Early days of “The Pitch”

The Pitch was first published in July 1980 as the Penny Pitch, a music sheet handed out by Penny Lane, the erstwhile Westport record store at 4128 Broadway. The first 13 issues were printed under the early banner before undergoing a series of name changes – including KC Pitch and Pitch Weekly – beginning in January 1982. Since then The Pitch has expanded into an alternative weekly newspaper serving the greater metropolitan area and covering music, film, arts, entertainment, news and investigative reporting.”

The above quote is from a 2010 online exhibit made by LaBudde Special Collections to commemorate thirty years of The Pitch. Now, as the paper changes back to a monthly format, we thought it appropriate to revisit that exhibit. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at some of the historical, insightful, colorful, and even unusual stories that made the pages of The Pitch in the 1980s.

This back page contains a letter to the editor and an promo for the record store.

The first issue of Penny Pitch came out in July 1980. Clearly the paper had a long evolution ahead of it. The two top headlines were a tanning contest sponsored by KY102, and an interesting story by editor Warren Stylus about Penny Lane’s unique stock of records (Stylus being either a pseudonym, or a perfect last name for a music writer). The tanning contest seems to have been underwhelming, a fact the writer attributed to ash from Mt. St. Helens still blocking out the sun over Kansas City. For those who may not remember, Mt. St. Helens had erupted just a few weeks prior in May, 1980. Stylus’ story is more interesting. He chronicles the story of The House, an important distributor of small independent record labels – over 350 according to Stylus. The House had a colorful history, first occupying an actual house in St. Louis, then the limestone caves around 31st St in Kansas City, before finding a home in the same building as Penny Lane. As with any first issue, the writers were finding their feet. Still, the paper established some columns and segments that would become stalwarts over the next decade. One example was the music review column known as “Ridin’ With the King” written by Leroy “LeRoi” Johnson.

By 1984, the paper (now the KC Pitch) was a more serious piece. In contained interviews with major musicians, advertising for Penny Lane, and an extensive music calendar. With Stevie Ray Vaughan, Van Morrison, Robert Cray, and the Grateful Dead all coming to town in 1984, it was a good time to be a music fan in Kansas City.

LeRoy “LeRoi” Johnson kept Kansas City music fans well informed on both the good and the bad of newly released records.

LeRoy Johnson continued to write music reviews as well. In his reviews he put a (literal) stamp of approval (“WOW”) next to records he liked, and a stamp of dis-approval (“FLY ME”) next to those he did not.

The cover story for April 1984 was an interview with Jazz legend-in-the-making Ronald Shannon Jackson. Jackson was born in Fort Worth, Texas. He attended Lincoln University in Jefferson City, Missouri where he roomed with piano legend John Hicks. Shannon had formed his own band, The Decoding Society, in 1979. Shannon and his band had just returned from a tour of Asia. Of the tour, Shannon said “we were invited to do the Singapore Jazz Festival and the Malaysian Jazz Festival…most of the crowds we played for were two, three, four thousand. They have a total thirst for western music.” Shannon also theorized that Asian audiences were more likely to dance to his music because the unconventional beats he used were akin to beats used in Asian musical genres. Shannon appears to have believed that in 1984 Asian (or European) audiences had less rigid standards for what constituted “Jazz” than Americans did. As a result, they were more “accepting” of his music, although he also said Americans were getting better. Describing his musical style, Shannon said that “there is no actual lead [instrument]” in his melodies. Instead, his melodies were based on rhythms produced by traditional “background” instruments like drums or bass. In Shannon’s songs, “the drums are like a lead instrument.” The Shannon interview demonstrates how America’s signature art form – Jazz – continued to be modified by innovative performers. Critically, it also shows how worldwide audiences were attracted to American music, even if that music did not fit more rigid American audiences’ definitions. Kansas City’s jazz heritage is often thought of as an American phenomenon, but Kansas City takes on global significance when you consider jazz as an important American cultural export. The Shannon interview hints at this relationship.

In October 1988, ahead of a solo appearance by Robert Plant, the KC Pitch asked “Does Kansas City hate Led Zeppelin, or does Led Zeppelin hate Kansas City?” Apparently, in 1969, the crowd at a Zeppelin show at Kansas City’s Memorial Hall booed them off the stage. This, according to writer Anthony Henge, became the first and last time Zeppelin played Kansas City until Plant and Jimmy Page made separate appearances in 1988. By 1988, the paper had grown to over 30 pages long. What had been a simple newsletter for a record store had become arguable the important source of entertainment news in the city. But, some things had stayed the same. LeRoi was still writing music reviews. Some of the articles still had a tongue-in-cheek style. And the paper was (and is) still free.

Sources

Youtube

Paul F. Berliner, Thinking in Jazz: The Infinite Art of Improvisation. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994)

Where the Magic Started

The lion king? A young Walt Disney sitting atop one of the lion statues in Swope park.

(Written by Helena Collins-Gravitt)

In the summer of 1923, with nothing but an idea and an unfinished project called “Alice’s Wonderland,” Walt Disney left his bankrupt studio in Kansas City and traveled to Los Angeles. Walt Disney has been a household name for decades. His studio revolutionized the world of animation. It’s possible he is the most significant person in the history of American film making. But how did the father of animation get his start? The story of Walt Disney begins in Kansas City, Missouri from 1911 to 1923. In 1920 Disney worked at Kansas City Film Ad Company, but his creative ideas clashed with that of the company’s owner. So, Disney and his co-worker Fred Harman created their own company and named it Laugh-O-Gram Studios after their first short films, “Newman’s Laugh-O-Grams”, sold to Newman Theater. This is where he came up with the idea that has been synonymous with Disney ever since: “modernized fairytales done in animation.”

The LaBudde Special Collections is home to several photographs from the early life of Walt Disney and the history of Laugh-o-Gram studios. These photos can be found in the Baron Missakian collection. Missakian was a well know photographer in Kansas City during the 1920s. He photographed many famous personalities, one of whom was Walt Disney. But why did Missakian have so many photos of Disney and the processes at Laugh-O-Gram studios? The reason behind this is that Disney’s studio and Missakian’s photography office were right across the hall from one another and they were close friends. In fact, Missakian ended up marrying Disney’s personal secretary. The set of photos includes a young photo of Disney, many photos from various projects, and even a photo of him at Kansas City Film Ad company.

The story of Disney’s first studio is a rough one, as most stories begin. After some time at the Kansas City Film Ad Company, Disney found that he did not like the cut-out animation style. He preferred classical hand drawn animation, but he could not convince the owner of the company to change styles. So, on May 22, 1923 Disney, along with co-worker Fred Harman, founded Laugh-o-Gram studios at 1127 East 31st Street in Kansas City. Here Disney started working on his animated films. His first twelve films were commissioned by the Newman Theater.

The Newman Theater, owned by Frank Newman where Disney’s early cartoons were shown. (Courtesy, Missouri Valley Special Collections)

His next big project was creating six films for Tennessee-based Pictorial Clubs. This was a big project and Disney was going to be paid eleven thousand dollars for these films when he delivered them. The six films were, “Little Red Riding Hood”, “The Four Musicians of Bremen,” “Jack and the Beanstalk,” “Goldie Locks and the Three Bears,” “Puss in Boots,” and “Cinderella” (1922). Sadly, only months after the contract was signed and the studio began working on these films, Pictorial went bankrupt and Disney was never paid. After all the time and money spent on these films, Disney moved on to find new work because the studio was in desperate need of funds. This led to Disney taking on a project for a local dentist named Thomas B. McCrum.  From this job, the film “Tommy Tucker’s Tooth” was born, and Disney received five hundred dollars. Then instead of using that money to pay off his many debts, Disney started working on his newest idea. A live-action/animation entitled “Alice’s Wonderland”, which would star Virginia Davis, a young local actress. But this work only made the studio’s financial issues worse and after finishing the raw edits for the film the studio filed for bankruptcy in July 1923. As fast as he could Disney bought a ticket to Hollywood, armed with only his ideas and an unfinished reel of “Alice’s Wonderland”. The name is no coincidence: this was the first of a run of Disney-made “Alice” stories, a run that continues to this day. 

The other incredible thing about Laugh-O-Gram studios is that Disney is only one of the animation greats that emerged from it. Hugh Harman (brother of Fred Harman) and Rudolf Ising (a Kansas City native) were animators who worked for Laugh-O-Gram. As a duo they later founded the animation divisions of Warner Brothers and MGM. Another Laugh-O-Gram alum, Fritz Freling, is the man responsible for creating Bugs Bunny, Porky Pig, Tweety Bird, Sylvester the Cat, and Yosemite Sam. It’s almost impossible to overstate: the Disney family tree that is Hollywood animated film making can all be traced back to Laugh-O-Gram studios. It is an incredible piece of Kansas City history, and there is a movement underway to preserve it. In 2015 the Thank You Walt Disney Foundation began renovations on the site, and put together a plan for an on-site learning experience. Until then, the photos in LaBudde Special Collections offer a window into one of the most pivotal moments the history of American film making.

Sources

“Baron Missakian Collection”, MS 24, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Timothy S. Susanin, Walt Before Mickey: Disney’s Early Years, 1919-1928. (Jackson: University Press of Mississippi, 2011).

House Hunting in 1896

Imagine a young couple living in Chicago or Kansas City in 1896, who wants to move to a new city. Maybe he had a new job in a different city, or maybe they were adding to their family. Whatever the reason is, they needed to buy a new house somewhere else, which means they needed to go look at houses. They did not have a car, and even if they did there were few roads. Fortunately for our fictitious home-buyers, the Chicago, Rock Island & Pacific railroad had a solution: a special type of ticket called a Home Seeker’s Package or Home Seeker’s Excursion. The J.E. Lynn Railroad Collection in LaBudde Special Collections has several examples of these tickets. In these unassuming tickets is a story of how railroads fueled America’s growth, one prospective home buyer at a time.

A variety of tickets to destinations such as Wichita, KS; Marion, GA, Sioux City, SD; and Salida, CO.

The so-called “golden age” of American railroads lasted from the late 1870s until the Great Depression. During this time trains carried up to 3/4 of interstate freight, and basically all of the passenger travel. Together with the great ocean liners, they were the pinnacle of early twentieth century travel. As a result, they were accessible to all kinds of people. There was greater diversity of schedules, more stops, and more variety of ticket packages than there are today. Furthermore, their pre-eminence made railroads an important part of America’s continuing growth and prosperity. Home Seeker excursions were one particular example of how railroads helped populations move across the country during this “golden age.”

When our young couple bought a home seeker excursion, they were getting a heavily discounted round trip ticket to a particular destination(s).

There was a set period of time to use the return half of the ticket. If the buyer missed their return date, the ticket was worthless. Most home seeker excursions took prospective buyers to newer areas. Texas, Oklahoma (which in 1900 wasn’t even a state yet), Nebraska, New Mexico (also not a state yet) and the Dakotas. Clearly, the US looked very different in 1900 than it does today. National priority #1 was to develop the lands that had been won from the French, Spanish, Mexicans, and Native Americans during the prior century. As the best-available means of land transportation, railroads were the best tool for accomplishing this. The home seeker’s excursion ticket reflects this. There were other ticket packages too, such as tourist or sightseeing excursions, as

A Harvest Excursion ticket to Sioux City

well as harvest excursions. However, the home seeker excursions are particularly important because they illustrate the critical role railroads played in helping fill the empty parts of America. When the transcontinental railroad was being built during the 1860s, much of the rhetoric was about tying the country together. A lot of railroad development was subsidized by federal and state governments, and it is possible that is why home seeker tickets were relatively cheap. While it is easy to be cynical about such a union of naked capitalism and nationalism, it is not clear if such a robust rail network could have existed otherwise. That rail network is what enabled much of America’s growth prior to the Depression. One way was by making it easier for people like our fictional family to migrate to new parts of the country.

 

The Echoes of Long-Bell

This Jingle for the Long-Bell Lumber Co. was recorded exactly 65 years ago today, on March 28 1952:

The recording is fascinating and rather unusual for its time because of its utilization of tape delay to imitate the sound of a ringing bell via the human voice. Recorded by local studio forerunner, Vic Damon, the recording highlights all of the home improvement products sold at the retail store at the Gregory and Wornall intersection in Kansas City, MO.

Damon is pictured here in his studio with record cutting lathes.

The radio announcement is certainly unique because of its technique. However, it is also interesting because of its significance to the Long-Bell Lumber Co. and the Robert Alexander Long legacy in the Kansas City area. In 1956, just four years after Damon recorded the radio announcement, the once prominent Long-Bell Lumber Co. was absorbed by the International Paper Corporation. The timeline of the Long-Bell Lumber Company runs a tumultuous course where the success and wealth of the company were challenged. What started off as a booming enterprise eventually declined and faced several challenges from internal conflicts, litigation, and the Great Depression.

Local historian Lenore K. Bradley referred to the early success of the Long-Bell Lumber Co. as the “Gilded Age” in her biography of Long, and it was certainly that. Long spared little expense in the creation of the ornate structures he left behind.  Remnants of R. A. Long’s affluence are dispersed throughout the Kansas City area. Landmarks included in his legacy are Liberty Memorial, Longview Farm, and the Kansas City Museum.

View of the west side of Corinthian Hall, now the Kansas City Museum.

For additional photos, check out R.A. Long’s City and Country Homes Photo Album

Sources

Bradely, Lenore K. Robert Alexander Long: A Lumberman of the Gilded Age. (Durham, NC: Forest History Society, 1989).

R.A. Long’s City and Country Homes Photo Album. LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC.

Vic Damon Collection. LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC.

Content sharing in the ’30s

It’s probably 16 inches wide, and you hold it carefully by the edges. It could be made of glass or aluminum, coated with black cellulose nitrate. If you’re lucky the coating hasn’t started flaking off yet. Alternatively it might be made of vinyl, like an LP, but bigger. It plays at 33 1/3 RPM, holds 15 minutes of recorded sound, and was a key tool in the development of syndicated radio programming in the United States. We’re talking about transcription discs.

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A cellulose nitrate over aluminum transcription disc. Note where the coating has flaked off. When that happens, that part of the recording is lost.

In the 1920s, radio stations needed a way to replicate and share programming consistently. They weren’t allowed to play commercially released records on-air because musician’s unions believed that hurt record sales. So radio content had to come from somewhere else. Live broadcast was inconsistent, time consuming, and expensive. Not every radio station could afford to have its own in-house musical groups, but all stations wanted to attract more listeners. At this time the first radio networks were beginning to form. The National Broadcasting Company (NBC) was created in 1926, and Columbia Broadcasting System (CBS) was formed in 1927. As these networks made more programming and acquired more satellite stations, they needed a way to distribute programming. Larger radio stations were creating programming of their own that they wanted to share with the networks. In short, there was a huge market for pre-recorded radio programming, but distribution of content was still a major hurdle. Transcription discs were the solution.

By the 1930s, transcription disc recorders had become ubiquitous at larger radio stations. Program producers were able to pre-record a program, make copies, and distribute it to other radio stations for future broadcast. This meant that stations in networks could all get the same programs. Individual stations could also add out-of-network programming to their repertoire by purchasing them from distributors. A station could also record its own unique local program using transcription discs, and then re-use it later. As a result, small stations could avoid the expense of live programs. Bigger stations and networks could get their shows to a wider audience. This meant listeners in Boston, Kansas City, and San Francisco could hear the same program at the same time. The ability share programming is a big reason why radio contributed to the growth of popular culture across America. To paraphrase Marr Sound Archives director Chuck Haddix, “radio was like the internet” because it brought people closer through information sharing. Everybody got to hear the same radio programs and news broadcasts, giving people similar cultural and political knowledge. We take this for granted today. Imagine for a moment a conversation with someone from two or three states away. They hadn’t heard Adele’s latest song or weren’t able to listen to that Ted Talk that enthralled you. Of course the opposite would be true as well. Its 75 degrees here in Kansas City. What snow storm in Ohio? That political protest in Washington that they went to? You had no idea until weeks later. Certainly newspapers allowed content-sharing, but radio was a huge leap forward, and it’s largely thanks to the humble transcription disc. One of the big 1930s radio stations that made a lot of transcription discs was KMBC here in Kansas City. Many of these discs are now held in the Marr Sound Archives.

KMBC joined CBS in 1928 as the 16th affiliated station. In 1930 station moved to the eleventh floor of the Pickwick Hotel. Under the direction of Arthur B. Church, KMBC became a model for other stations. Church and KMBC produced a wide variety of syndicated shows which were recorded on transcription discs and then distributed. One of these programs was the Texas Rangers. Another example from the KMBC collection that highlights the importance of transcription discs is a recording of one of Franklin D. Roosevelt’s “fireside chats.” The recording can be heard below. It was made by CBS at the White House on May 2, 1943. It was then presumably broadcast by all CBS network stations, including KMBC. FDR could not have reached the entire country without transcription disc technology.

Sources

Museum of Broadcast Communications. Encyclopedia of Radio. Edited by Christopher Sterling. Vol. 3. London: Fitzroy Dearborn, 2004.

 

Selections from the Equal Rights Songbook

In 1971-1972, the National Organization for Women, along with other women’s rights advocacy groups fought for passage of the Equal Rights Amendment. First written by Alice Paul in 1923, it was brought before Congress repeatedly over the ensuing decades. In 1971, the House of Representatives finally passed an updated version of the Amendment, which read as follows:

 Section 1. Equality of rights under the law shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of sex.

Section 2. The Congress shall have the power to enforce, by appropriate legislation, the provisions of this article.

Section 3. This amendment shall take effect two years after the date of ratification.

The ERA eventually passed the Senate in the spring of 1972. As with any potential amendment, it then went to the states for ratification. It needed 38 states to ratify for passage, but only received 35 before the expiration of the ratification deadline. 5 other states eventually rescinded their ratification. The ERA still has support, and has been re-proposed numerous times. However the campaign of the 1970s remains its high water mark. LaBudde Special Collections houses some memorabilia related to the ERA crusade of the early 1970s. This post brings you a pamphlet with several “Songs to Pass the ERA By” (pictured below).

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The small collection of songs appears to have been compiled from contributors, whose names and locations are noted with each song. The songs in the brochure are drawn from several sources. First, “Shoulder to Shoulder” is derived from the song “March of the Women.” “March of the Women” was written in 1910 by two Englishwomen; composer Ethel Smyth and actress/writer Cecily Hamilton.

Both were active in the English Women’s Rights movement, and they wrote the song for the Women’s Social and Political Union, active in England 1903-1917. At the time it was written, the song was described as “at once a hymn and a call to battle.”

The “call to battle” theme continues with a song set to the US Army marching tune “Caissons Go Rolling Along.” Like “March of the Women,” it focuses on unity, or “sisterhood.” The other contribution to the NOW songbook that draws on American patriotism was a pro-ERA song set to the tune of “America the Beautiful.” This song is not a call to battle, instead it is a celebration of a brighter future in which men and women are “living in full equality.” The battle to pass the ERA coincided closely with the bicentennial of the United States, a point the NOW songwriters did not overlook. Both patriotic songs emphasized that 200 years had passed since the Declaration of Independence.

The little songbook is peppered with creative adaptations of popular songs as well. Two short sing-a-longs are set to “Brother John” (“Frère Jacques”) and “Row Your Boat.” A member of the Chicago branch of NOW submitted a pro-ERA song set to “Dinah Shore’s Chevy Song.”

Even though the jingle itself was a couple decades old, Dinah Shore would have been familiar to TV audiences from her numerous variety shows in the 1950s to her daily talk show during the 70s.. “Bella Ciao” takes a different approach, leveraging a less lighthearted subject. “Bella Ciao” (Italian for “Goodbye Beautiful”) is a song of resistance that was sung by anti-fascist Italian groups the 1943-1945 Italian Civil War. Again, a version of it is below. (LaBudde Special Collections is not responsible for any of these songs getting stuck in your head.)

These songs are evidence that ERA supporters saw themselves as part of a much wider movement. By borrowing from patriotic American traditions, they linked themselves with America’s past. They also looked worldwide, borrowing from longs of resistance and political movements written in other countries. Finally, the songwriters cleverly recycled one of the most famous commercial jingles ever written into a song for political action. This is a small document, but it encapsulates the vibrancy of the ERA movement and the NOW membership. Whether “Bella Ciao” or “Row Your Boat,” songs can become more than the sum of their parts, and music’s flexibility as a medium allows its use by groups across space and time.  

Sources

YouTube

http://history.hanover.edu/courses/excerpts/336era.html

NOW Collection, MS-302, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri-Kansas City.

Elizabeth Crawford, The Women’s Suffrage Movement: a Reference Guide, 1866–1928. (London: Routledge, 2001).

Ride the West Wind

On May 26, 1934, a brand new train covered 1,015 miles from Denver to Chicago in 13 hours and 5 minutes, setting records for speed and time. A fine specimen of art deco styling, rendered in gleaming stainless steel, it was the first of a generation of revolutionary new streamlined trains built for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy railroad. These trains were known as “Zephyrs,” after Zephyrus, the Greek god of the West Wind. For the next three decades, Zephyrs from Chicago and Kansas City crisscrossed the western US. Their service spanned a time of transition in American transportation; it began in the depths of the Depression and ended with the expansion of air travel and interstates during the 1960s.

John E. Lynn was a General Passenger Agent for the Chicago, Burlington and Quincy Railroad (CB&Q) office located in Kansas City during the era of the Zephyr trains. The J.E. Lynn collection in LaBudde Special Collections contains many of the Zephyr-related items Lynn collected during his life. This post showcases some of those items, and explains how the Zephyr trains represent one of the high water marks of American railroading during the 20th century.

Zephyrs were built by the Budd Manufacturing Company of Philadelphia, PA. They utilized a unibody design that reduced the number of components in the drive system and saved weight. Stainless steel sheetmetal as thin as 0.012 inch was formed into boxes and rectangles to create a strong skeleton that was lighter than traditional components like wooden braces or thick steel bars and plates. The roof was made of stainless steel just 0.022 inches thick, corrugated to give it rigidity. As a result, three of Budd’s “Zephyr” cars weighed the same as one contemporary Pullman coach car. The Pioneer Zephyr was powered by General Motors’ latest diesel-electric powerplant: a 660 horsepower diesel engine that drove an electric generator. GM upgraded later engines to produce about 1000 horsepower. Architect John Harbeson designed the train’s exterior to be both beautiful and functional. Stainless steel meant paint was unnecessary, and besides, who would want to hide that shine? Wind tunnel testing at MIT revealed the Zephyr had over 40% less drag compared to older designs. CB&Q hired the head of the University of Pennsylvania’s architecture department to design the ultra-modern interiors. Each compartment had heating and air conditioning – good luck finding that in a 1930s car or plane. All the innovation by Budd, GM, and CB&Q resulted in new flagship trains that were thoroughly modern in appearance and function.

From 1934 until about 1960, the Zephyrs were the way to travel in comfort, speed, safety and style. They were the 1940s equivalent of flying first class. Other railroads imitated the CB&Q’s design, but the Zephyrs in particular became cultural icons, like jetliners and cars would in later years. The film Silver Streak (1934) was inspired by the train’s inaugural speed run. The film told the story of a heroic train designer whose revolutionary design helped stop a polio epidemic at a dam construction site by bringing iron lungs from Chicago to Denver (the same route, but opposite direction of the real-life run). In 1949 Hank Williams released the song “California Zephyr” as a tribute to the train of the same name.

Several Zephyrs offered service to Kansas City. After its speed run, the first train was renamed the Pioneer Zephyr and entered regular service between Omaha and Kansas City. In 1939 The General Pershing Zephyr (the ninth one built by Budd for CB&Q) began offering service between Kansas City and St. Louis. From 1953 to 1968, two Zephyr routes ran between Chicago and Kansas City. The daytime route was known as the Kansas City Zephyr while the nighttime route was called the American Royal Zephyr. The average journey time between Kansas City and Chicago was just under nine hours, with no need to stop for dinner.

Historical hindsight shows us that Zephyrs were a finale of the golden age of American railroads. Even though ridership never regained its 1910s-1920s peak, Zephyrs were a shining technological and cultural triumph that emerged during the darkness of the Depression. They were the pinnacle of railroad engineering: faster, more comfortable, and more efficient than any train before them. They were also superior to cars and planes in key ways. Finally, they were a “halo technology” – they did not carry most of the people most of the time, but they did it faster and with more style than anything else on wheels. Zephyrs symbolized convenience, glamor, freedom, excitement, and modernity, all wrapped in brilliant stainless steel.

 

Sources

J.E. Lynn Railroad Memorabilia Collection, MS32. LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missouri, Kansas City

Harold Cobb, “The Burlington Zephyr Stainless Steel Train.” Advanced Materials and Processes, 2009: 24-28.

Steve Glischinski, “Zephyrs and Diesels.” Encyclopedia of North American Railroads, edited by William D. Middleton, George Smerk, and Roberta L. Diehl, 221-222. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2007.

Bill of Sale for an Enslaved Boy

Below is a transcription of the bill of sale that John A. Beauchamp (1817-1901) received on May 5, 1851, when he purchased a slave in Liberty, Missouri. The original is pictured above.

“Liberty Clay Co MO May 5, 1851. For and in consideration of the sum of six hundred dollars to me in hand paid I have this day bargained sold and delivered unto John A. Beauchamp my negro boy Isaiah a slave for life and sound & healthy in body & mind & free from the claims of any other persons and is about thirteen years old.”

This is the oldest item in the J.A. Beauchamp Collection. Most of the items in the collection relate to John Arthur Beauchamp (1895-1953) who served in the U.S. Army during World War 1. (His grandfather, to whom Isaiah was sold, was also named John Arthur Beauchamp – to avoid confusion I will use the first and middle name in reference to the older Beauchamp) We don’t know why John Beauchamp saved this particular document from his grandfather’s life. He was born in 1895, long after the Emancipation Proclamation freed Isaiah. Whatever his reasons for preserving it, this document was a direct connection between him and his family’s ties to slavery. From it, we can learn some things about the economic status of his grandfather’s family.

In Missouri, most slaveholdings were family farms that exploited the labor of only a few slaves, usually fewer than ten. Their small size and diversified agricultural practices distinguish Missouri slaveholdings from their plantation counterparts in states like Mississippi and Louisiana. Owning even one slave was a sign of relatively high wealth and status. The price Beauchamp paid for Isaiah reflects this. No census figures for John Arthur Beauchamp are available prior to 1870. However, according to the 1870 census, he was a wealthy man, with a combined personal and real estate valued at $12,000. The “Economic Status” measurement from MeasuringWorth “measures the relative “prestige value” of an amount of income or wealth measured using per capita GDP. When compared to other incomes or wealth, it shows the relative prestige the owners of this income or wealth because of their rank in the income distribution.” Using that measurement, John Arthur Beauchamp’s wealth in 1870 was the equivalent of just over $3.4 million in 2015. Using the same measurement, the $600 selling price of Isaiah was equivalent to $298,000 in 2015. The “Labor Value” measurement uses either skilled or unskilled wage rates to calculate value. If we think of his $600 sale price as an unskilled labor value (as recommended by MeasuringWorth), it was the 2015 equivalent of $137,000. MeasuringWorth does also feature a more in depth analysis of other ways to evaluate slave prices.

The economic history of slavery is only one facet of a tremendously complex and painful subject. It does demonstrate that slaveholders who betrayed the Union may have done so to protect what they saw as crucial and valuable financial assets. That said, there is no evidence that John Arthur Beauchamp served in the Civil War. Age may have been a factor, as he was between 44 and 46 years old in 1861. There are three letters from the older John A. Beauchamp in the collection, but none addresses slavery directly. In other words, we don’t know why family members preserved it, or how they viewed their ties to slavery. It is theoretically possible that John Beauchamp’s father, Lee Beauchamp (born in 1864) knew Isaiah. Lee undoubtedly knew the black servants listed in John Arthur Beauchamp’s household in the 1870 census. But for now we have no way of knowing what, if anything, Lee Beauchamp told his son about his grandfather’s slaves or what it was like growing up in a former slave owning family in Missouri in the 1860s. Ultimately what makes this document significant is that it raises all these questions. It forces us to confront what our own ties to slavery and the Civil War era might be. Remembering is not always easy, but forgetting or ignoring the past carries far greater consequences.

 

Sources

J.A. Beauchamp Collection, MS216, LaBudde Special Collections, University of Missour-Kansas City.

Ancestry.com

Beyond Respect: Aretha Franklin records in the Marr Sound Archives

Aretha Franklin at the Kauffman center in May, 2012. (courtesy of Media Mikes)

We all know Aretha Franklin. She is (for now) the most successful American female solo artist in history. She’s the Queen of Soul who recorded the song that became an anthem for women everywhere. In 2010 Rolling Stone ranked her as the #1 singer of all time, saying “when it comes to expressing yourself through song, there is no one who can touch her. She is the reason why women want to sing.” On February 9, 2017, Rolling Stone also announced that Franklin is retiring from public performing following the release of her next album. With that in mind, we at the Marr Sound Archive want to give you a taste of some of her work that is in our collection. Some of this you may know, some not. We’ll start with the song everyone knows (or should know), and work backwards to her earliest record.

This year marks the fiftieth anniversary of the recording and release of “Respect,” recorded at Atlantic Records Studio in New York City on February 14, 1967. The song was the lead track on the album I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (released March 10, 1967, Atlantic 8139) and was later released as a single (April 29, 1967, Atlantic 45-2403). We have both the albums and the historic single. “Respect” was produced by Jerry Wexler. Wexler worked with Franklin from 1966-1975. He also has connections to the Kansas-Missouri area. In the 1930s, Wexler attended Kansas State University. Outside of school he received his introduction to Jazz and Blues music by visiting bars and music clubs along Twelfth Street in Kansas City.

Prior to working with Wexler at Atlantic Records, Aretha was with Columbia Records. Her first secular album was Aretha: with the Ray Bryant Combo, (Columbia CL1612) released by Columbia in 1961. In addition to vocals, she played piano on four tracks: “Won’t be Long” “Who Needs You?,” “Are You Sure” and “Maybe I’m a Fool”. At 18 she was still a somewhat raw talent. Below are short clips transcribed from our copy of the album. Listen closely to “Maybe I’m a Fool” and you can hear her voice break just a little.

Ray Bryant and Aretha were both signed to Columbia Records by producer John Hammond in 1959. Like Wexler, Hammond had some connections to Kansas City, having signed Count Basie to Columbia in 1936. 1959 was a big year for Hammond. That year he signed Aretha Franklin, Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan, all of whom were under the age of twenty.

Aretha at about 14 years old when she was first recorded by Joe Von Battle. (courtesy www.bless-this-soul.com)

Aretha Franklin got her start singing at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit. Her father, Clarence LaVaughn Franklin, was minister there from 1946 until 1979. C.L Franklin became a central figure in the black community. According to Mark Bego, the Franklin home “played host to a virtual who’s who of popular black music.” Young Aretha was part of the church choir. Her father recognized her talent, and at 14 he began taking her to other churches to perform with gospel groups. As Reverend Franklin’s own legend grew, he organized a “traveling revival show.” As a teenager, Aretha spent several summers traveling with the road show’s choir. At the same time, Joe Von Battles was recording LPs of Reverend Franklin’s sermons. Battles was a Detroit record shop owner, and founder of JVB Records (later changed to Battle Records). In 1956, Battles recorded 14-year old Aretha Franklin at New Bethel Baptist Church. The Marr Sound Archives does not have any copies of Battle’s original album. In fact, original JVB/Battle pressings are quite probably the rarest of all Aretha records. Fortunately, the songs Battle recorded have been re-issued a number of times by Chess, Checker, Geffen, and other record labels. In our collection is a 1982 issue by Checker Records (Checker LP CH8500), for which music critic Peter Guralnick wrote the album notes. Of Franklin’s performance, Guralnick wrote “everything that Aretha would one day become, the same soulful struts that she would put into “I Never Loved a Man, “Respect,” even funky old “Dr. Feelgood,” are all here in the plain, unvarnished, but far-from-simple truth of hymns.” We are not professional music critics, but having listened to this album we think it is pretty extraordinary. The lead track on that album can be heard below.

The preceding barely scratches the surface of Aretha Franklin’s extraordinary life and career. She was a true prodigy, a gifted singer surrounded my other successful black musicians. She was seemingly destined for stardom from an early age. However her personal life was marked by a series of devastating emotional experiences. In his biography, Bego concludes that both of these factors shaped her music. Hopefully hearing her sing at various stages in her life gives readers a greater appreciation for the treasure she truly is.

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Sources:

Aretha Gospel. Recorded September 10, 1991. Geffen, 1991, Streaming Audio. Accessed February 20, 2017.

Bego, Mark. Aretha Franklin : The Queen of Soul. New York: Skyhorse Publishing, 2012.

Marr Sound Archives contains well over 100 entries for Aretha Franklin in our Library Catalog. Among these are many of her classic LPs and singles, including the ones mentioned in this post. We hope you’ll come listen to some of them soon!

Correction: Previously this post had a full version of the 1956 album. Since only UMKC network users could stream it, we’ve replaced it with a youtube link. The whole album can be heard at the Marr Sound Archives.

“You get it from both sides”

Protestors on Vine St, April 9, 1968. (courtesy UMKC Digital Special Collections)

To understand the causes of the April 1968 Race Riots, the Greater Kansas City Mental Health Foundation commissioned Robert Bechtel and Charles Wilkinson to write The Social History of a Riot: Kansas City, Missouri, April 9-13, 1969. The 1968 Riot Collection includes the complete manuscript of that book, as well as many of the interviews conducted by researchers. Interviewees included witnesses, protest participants, and members of law enforcement. There are four interviews with African-American members of the Kansas City Police Department who served during the riots. While Social History focused on these officers’ perception of racism within KCPD, the interviews paint a more complex picture. The relationship between black officers and the black community was often contradictory. The officers sympathized with civil rights protestors and felt the indignity of racism, but their sympathy for violent rioters ran out quickly. They also had a complex relationship with their fellow officers and superiors. In short, these men expressed conflict between their own identities as black men, their loyalty to their department, and their duty to uphold the law.

Major Garrison and Sergeant Walter Parker were interviewed together. At the time of the interview, Parker had been a member of KCPD for 19 years. Both men complained that even when off-duty, people knew they were officers. This could be nuisance, such as friends and relatives who wanted their tickets taken care of. It could also be serious, as when Black Panther militants threatened the safety of Parker’s family. Another interviewee, Leroy Swift, was called a “house n*****” by another black man. This insult carried a specific connotation of a black man placed in a position of power as tool of white supremacy. Interestingly, Swift said the man later admitted the insult was just for show. Parker described a similar dynamic: “I realize that it’s necessary for [Black Panther activists] to stay away from the police and call the police names and not have anything to do with them in order to keep [their movement] going.” According to Swift, many black officers in KCPD at this time were “black first and policeman second.” Being “black first” meant having some sympathy for activists. Parker and Garrison were united in calling for a constructive conversation between police and activist groups. However, they were skeptical that activist groups actually wanted to have those conversations. In other words, these officers were suspicious of militant activists, yet still empathized with them based on certain shared experiences. The activists might have shared a similar mixture of emotions.

Despite the lack of productive dialogue with activists, these officers felt they had strong ties to the African American community in Kansas City, and that these ties helped them succeed at their jobs, particularly during the riots. During the riot, “Tuckie” Saunders and two other black plainclothesmen helped one group of student protestors make an orderly march and demonstration. At one point the students asked Saunders to make a speech. The group Saunders was with seems to have been separate from the more volatile crowds. Saunders had his own method for dealing with disruptive protestors: “if [Saunders] had been in charge…he would have dispersed the kids with streams of water” because “it was cool that morning and when your clothes are wet you have to go home and change.” Saunders may have believed is method more efficient and humane than the use of mace or tear gas, which police employed during the riots.

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Captain LeRoy Swift had a leadership role among officers facing the more violent protestors. At the very start of the riot, Swift and two other black officers pursued a group of black students who looted a store in plain sight of the officers. Swift speculates that the students thought the officers would look the other way because they were also black. The students were wrong. According to his account, he was later sent in to help calm things down between white police and African-American protestors. To do so he overruled some arrests made by white officers. Swift also described how some whites believed the police-enforced curfew did not apply to them.

Every officer interviewed expressed support and admiration for KCPD Chief Clarence M. Kelley. Saunders said he “was good as gold” and Swift called him “a good man” and “honest.” In contrast, Kelley’s command staff drew universal criticism from the African American officers for being racist, “biased and sneaky.” What was missing from KCPD, according to Saunders, was “black faces in high places.” Swift described a lack of sensitivity from white officers who still used the n-word with regularity. His testimony also demonstrates how black officers had to walk a fine line, and how their loyalty was always in question. If they identified too closely with the black community, they drew the suspicion of whites in the department. On the other hand, just wearing a badge was enough to alienate them from the black community.

These officers had unique insights on race relations and the responsibilities of law enforcement during this turbulent period, and they all expressed optimism that solutions could be found. It is too simplistic to characterize police and activists as natural enemies. In the case of the man who insulted LeRoy Swift, and the Black Panther activists who Sgt. Parker spoke of, their animosity towards the officers was occasionally not actually genuine. Instead, these interviews demonstrate the complex nature of the relationship between police and the communities they are asked to protect and serve.

 

Sources

Detective “Tuckie” Saunders, Interview Transcript, Box 1, Folder 35, 1968 Riot Collection, LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC.

Maj. Garrison and Sgt. Walter Parker, Interview with Jeanie Meyer, June 2, 1969, Box 1, Folder 31, 1968 Riot Collection, Labudde Special Collections, UMKC.

LeRoy Swift, Interview Notes, Box 1, Folder 35, 1968 Riot Collection, LaBudde Special Collections, UMKC.