Louisville, KY (WHAS11) - Louisville and its vibrant music scene, in the 1920's and 30's, rivaled New Orleans with jazz and Memphis with the blues.
In our city, a big contributor to that, in the age of segregation, were African American artists. They had their own radio shows on a fledgling, WHAS. Historian and author Michael Jones says, "Louisville was actually one of the first places where the black and white musicians merged, musicians have always said Louisville's a money town!"
Jones and his book "Louisville Jug Music" traces the unique musical history and personalities of our city. He says, "Louisville has a history of interracial bands when I look back, I find a lot of black and German bands."
So, at a time of segregation and when Louisville was still run by former Confederate officers, how did these performers make it on the air. Jones has the answer, "When the Bingham's started WHAS, they thought it was going to be like a public service and no advertising, and then the Ballard and Ballard Flour company in town said, can we advertise?"
So let's go back to this photo. I spotted it as part of the tremendous collage of history put together by the new Omni Hotel, on display in the library lounge and a favorite with visitors who stand, gaze.
Eamon O’Brien of the Omni told us, “We're trying to showcase the talents of a very diverse population.”
On the wall, scenes of the city's African Americans and whites are side by side. The photos are pulled from U of L’s Digital Archives and The Filson Historical Society. The Omni team started on this project two and half years ago. O’Brien says, “They came 6 or 7 times to the city to make sure we really understood the history of where Louisville has been.”
But the WHAS photo fascinated me for obvious reasons. The original photo at the U of L Digital Archives does not identify the two performers. So Michael Jones went to work for us. His best guess on the man, “I think it’s Alfred Boyd. He lived at 10th and Walnut Street and played in mostly jazz combos.” Boyd was also known as “Red”.
The woman at the piano? Jones says, “When I talked to U of L, they did say a lady occasionally played with the Ballard Chefs and her name was Kathleen Betson.”
The Ballard and Ballard Flour Company was located at Campbell and Broadway, paid the performers and was proud of them. We have these photos today because they were ordered by the company back in 1931, and kept them.
The two pictured were lost to time and the archives, until now, prominently back on display thanks to the Omni, front and center, performing for your imagination.
So I had to ask, what would radio listeners have possibly heard from them? Jones said, “Early gospel, which would be very blues influenced things like ‘Take My Hand Precious Lord.”