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Archives of African American Music And Culture

Last modified: Thursday, December 11, 2008

"Rock, Rhythm & Soul" exhibit enables IU archive to take part of its collection on tour

Dec. 11, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University's Archives of African American Music and Culture (AAAMC), which houses one of the largest scholastic repositories devoted to black music and expression, is using a new exhibit to take its show out on the road.

R&B Exhibit Funk

One of the panels in "Rock, Rhythm & Soul"

Last year, the archives -- which is part of the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology in the College of Arts and Sciences at IU -- received a $28,500 grant from a Lilly Endowment-funded IU Moveable Feast of the Arts program to create a traveling exhibit on African American popular music. The resulting exhibit, "Rock, Rhythm & Soul: The Black Roots of Popular Music," will debut at the Bloomington City Hall on Jan. 2-23, in conjunction with Martin Luther King Jr. Day and the inauguration of the nation's first black president on Jan. 20.

After its presentation in Bloomington, the exhibit will be on display at the Crispus Attucks Middle High School Museum in Indianapolis during Black History Month in February and later this spring at Purdue University, the Evansville African-American Museum and the San Diego (Calif.) County Fair. Portions of the exhibit recently were displayed at the University of Michigan's Dearborn campus and at the Brightwood branch of the Indianapolis Public Library.

"The Archives of African American Music and Culture has always had a two-part mission. Documentation and preservation are one part of this mission, but educational outreach is equally as important," said Portia Maultsby, director of IU's Archives of African American Music and Culture and chair of the Department of Folklore and Ethnomusicology.

"As an archives, preservation concerns prevent us circulating our materials to individuals like a library would do. An exhibit, however, allows us to showcase our collections to people in public spaces without the original materials ever leaving the safety of the archives," Maultsby added.

R&B Exhibit

Photo by: Barbara Kriigel, Librarian, UMD Mardigian Library

A portion of the exhibit was previewed at the University of Michigan's Dearborn campus.

"The central purpose of the exhibit is to celebrate the work of African American artists and to increase the public's awareness of their contributions. Although many of the artists and musical genres represented by the exhibit have been central to the rise of the popular music industry, they are often excluded from history books and documentaries on the broader American popular music tradition."

"Rock, Rhythm & Soul" consists of nine double-banner stands, with each highlighting specific genres and issues related to the history of African American popular music.

The exhibit draws upon materials from the AAAMC's extensive collection and each banner presents viewers with images, text highlighting central issues and personalities and a concise timeline of key historic events. Topics covered include soul, funk, hip-hop, gospel, rhythm and blues music, black rock, black radio and the Civil Rights Movement.

"Different venues cater to different audiences, and we'd like to reach as many different kinds of people as possible," said Ronda L. Sewald, the project's coordinator. "Our mission is to increase people's awareness of the contributions that black artists have made to American music and to American culture in general . . . It's just as important to spread this awareness to city officials and the general public and we're very excited that venues like Bloomington City Hall and the San Diego County Fair are helping us to reach beyond academia.

Maultsby said the exhibit also has been designed to make education seem more accessible. For example, when a portion of it was on display recently at the Indianapolis Public Library's Brightwood branch, librarians noticed that more young African American men visited the library than normal.

"When we designed the exhibit, we purposefully sought out images that would be eye-catching and draw in an audience. We also made sure to incorporate certain genres, such as hip-hop and rock, that would speak more to younger audience members," she said. "Hopefully this information and the way it is presented will be enough to inspire people to delve deeper and encourage them to come to the archives and explore our collections."

"Rock, Rhythm & Soul" is available cost-free to nonprofit institutions in Indiana, for display at museums, schools and history centers through next August. The AAAMC's grant covers the cost of the exhibit materials and of shipping them to and from institutions in the state. Other interested institutions can contact the AAAMC or visit its Web site at for information on costs and availability.

The exhibit is sponsored by the Moveable Feast of the Arts program, which was initiated by the IU Office of the President in 2004 with administrative and financial oversight provided by the Office of the Vice Provost for Research. The program's mission is to showcase and extend IU's cultural resources to Hoosier communities and IU campuses across the state.