Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Ninth Street Revival Chattanooga

From around the turn of the 20th Century until roughly 1970, old Ninth Street in Chattanooga (now Martin Luther King Boulevard) was a hot bed of Black musical innovation and small business entrepreneurship. From the days when young Bessie Smith sang and danced on the street in the 1890s, until the 1960s, when a national policy of "urban renewal meant Negro removal," as the folk saying goes, old Ninth Street was an oasis of African American culture in the region. (The "urban renewal" movement in southern cities during mid-century thus takes its place alongside the Trail of Tears and the removal of farmers for the TVA lakes as another devastating social and cultural upheaval in the name of "progress.")

In the early 1990s, a small group of local non-profits and African American musicians participated in a fieldwork, documentary and performance project called "The Ninth Street Revival." Local musicians remembered and told stories about "Big Nine," and about the community of Black musicians whose classical, blues, jazz, jump, swing, big-band and combo, soul and funk music embodied and defined a folk cultural milieu for thousands of Southern colored people, Negroes, Blacks and African Americans, through the eras of Jim Crow and the Black Power movement.

The Ninth Street Revival project was funded by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. My salary was paid for by Allied Arts of Greater Chattanooga. Partners included the Chattanooga African American Museum and the Mary Walker Foundation.

Just some of the musicians: Willie "Poppa" Stubbs, "Dog" Davis, "Slim" Eppinger, Marvin and Lenell Glass, Vivian Lee, Johnny Starr, Gene Covington, Clyde Stubblefield, the Gospel Inspirers, Skin Deep, the Gospel Songbirds, and many others.

I'm going to start uploading scores of photos and music samples from this project to this blog, and to my website over the next few weeks. (the first picture I uploaded is me on the left, next to guitarist Slim Eppinger, soul singer Johnny Starr, and band leader and trombonist Willie "Poppa" Stubbs, and was taken by the late Reggie Days, a gifted amateur photographer from Chattanooga.)

In the meantime, read the article, "Doin' Fine on Big Nine," in Now and Then, The Appalachian Magazine, Vol. 12, No. 2, published by the Center for Appalachian Studies and Services, East Tennessee State University, Summer, 1995.