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Keeping the rhythm | Meet the man celebrating artists in Louisville for more than 50 years

Ken Clay opened up the first African American culture shop in Louisville called the Corner of Jazz.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Music is called the great healer. 

It's universal and brings cultures together, interpreting the mood of a movement. 

Ken Clay learned this very early in his career when he opened up the first African American culture shop in Louisville called the Corner of Jazz. It was during the Civil Rights Movement in the late 1960's. He recalls the rioting at 28th and Greenwood destroying businesses in the area. 

Clay said he will always remember the calm after the storm.

"That night, I had at my business an outdoor speaker and one of my employees went and turned on Aretha Franklin's "Respect," he said. "People started coming at night to my building, toward my building, dancing and saying 'Hey respect' and that was a very moving moment for me."

Clay grew up in Louisville and said he will always have fond memories. 

"First 18 years of my life I spent in the College Court housing projects. It was just a wonderful, wonderful era and a wonderful, wonderful feel growing up in the projects," he said. "I was right across the street from what was then called Municipal College, which was the Black college in Louisville."

That school is now known as is the University of Louisville, but the property is Simmons College of Kentucky

Clay's life experiences and personal love for the arts landed him a career spanning over 20 years at the Kentucky Center for the Performing Arts. He helped give a new spin to the Midnight Ramble and created events and programs like ArtsReach.

"When I went to Kentucky Center, I was put into the programming department. There were two of us there," he said. "I felt the need to get Black people to come to events at the Kentucky Center for the Arts."

Before Black artists could perform at the Kentucky Center, Louisville had a venue that welcomed them with open arms. 

"It started at the Lyric, and another theater in Louisville, but it was a part of what was then called the Chitlin Circuit where the best of Black artists would come through and perform shows," Clay said.

He noted that one of his favorite moments was with Maya Angelou. 

"[She was] one that I really wanted to meet and greet and was able to do that --  interact with her [and] have pictures with her. I like the older artists, the Cab Calloway's," he said. "I used to throw parties out at my house for some of the groups that I would bring in. I know I brought Cab Calloway in. After the show he was over to my house, he and his wife and his daughter, and he just had a great, great time."

Clay is a walking, breathing history lesson. From his many awards, to being a co-author of Two Centuries of Black Louisvilleto the many events he still produces today -- he's leaving his legacy one artist at a time. 

"I think my main legacy will be that I'm promoting Black artists, doing things to help not only Black artists, but minority artists, small artists, local artists, to really achieve all that they can," he said. 

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