks, in between teaching assignments at different Indianapolis Public Schools, he composed music. A graduate of Crispus Attucks High School, DuValle recalled the significance and dedication shown by teachers Russell Brown and Norman Merrifield.

Errol Grandy, inspirational pianist and legendary “teacher”


Erroll Grandy’s (1918-1991) peculiar stature as a short, nearly blind man with a deep, gravely voice (like Louis Armstrong) earned him the nickname “Groundhog”. However, it was his musical genius as a pianist; his uncanny talent as a consummate all-around musician, and his ability and generosity to instruct others on how to get the most out of their respective musical instruments that earned him the title of “the Godfather” of Indianapolis jazz. Grandy characteristically was known for being able to identify musical pitches from just about any sound including a quarter dropped on the floor. He played constantly from 1945 until his retirement in 1985 in Indianapolis clubs, churches and homes (Jones 2009; Kirk 2009).

“[Erroll Grandy] would help you in every way he could. Anything you wanted to learn … he was there to teach you…” (Mingo Jones, 2009)

Albert and Anna Coleman

Al and Anna Coleman

Al Coleman and his wife, Reverend Anna Coleman established the Jacer Family Inn and Retreat in Roachdale, Indiana after closing Al’s British Lounge in 1975. The institution (now owned and operated by Ebenezer Baptist Church) sits on 71 acres of country land. In a 1987 news article published in the Wilmington Morning Star News Anna stated that the Inn served as a refuge for families and inner city children to go hiking, play basket ball, go fishing and just talk in a safe and loving environment away from the city. The Coleman’s bought a bus to transport children to the Inn and arranged for professional Indianapolis jazz musicians to lead jam sessions and to provide free musical instruction for the children.

Jacer Inn News Article

The MacArthur Conservatory of Music

McArthur Conservatory Group Photo

The Arthur Jordan Music Conservatory

Jordan Conservatory of Music (brochure photo)

Two private schools that catered to jazz musicians in the 1940s and 50s were The McArthur and the Arthur Jordan Music Conservatories. The McArthur Conservatory was housed in a 20-room building on Indiana Avenue (across from the Lockefield Gardens housing complex). It was opened in 1946 by Ruth McArthur, an Indianapolis Public School music teacher. The Conservatory’s faculty was mixed race and provided education in Western, African American and African diasporic music and dance repertoires. A report on Indiana Avenue and African American businesses developed by the Indiana Avenue Cultural District states that,
In addition to the school that encompassed thirteen departments, McArthur introduced the concept of branch schools during the 1950s. These outreach centers, located at schools, community centers, and churches, offered recreational music and dance. A record shop operated on the first floor of the building.
(Indiana Avenue Cultural District report n.d. 23)

The Jordan Conservatory maintained a white faculty and provided instruction in Western music. Jordan Conservatory’s name was changed to Jordan College of Music in 1949 and it merged with Butler College in 1951. Among those who attended The McArthur Conservatory were members of the Hampton family, Eydie Fitzhugh, and Al Coleman. Some of those who attended The Jordon Conservatory were, Reginald Duvalle, Jr., Erroll Grandy, and Al Coleman.

Reginald DuValle, Jr. attended Jordan after it merged with Butler College in the 1950s and recalled it as a friendly, relaxed environment that was accepting of African American jazz musicians where jam sessions were regularly held.


11 Responses to “4. Formal and Informal Education”

  1. V E Holmes Says:

    I am trying to find information about an african american female concert pianist, Victoria E. Johnson. She graduated 1947 form the Jordan College of Music and had a studio on Indiana Ave. I am also told that she played in concert at the World War Memorial in Indianapolis during WWII.
    Any information you could provide would be greatly appreciated.
    VE Holmes

  2. although 50 years have passed, it seems to me that jordan school of music used a building on 34th street, a couple of blocks east of meridian street.

    you must be related to the mrs duvalle who played piano and used to play for the school 42 (elder w. diggs) plays. the drummer she used was paul parker, i believe he is the drummer used on wes montgomery’s first recording.

    • Hello Michael,
      I’m not related to the DuValle’s however I met and interviewed Reginald Jr. a few months before his passing. He did mention to me that one of his sisters played piano.

  3. David Leander Williams Says:

    To V E Holmes: Can you supply me with additional information on Victoria E. Johnson? I would like to research her. I have chronicled 523 musicians who were directly or indirectly connected to Indiana Avenue entertainment. One more will be just fine! If you have info, please contact me at fanteeking@msn.com Dave Wms

  4. […] 4. Formal and Informal Education April 2010 3 comments 3 […]

  5. Cheers for posting this. This addressed lots of inquiries which i had.

  6. I was told by my father Milan G. Brown jr that he attended this prestigious school MacArthur Conservatory Of Music. Im assuming it had to have been in the late 1930s-1940s. He went on to become a singer/songwriter in jazz & gospel before he passed in 1963.

    • david williams Says:

      I’ve researched McArthur’s Conservatory at the Indiana Historical Society. There are many photos of the students there from late 40’s to mid 50’s. Perhaps, your Father’s photo is there? dw

  7. Hiya! I just would like to give an enormous thumbs up for the great information you’ve got here on this post.
    I will be coming again to your blog for more soon.

  8. I don’t about anyone else who had the pleasure of knowing him, but I didn’t know anything about Mr. DuValle’s past, just that he was a really awesome and patient teacher (I’m pretty certain he is the same person who helped with the Indianapolis Jazz Band that practiced over at Tech HS on Wednesday nights in the eighties… along with Jimmy Coe, Larry Leggett and a host of other really awesome musicians…) and without him, a lot of people growing up in Indy wouldn’t be where they are now if they hadn’t met him…

    • Deanna, I interviewed Reginald a few months before his passing and I must admit I fell in love with the man. He was such a gentleman and charming in the best sense of the word. We had some good laughs together (you may hear me chuckling in the background of the video) and learned how accomplished he was as a musician, a worker (I believe he worked as a postal worker for a long time) and a real gentleman. He share recordings of several of his compositions with me that he wished someone could record. I assume his children must have access to those. I’m so glad I got to interview him and get his beautiful spirit on tape before he passed away. Karen Taborn

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