History · Indiana · Music

Indiana Avenue Chitlin’ Circuit

Indiana Aveune, 1953. (O. James Fox, photographer, Indiana Historical Society). From http://www.HistoricIndianapolis.com

 

This is the second in a series of posts about Indiana Avenue, a stretch of blocks just west of downtown Indianapolis that was the center of social life for the Black community from the 1920s-1960s. Below, I focus on the chitlin’ circuit of clubs, which featured local, regional and national blues, funk, and soul entertainers, in the 1960s and 1970s. In the first post, which you can read here, I summarize the history of Indiana Avenue, from its beginnings as a haven for Black people migrating from southern states, and to its eventual demise by the forces of desegregation, urban renewal, and police crackdown.

My grandmother was born and raised on the West Side of Indianapolis, not far from the famed Indiana Avenue. She used to mention often how the Avenue was the place to party and be seen for Indy’s Black residents. In the literature I’ve read about the Avenue so far, most researchers point to it being the place to hear jazz in the city, and situates its undoing as beginning in the late 1950s. My grandmother was born in 1945, so she would have been engaged in the Avenue’s nightlife beginning in the mid-1960s, and she’s not a jazz fan, so there must have been clubs and music venues still going strong that focused on soul and/or blues music. That led me to googling to learn more about Indy’s chitlin’ circuit, the infamous indie economy of clubs and concert venues that catered to Black music lovers in the south and Midwest, where you could see acts such as James Brown, Solomon Burke, Rufus Thomas, and many others before they rose to international stardom.

Many of the nightclubs had closed down by the late 1960s, due to desegregation and expansion of the Indiana University-Purdue University (IUPUI) campus. But there were still some that moved north of the Avenue, on 30th and 34th streets, which temporarily became a Black nightlife center from the late 1960s through the early 1970s. These new clubs provided music by local and national acts, in particular, the larger venues such as the 20 Grand Show Lounge and Demonstrators Club, showcased soul and funk powerhouses such as Al Green, Funkadelic, and Booker T. & the MGs. A strong force in helping Indy sustain a local Black music scene at least through 1970 was the city’s Black newspaper, the Indianapolis Recorder, which advertised concerts at local venues in its Entertainment World Column (http://www.indiana45s.com/chapter4.htm).

Eventually, along with the continued decline of the Avenue, the nightlife on 30th and 34th streets began its demise in the late 1970s, due to a number of factors, including a declining population and increasing violence.  National acts were now only performing at arena venues such as Bush Stadium, Indiana State Fairgrounds and the Convention Center. As I begin my research into the history of numbers running in Indy, hopefully I will learn more about the fabled Indiana Avenue and its importance to the Black community. I’m gonna leave with you some old skool Indy soul called Soul City by Jazzie Cazzie and The Eight Sounds, from the Knap Town label.

  

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