William Grant Still Arts Center recognizes first black record producer
and musical pacesetter in February exhibition
ANGELES -- JazzGenesis: Benjamin Franklin "Reb" Spikes and
the Central Avenue Jazz Scene, 1919 to 1945 unveils the obscured legacy
of a musician who helped open the doors to the entertainment industry
for blacks in Los Angeles. The exhibition begins Jan. 29, 2005 with
a panel of recording industry executives discussing the future of
blacks in the recording industry. The William Grant Still Arts Center
is a facility of the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs.
Benjamin "Reb" Spikes and his brother John were Oklahoma
natives who began in the minstrel tradition in Muskogee with a troupe
that included a young Hattie
McDaniel. They then toured with McCabe's Troubadours with a pianist
named Ferdinand "Jelly Roll" Morton. Spikes arrived in San
Francisco where he was billed as the "Worlds Greatest Saxophonist"
in Sid leProtti's So Diff'rent Jazz Orchestra, the first band to use
jazz in its name, performing at Purcell's So Diff'rent Club, opened
in 1901 by two Pullman car porters, Lew Purcell and Sam King. After
a booking in Watts in 1917 where one of the house dancers was Rudolph
Valentino, Spikes moved to Los Angeles where he and John opened the
first jazz record store at 12th and Central Avenue. Spikes told an
interviewer in 1951, "The richest folks in Hollywood would pull
up in their limousines and send their chauffeurs in to buy the "dirty"
music." In 1921, the Spikes brothers recorded trombonist Edward
"Kid" Ory on their Sunshine Records label, the first instance
of a black record company producing a jazz record. Spikes also operated
the Watts Country Club at Leak's Lake and the Dreamland Cafe at 4th
and Central Avenue. During the 1930s, they operated the Club Alabam
time. Because musicians "hung out" at their record store,
Spikes would book bands for those who called in. "We might have
as many as seven or eight bands out at a time," he told an interviewer.
Spikes conducted the Majors and Minors Orchestra which was the first
black band to perform at a white theatre in Los Angeles. The group
also starred in a film and a hit for Columbia. With Morton, Spikes
was credited as a writer of the early 1920s hit Froggy Moore. Among
the other musicians who got their start with Spikes were Lionel Hampton
and Nat King Cole. Yet, Spikes is almost completely excluded from
most reference books on jazz music, as is the seminal role of West
Coast musicians on the development of the genre. Curator John William
Templeton, author of Our Roots
Run Deep: the Black Experience in California, Vols. 1-4 and editor
of the web site
says, "Excluding Reb Spikes from jazz history is like starting
the book of Genesis on the eighth day." Last February, Templeton
presented Queen Calafia: California Black Heritage Confirmed Through
Public Art at the William Grant Still, a display that confirmed the
allegorical account of an island populated by black women that gave
the state its name.
Templeton noted, "When the formative role of black entrepreneurs
such as Spikes and Lew Purcell and Sam King is omitted, we miss the
conscious role of black producers and club owners to intentionally
position jazz music as a contrast to the minstrel music they had been
locked into for a century. The role of these early jazz producers
is analogous to the way that the abolition movement fought slavery."
Prior to the opening on Jan. 29, Templeton will lead a
workshop for teachers on the use of primary sources of California's
black heritage in the classroom. He was recently commissioned by the
Oxford University Press
to write the history of blacks in the West in the 19th century for
an upcoming reference series. On Sunday, Jan. 30, jazz journalist
Floyd Levin, the former American editor of the British magazine Jazz
Journal, who interviewed Reb Spikes in 1951, will lead a discussion
of Spikes historic importance.
for the latest in curriculum resources. Jazz Genesis: Birth of Jazz
on the West Coast begins with tours to the birthplace of "fillin'
and fakin" in October and November and an exhibition in February.