5. Reaching out to the Broader Community


In the 1930s, the Indianapolis radio station, WKBF aired a weekly program that was hosted by Reginald DuValle, Sr. aka “The Rhythm King” (1892-1953). DuValle received pithy requests that were mailed in from his fans for him to play selections from the popular rags of the day like, “ Hangin on the Garden Gate, Sayin’ Good Night” by Gus Kahn and Ted Fiorito, “Tiger Rag”, and Beside an Open Fireplace”. At a time when it was taboo for middleclass women to visit jazz clubs the notes written to DuValle below disclose the significance of radio shows in creating community around jazz and ragtime music beyond the nightclub environment.

Note to the Rhythm King1

Note to the Rhythm King2

Note to the Rhythm King3

It has often been necessary for professional jazz musicians in Indianapolis to supplement their incomes with “day jobs” or to play for diverse audiences beyond those of jazz aficionados. The Linco Gas Company was one of the companies that employed musicians including Reginald DuValle, Sr. with day jobs. DuValle traveled throughout the State and the Midwest providing accordion entertainment for riders on the company’s train on wheels, the Lincoln Safety Train in the 1930s.

Linco Gas Train


“Blacks were ‘happy in their own world. I enjoyed Jim Crow. I’ve always felt at home around my own kind.” (Hattie Beaman in Bolden 2009:81)

Many musicians, Indiana jazz scholars, and jazz supporters agree that there was a paradox to racial segregation where being denied admittance to or equal treatment in White educational institutions and performance arenas Blacks were encouraged to excel in domains in which they did hold control. While desegregation efforts following the 1960s Civil Rights Movement were created to redress educational and economic imbalances between racial segments of the population, the move toward integration also inadvertently destabilized the strong support system that existed in all or largely Black environs such as the vibrant businesses and jazz venues on Indiana Avenue and in the all-Black Crispus Attucks High School. Indianapolis jazz scholar, Lissa May writes that “while much has been written about the careers of mature jazz musicians, there is little information about how these artists developed their initial interest and skills. … [and] it often appears that great jazz artists simply materialize as talented, self-taught, mature players” (May 2005: 15). May contends that consideration of the political, social, and cultural context in which jazz education and performing takes place is needed to more fully grasp the optimum environment in which the pre-1960s Indianapolis jazz community thrived and its decline thereafter. Rather than posing a radicalized return to racial segregation, present-day jazz educators would do well by considering these aspects of jazz history and nurturing a supportive, communal jazz educational environment as well as providing pragmatic musical skills training.

Today, those who caught the final peak years of Indiana jazz remain dedicated to the city’s jazz legacy and they continue to perform and educate young aspiring musicians.


Edythe (Eydie) Fitzhugh began publishing “Indy’s Jazz Scene: Fitzhugh’s Jazz Event’s Calendar” – a jazz community newsletter in the 1970s. The Newsletter announced jazz performance events, commemorated the passing of jazz musicians and supporters, informed readers about and encouraged them to visit local jazz venues and national as well as local jazz festivals. The newsletters linked jazz musicians and jazz enthusiasts establishing jazz community through jazz clubs, music and film festivals.

Indy's Jazz Scene newsletter

By 1984, bassist and educator, Larry Ridley established the Jazz Action Coalition and with the assistance of local jazz musicians and enthusiasts published a “Jazz Events Calendar” that played a central role in uniting local members of the Indiana jazz community and linking them to jazz events and enthusiasts nationally. The Coalition boasted a board that included bassist/jazz educator, David Baker as president, W. Marie Miller was vice president, Eydie Fitzhugh served as secretary, Orville Bennett was Business Manager and bassist/educator, Larry Ridley was chief consultant. Recognition and funding was garnered from the National Endowment of the Arts and the Indiana Arts Commission.

Indy's Jazz Scene 4

Indy's Jazz Scene5

In August 1984, The Jazz Action Coalition presented a film festival

Indy Jazz Film Fest

In August 1984 the following “Community Jazz Calendar” was published along with a schedule for the film festival

HAZEL JOHNSON STRONG – vocalist; organizer of the Inner City Music School for children and an annual Indianapolis Women’s Jazz Festival

Hazel Johnson Strong

“It’s so important to give back to the community. … The musicians who are helping us are musicians that are well known and they remember that somebody helped them and they’re giving back and that’s the way it should be. It shouldn’t be about the money.”
(Hazel Johnson Strong 2009)

The Indiana jazz community continues to be fostered by a number of organizations and individuals that present concerts and provide education for aspiring musicians including those provided by the weekly classes of the Inner City Music School organized by singer, Hazel Johnson Strong. Strong who has performed with Wes and Buddy Montgomery, Erroll Grandy and numerous other revered Indianapolis jazz musicians organized the School to provide free music education for children at the Brightwood Community Center. The program has been running for six years and includes many of the best jazz musicians in Indianapolis offering educational services free of charge. Strong has solicited support from The Indianapolis Jazz Foundation and the American Legion that provided instruments and finances for operational support and the ongoing programs are facilitated by various funds raised by Strong and interested members of the community .

Saxophonists, Russell Webster & Pookie Johnson

Russell Webster and Pookie Johnson

Melvin Rhyne

Saxophonists, Russell Webster and Pookie Johnson and pianist, Melvin Rhyne are among several revered Indianapolis jazz musicians who have taught at the Inner City school and see the need to “give back to the community”. Some of the other teachers at the school include Clifford Ratliff teaching trumpet and Frank Smith who teaches bass. Since Russell’s and Pookie’s passing, Hank Hankerson has taken their place teaching saxophone.

Johnson-Strong also acknowledges that difficulties continue to exist for women in jazz and that there are many talented jazz women performers in Indianapolis who do not receive the recognition they deserve (see Hampton sisters on women in jazz, above). To reconcile this, Strong established the Indianapolis Women’s Jazz Festival, now in its seventh year of operation. The Festival is supported by established male and female Indianapolis jazz musicians. The 2009 Festival featured women performers, Regina Weakley, Kathi Schroeder, Barbara Coleman, Carol Harris, and Bam Miller.

Based on the premise that it takes a diverse group of individuals and organizations to create a rich and supportive jazz community this web page links the pivotal roles of significant jazz performers to a variety of individuals and jazz organizations that facilitated the Indiana jazz community over several decades. The stories herein demonstrate how the practice of jazz – not uniquely different from many other art forms — can reach deep and wide within a community and have implications of communal wellbeing beyond the significance of the artistic and professional accomplishments of sole jazz musicians. The information in this webpage represents only a partial picture of the developments and efforts made toward creating jazz community in Indianapolis. To build on the legacy of Indianapolis’ jazz community you are invited to add to the discussion here with your own stories of how individuals and organizations have fostered and continue to foster jazz community in Indiana.


Bolden, Nickerson C. 2009. Indiana Avenue: Black Entertainment Boulevard. Bloomington, In.: AuthorHouse.

Coe, Jimmy. 2004. “The Jimmy Coe Discography.” Interviewed by Dan Kochakian on line website http://hubcap.clemson.edu/~campber/coe.html.

Coleman, Albert. 2009a. Personal interview with author. 24 July.

― . 2009b. Personal interview with author. 7 October.

DuValle, Reginald jr. 2009a. Personal interview with author. 21 October.

― . 2009b. Personal interview with author. 13 November.

Fitzhugh, Edythe. 2009. Personal interview with author. 10 November.

Hampton, Aletra and Virtue Hampton. n.d. “The Hamptons: A Family Rooted in Jazz (The Hampton Sister Group: Overview of a Musical Family). Interviewed by Gwen Crenshaw. Transcript and recording at Indiana Historical Society.

Grandy, Erroll. 1985. Interviewed by Garry Barrow and Will Wheeler. Transcript and tape recording, Jan. 12. Indiana University Oral History Research Center.

Indiana Cultural District Report. n.d. “Indiana Avenue”. Webpage at http://www.bsu.edu/capic/culturalindy/districts/indiana/rfp/inave_blueprint_history.pdf (Accessed 01/03/10).

Johnson, David Brent. 2007a. “Along the Avenue: the Legacy of Indianapolis Jazz.” Indiana public media: Night Lights. http://indianapublicmedia.org/nightlights/indianapolis-jazz-indiana-avenue/ (accessed 01/01/10).

― 2007b. “Indiana Avenue: From Glory to Decline.” Indiana public media: Night Lights. http://indianapublicmedia.org/nightlights/indiana-avenue-from-glory-to-decline/ (accessed 01/01/10).

― 2007c. “Lost Legends of Indiana Jazz.” Indiana public media: Night Lights. http://indianapublicmedia.org/nightlights/lost-legends-of-indiana-jazz/ (accessed 01/01/10).

Johnson-Strong, Hazel. 2009. Personal interview with author. 12 December.

Jones, Mingo. 2009. Personal interview with author. Indianapolis 14, November.

Kirk, Willis. 2009. Unpublished dvd recording, Oct. 10. Butler University, Program of Jazz Studies.

Kollath, Jeff. 2003. Compact disc liner notes, The Hampton Sisters: A Jazz Tribute. Indiana Historical Society.

May, Lissa. 2005. “The Early Development of Selected African American Musicians in Indianapolis in the 1930s and 1940s.” in Journal of Historical Research in Music Education 27(1). (Hard copy only, not online).

Williams, David. 2007. “The Ferguson Brothers and Indiana Avenue” in Traces: Black History News and Notes Summer: 36-39. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Society.



One Response to “5. Reaching out to the Broader Community”

  1. […] 5. Reaching out to the Broader Community April 2010 4 […]

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