Sincerely Yours: Trade-Lasts and Lasting Letters

Guest post: Christine Wagner is the Administrative Secretary in IU Libraries Administration. 

Because the pandemic has many of us working at home, opportunities have presented themselves.  I joined the Archives’ Great Coronavirus Transcribe-a-thon, helping to transcribe the letters of Daniel Biddle, who attended IU from 1893 to 1895 and later became a seminal figure in the Indiana insurance business. His beautifully written letters and descriptions, along with his picture, have already been featured in an earlier blog about the “Removal Question.”

My task was to type his letters to Janie, his future wife. I jumped at the chance, because I thought there might be a bit of romance in them.  However, they are mostly prim and proper as one would expect from the late 1800s.  He describes classes, fires, his roommates, visiting lecturers, and the famous IU Scrap between the Freshman and Sophomore classes, of which he seems wary.  Yet, just as flirting in elementary school includes contrary behavior, Dan begins to tease Janie his second year.  He explains that her high school chemistry is “baby chemistry” for which he then has to apologize for:

I most humbly beg your pardon for “making so much fun” of your school affairs. I may be mistaken, but I think I have always praised them very highly. Of course I have not spoken of them in such glowing terms as I use in speaking of affairs here, but it is only just that I should not.

Pressed flower sent to Janie September 22, 1894.
Wayside Flowers flower, September 22, 1894

Also, he starts inserting tidbits about his familiarity with young ladies:  “By the way there is a pretty nice looking girl here where we room but have not yet succeeded in getting acquainted with her. Guess she is afraid of us. Girls are generally afraid of the boys you know.”

But Dan is an equal opportunity flirt and gives Janie the reins several times with inducements such as:

I would invite him (Dan’s roommate Eli who apparently has a mustache Janie finds intriguing) home with me some time but I am afraid you would _____ _____ ____ _____ _____ ____ _____ _____ _____. You can fill out the blanks some rainy day, or some time when you have all your lessons & have nothing else to do.

The paragraph Dan writes that includes blanks for Janie to fill in.
Letter, Daniel Biddle to Janie Bartee, October 3, 1894

Blanks become a frequently used strategy in the letters, though they never get filled in. Dan suggests the words that populate the blanks be shared in person.

There are further discussions on the role of women and men. Obviously replying to something Janie has pointed out, Dan responds:

I did not mean to say that all boys only care to have one girl. I was just stating the rule. Of course it has exceptions, but they are rare. Eli only has three or four girls I think. Yes, ‘boys are altogether lonely creatures.’ You surely hit the nail on the head that time. It’s a good thing to be able to know the truth when one sees it.

Later, he asserts women come to college to find someone to marry.  At times, it feels as if he is baiting Janie!

The culmination of their flirtation can be summed up in one hyphenated word: trade-lasts. On November 5, 1894 Dan writes, “So you have a trade–last for me have you, well I have one for you too. Now, as Tom Sawyer says its a ‘sure enough’ trade–last too, not one manufactured for the occasion as some I have heard of.”

When I first read it, I thought perhaps he had a trade magazine for her, but then the term came up again at the letter’s end: “If you wish to trade trade-lasts, box yours up and send it, and I will send mine in return guarenteeing [guaranteeing] it to be of good quality.”

The paragraph Dan writes when mentioning trade-lasts and Mark Twain.
Letter, Daniel Biddle to Janie Bartee, November 5, 1894

I hit the Internet to discover a trade-last was an exchange of compliments according to the Oxford English Dictionary. In John F. Clark’s article about trade-lasts in American Speech I found out they were a “purely American phenomenon,” shared by young people from the 1890s to the 1930s, and have been documented linguistically throughout the Midwest.[1]

Not being an expert on relationships now or in the 19th century, I do not pretend to know the psychology between Dan and Janie, but it appears that the flirting and the baiting and the blanks get to be a little too much. Dan apologizes more:

I believe I did not say what you said [“implied” above first “said”] I said, but think I said that I said what I meant and meant what I said in the case in question; at least I say now that I do not always say what I mean or mean what I say. Beg your pardon for the first of this statement.

The paragraph Dan writes apologizing to Janie saying words are dumb things.
Letter, Daniel Biddle to Janie Bartee, November 25, 1894

And more apologies:

Well now for that marveless [marvelous] letter you spoke of, which, it seems, you unfortunately misunderstood. I thought you understood that my reckless remarks were only in fun, and am sorry to learn you thought them otherwise. I am aware of the truth of your statement that ones thoughts look funny on paper. Words are poor dumb things when written and sometimes express in a feeble way what is intended, and in a powerful way that which was not intended. In conversation the manner in which a thing is said & the expression of the face often mean more than the spoken words. I possibly did not bear this in mind when writing my last letter, and hence passed over the danger line without realizing it. I however beg your pardon for the past, and promise to be more careful in the future.

Dan seems to be adept at tongue and cheek. By winter break, Janie has a “bone to pick with him.” Afterwards, it is clear one of Dan’s friends has shared something unsettling with her. As the reader of the letters, we never truly find out, but Dan and Janie gingerly begin to talk of trade-lasts again.

Amidst the sharing of Latin, James Whitcomb Riley phrases, book recommendations, and hometown gossip, the two navigate their growing closer.  By the end of Dan’s last year, there is a hesitation between them, a backing away from the flirtation and, perhaps, a maturity.  In his last letter to her, Dan shares, “Yes, I think I have noticed somewhat of a change in you. I am better acquainted with you now than before…”

It is an intimate privilege to read someone else’s letters to their future spouse. I had to remind myself that even though these were Dan’s words, it was Janie who kept the letters in the first place. I knew from the biographical information on the finding aid that Janie died before Dan. Having had two sons and hopefully of fulfilling life, she died of diphtheria at age 51.[2]  After Janie’s initial keeping the letters safe, it was Dan and their family who kept them and eventually gave them to the Archives. Quite a loving gesture for quite a budding love affair.

All of the letters have been digitized and are available through the finding aid. The transcriptions are not publicly available yet, so just reach out to the Archives if you would like access!

[1] APA: Clark, J. (1983). The Vainglorious Trade-Last: A Reappraisal. American Speech, 58(1), 20-30. doi:10.2307/454748

[2] Find a Grave, database and images (https://www.findagrave.com : accessed 01 June 2020), memorial page for Jane “Janie” Bartee Biddle (29 Mar 1874–21 Dec 1925), Find a Grave Memorial no. 56935303, citing Remington Cemetery, Remington, Jasper County, Indiana, USA ; Maintained by Alana Knochel Bauman (contributor 47076457) .

Parsifal: The Return of an IU Tradition for the Bicentennial

Guest Blogger : Erin Chiparo is the Public Services Supervisor and Stacks Coordinator at the IU Libraries, William and Gayle Cook Music Library. 

Richard Wagner is an excellent case study in the failures of moral absolutism. The nineteenth-century German composer, thinker, and conductor did a lot of good things and a lot of bad things – and his actions have had a lasting legacy, even here at Indiana University. In preparation for the Jacobs School of Music’s upcoming production or Wagner’s opera Parsifal, I examined a number of items from three different libraries on campus: the William and Gayle Cook Music Library, the Lilly Library, and the Indiana University Archives. What I discovered are a series of objects that tell a fascinating, and complicated, story about Wagner, his music, and their connection to IU.

Color stage shot showing the Knights of the Holy Grail
Parsifal, March 1966. IU Archives image no. P0026422

I went to the Lilly Library first. In 1850 Wagner published his now infamous essay under a pseudonym, and that essay was reissued with his true name in 1869. The Lilly’s copy of Das Judenthum in der Musik (“Jewishness in Music”) is a first edition and still lies within its original pale green wrappers. Perhaps it is all in my head, but the physical object seemed to project a wicked aura. Within it, Wagner expounds upon his notorious Anti-Semitic views, insisting that musicians of Jewish descent cannot possibly live up to the intrinsic creativity of German culture. He also denounces two well-known Jewish composers, Felix Mendelssohn and Wagner’s nemesis, Giacomo Meyerbeer. To this day, Meyerbeer’s reputation still hasn’t completely recovered from this defamation. Given this level of reprehensibility, I was ready to give up on Wagner. But I decided to look at another item – a first edition full score of Wagner’s Parsifal.

Piano vocal score front title page for Richar Wagner's Parsifal: ein Bühnenweihfestspiel. Includes the following information in german: Vom Orchester fur das Klavier ubertragen von Joseph Rubinstein
Parsifal: ein Bühnenweihfestspiel – Piano vocal score, 1883 ed. William and Gayle Cook Music Library

At the William and Gayle Cook Music Library, I examined an 1883 edition of the piano vocal score for Wagner’s Parsifal. The copy features an elaborate title page and marbled end papers. It is still possible to see the impressions where the nineteenth-century plates were pressed onto the paper. As exquisite as this score is, the music is even more beautiful. Wagner first conceived of Parsifal in 1857, but the work did not premiere until 1882, just a year prior to his death. Rather than referring to the work as an opera, Wagner called it ein Bühnenweihfestspiel or a “Festival Play for the Consecration of the Stage.” Parsifal premiered at Bayreuth Festspielhaus and was performed there exclusively until 1914. The work tells the story of the twelfth-century knight, Parsifal the “pure fool,” who in his youth witnesses the rite of the Holy Grail. The young man, filled with compassion, eventually overcomes the villain, Klingsor, in order to ultimately redeem the Knights of the Grail. Musically, Parsifal is a triumph. It contains some of the most powerful moments in opera.

In addition to the beautiful piano vocal score, I viewed another full score that belongs to the Lilly Library. This was a particularly special copy because it was previously owned by Fritz Busch, a great German conductor. Busch actually conducted another of Wagner’s operas at Bayreuth in 1924. The beauty of this particular score lies in the myriad colored pencil markings throughout, which outline Busch’s personal interpretation of the opera. Interestingly, Fritz Busch was forced out of his position with the Dresden State Opera in 1933, five weeks after Hitler came to power, because he opposed the Nazi regime and because he was perceived of as having too many Jewish friends and acquaintances.[1]

Program with the following text : INDIANA UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MUSIC Thirty-Second Season Parsifal: A Religious Music Drama in Three Acts by Richard Wagner An Indiana University Opera Production Palm Sunday, April 2, 1950 Act 1 - 4:00 pm Act 2 - 7:15 pm Indiana University Auditorium
IU School of Music – Parsifal program, April 2, 1950. IU Archives accn. 2001/031

But how does all of this relate to Indiana University? What impact have Wagner and his works had here? At the IU Archives, I found hundreds of photographs, concert programs, publications, and correspondence regarding Parsifal at IU. Beginning in 1950, the IU School Music performed Wagner’s Parsifal annually to correspond with the Lenten season. Dean Wilfred C. Bain, and director of orchestral music, Ernst Hoffmann launched a combined effort to spearhead the first performance. The two men felt that the opera was especially fitting for the IU Opera Theater stage because it could showcase the school’s strong wind section, strong tradition of choral singing, and mature male singers. Many of these students came to the school of music later in life as the result of the GI Bill.[2] Several of the original lead vocalists including D. Ralph Appelman, Margaret Harshaw, and Roy Samuelsen stayed on as school of music faculty. Fritz Busch’s son, Hans Busch, joined them as the IU Opera Theater Director for a number of years.

Red and black program with the following text "Indiana University Opera Theater - Parsifal March 19, 1967, 19th annual production"
Indiana University Opera Theater – Parsifal March 19, 1967 program

IU’s Parsifal became the first IU School of Music concerts for which tickets were sold. Some of the performances even included a Parsifal Supper so that audience members could come together for a meal at the Indiana Memorial Union between Acts I and II of the multi-hour production. IU students often performed the opera in English because according to Bain, “the only way to make it popular with large American audiences was to present it in intelligible English translations.”[3] The production received worldwide attention and accolades with reviews published in Opera News. The final annual performance ran in 1969, and the tradition ceased in order to save money and resources and in order to give music students the opportunity to experience a greater variety of repertoire.

Nevertheless, the impact of Parsifal is still palpable. The Jacobs School of Music is one of the best schools of music in the world and one of the finest aspects of IU. Perhaps some piece of that is because of Parsifal, in spite of Wagner’s questionable morals. In honor of Indiana University’s bicentennial anniversary, this November the Jacobs School will present its first production of Parsifal in decades. The opera, directed by Chris Alexander and conducted by Arthur Fagen, will feature a cast of professional vocalists and music students. No doubt it will be in interesting addition to IU’s operatic legacy. If you don’t have tickets yet, it looks like there are still some available!

To find out more about the history of productions of Parsifal on the IU Bloomington campus, contact the IU Archives.

[1] Michael H. Kater, The Twisted Muse: Musicians and Their Music in the Third Reich (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), 79.

[2] George M. Logan, The Indiana University School of Music: A History (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000), 160-161.

[3] Ibid., 164.

Herman B Wells Speeches to Incoming Freshmen, during World War II and Today

When I think back to starting my freshman year of college (in enemy territory at Purdue University), I remember one main feeling: overwhelmed! Even though it has been more than a decade since then, I get butterflies in my stomach when I recall orientation activities, my first meals in the dorms, and meeting classmates for the first time. Though Purdue had a ton of welcome activities for incoming freshmen, the Indiana University traditions of Freshman Convocation and the Freshman Induction Ceremony are utterly charming. This year, the Freshman Induction took place August 21 at Skjodt Assembly Hall. We’ve covered the history of the Freshman Induction Ceremony in the past, so in this post I would like to focus on some wise words spoken at Freshman Convocations over the years. Specifically, this post will highlight Herman B Wells’ resolute and poignant addresses over the World War II years. His advice should be relevant for all freshman coming to Bloomington now, in an uncertain and overwhelming time.

Black and white photograph of Freshman convocation - a large crowd of seated students surrounds a central stage.
Freshman Convocation, September 15, 1938. IU Archives image no. P0031218

It is well known that our beloved Herman B Wells was a fantastic orator, so it is no surprise that his remarks are still impactful many decades later. During his 1937 speech to incoming freshmen, Wells reminded students of precarious conditions in America and the world:

“It is true that the world is beset with problems of such gravity that they sometimes challenge hope for the future. On the front pages of the newspapers almost every day reference is made to some of these problems—war, assault upon the democracies of the world by the rise of dictatorships, charges that the capitalistic system and the democratic philosophy of government are incompatible—in a word, questions that attack the very foundation of the institutions under which we are living.”

Pretty heavy words for the opening of a Freshman Convocation speech. He continued on to describe the depletion of natural resources and perilous state of natural conservation. He ended this section by saying:

“Wars, rumors of war, political unrest, dissipation of the vitality of our physical and human resources—certainly these create a dismal outlook for the future.”

Though these statements are grave, we can see obvious connections with our contemporary situation. Wells then placed the impetus for changing this outlook on the incoming freshmen:

“You need not be discouraged by the number and seriousness of these problems. They can all be solved, and they will be solved by our people if we are guided by an intelligent and informed leadership…And society, through government and through the sacrifices of individual families, has supported higher education generously in this country largely because we as a people believe that college-trained men and women offer us our best source of social, political, and economic leadership.”

One of Wells’ most extraordinary skills was to turn insurmountable challenges into inspiring moments of change. Against the backdrop of the rise of fascism (the Luftwaffe bombing of Guernica occurred in April of that year), Wells acknowledged the frightening realities of IU freshmen while simultaneously encouraging them to lead the charge for change. I hope the incoming freshman class today can harness this same courage.

Black and white photograph of the Freshman Induction ceremony. Robed faculty and staff including President Wells stand on the front steps of the Student Building.
Freshman Induction (Herman B Wells can be seen just to the right of the microphone), September 19, 1940. IU Archives image no. P0033994

In September 1940, one year before the United States officially entered World War II, Wells emphasized the university’s role in defending democracy.  He outlined three types of defenses for democracy: physical, intellectual, and spiritual. After summarizing mobilization activities on campus such as Civilian Pilot Training at the Bloomington airstrip and IU’s R.O.T.C. unit, he spoke to intellectual and spiritual defenses:

“You cannot be intellectually lazy and be an effective citizen in democracy. There is no dictator to tell you what is socially desirable and undesirable. Questions of social policy must be thought through for yourself, and you must think with sufficient clarity and originality, if you aspire to be a leader, so that you can win your colleagues to your point of view.”

Although young people today often hear calls to independent thinking, Wells’ thoughtful consideration of how free thought fosters a democratic environment should be especially relevant today. As to spiritual defenses of democracy, Wells spoke these compassionate words:

“Democracy is a way of life in which we are responsible for each other, in which our human relations must be governed, in a very real and practical sense, by self-restraint and mutual respect for the rights of others.”

In an age of rapid-fire and divisive communications I think incoming IU students would do well to embody mutual respect and feel responsibility for one another. We can update Wells’ words to apply to fostering a democratic society online, too.

Black and white photograph of President Herman B Wells standing underneath the Service Flag. Uniformed male students stand in the foreground listening.
President Wells Speaking at Dedication of the Indiana University Service Flag, August 22, 1943. IU Archives image no. P0039468

As the United States officially entered the War, we see a shift in Wells’ tone for incoming freshmen. 1942 was a particularly devastating year—by September of that year mass extermination of Jews had begun at Auschwitz, Sobibór, Treblinka, and Belzec; thousands of lives were lost as Axis powers sunk Allied ships during Second Happy Time; and Executive Order 9066 authorized the United States military to incarcerate Japanese Americans in detention camps. Wells’ 1942 freshman address echoed an atmosphere of severity:

“We hear much just now about the necessity of maintaining morale on the home front. These are days of unusual stress and strain for all of us. Home front morale will depend in no small measure upon our courtesy to each other. Acceptable manners, both public and private, insure proper consideration for the convenience and rights of others. Therefore this subject of good manners, always timely, is of especial significance at the present.”

Even in a dark hour, we see that Wells highlighted freshmen’s responsibility to treat others with respect and dignity. And as we can see from his 1946 address to the incoming class, that attitude continued after World War II as well. That year he remarked:

“The nervous system of the human body is a complex mechanism consisting of millions of cells. Yet a single nerve cell can register pain or pleasure which is felt throughout the entire body. Each person in the campus body, from the youngest student to the oldest professor, has an essential role. Each is, as it were, a cell in the nervous system of the University community.”

Black and white photograph of President Herman Wells greeting students with suitcases in hand at the entrance to Bryan Hall.
Herman B Wells welcoming World War II veterans who lived in the board room / conference room of the Administration Building during the postwar housing shortage, October 1946. IU Archives image no. P0023889

Cooperation and mutual respect were truly central to how Wells envisioned a democratic society. As the IU Class of 2023 settles in, I hope we all can exemplify Wells’ ideals to each other on and off campus. Most all of us were overwhelmed and frightened freshmen at one point. If Wells could set an example of strength against the backdrop of World War II, we should be able to pass these virtues on to the Class of 2023.

To see more transcripts of Herman B Wells’ speeches, check out the finding aid for Collection C137 or contact an archivist.

Roy Sieber and Igala Masquerades

Roy Sieber, November 1972. IU Archives image no. P0078669

Roy Sieber was a historian of African art who taught at Indiana University Bloomington from 1964 through 1983.  He was the first person to receive a degree in African art in the United States, essentially founding the discipline of African Art studies in this country.

As part of his efforts to document the artistic traditions of West Africa, particularly Nigeria and Ghana, Sieber became well known for his photographs of African art and performance. The Roy Sieber papers at the IU archives, contains black and white photo prints and hundreds of slides of African artwork in use during ritual celebrations and on display in museums, as well as annotated bibliographies written by Sieber’s students providing historical context for specific ethnic groups. Sieber’s career spanned several decades, and the black and white prints in the collection were taken in two time frames: Sieber’s first trip to Nigeria in 1958, and his 1971-1972 trips to museums in various countries with large collections of African art.

While the photographs in this collection depict many different ethnic groups in Nigeria and many different types of art and performance, two particularly striking series of photos document Igala masquerade dances. The Igala people live in the Benue River Basin and a number of Igala villages appear in this collection. While masquerade traditions appear throughout Nigeria and in other parts of West Africa, the style of the mask and dance and the oral narratives associated with those traditions vary widely between regions and ethnic groups. Scholars have suggested that Igala masquerades, much like other parts of their culture, reflect a complex history of conflict, trade, and cultural diffusion with other communities and ethnic groups.

The interactions that have shaped these traditions make it difficult to isolate a uniquely Igala masquerade style, and the many different iterations make it challenging to find information about particular villages’ masking traditions. However, it is evident that as with the masquerades of other ethnic groups, most Igala dances are celebrated on two festival days, one during the rainy season and one during the dry season. These festivals honor ancestral figures and celebrate the agricultural cycles. Additionally, many of these masked dances reflect and reinforce the social and political hierarchies and historical narratives of a particular community.

In the first series of photos below, taken in Okpo village, the caption clarifies that the dancer is wearing an “Egu” mask called “Egodoji,” and that the drums being used are “okelegu,” meaning they are beat with two hands. The text also notes that the mask is Janus-faced and made of painted, carved wood, while the rest of the costume is cloth. In this context, “Egu” refers to the type of festival as well as the mask and dancer; the word has been translated various ways, but scholars have translated it as “spirit” or “dance,” and is associated with annual festivals to honor ancestors and the history of a particular ethnic group.

“Egodoji” jumps as part of the masquerade dance for the Egu festival
The “Egodoji” mask with the “Okelegu” drums (‘beat with both hands). Mask is carved wood with paint and cloth.
Rear view of the Janus-faced helmet mask “Egodoji”
“Egodoji” dances as part of the Egu festival masquerade
“Egodoji” dances as part of the Egu masquerade festival

The second series of photos were taken in Inye village, and the three masks seem to depict potential roles within a marriage. The caption states that the largest mask represents the husband, and is called “Ikonyi,” or “big mouth too big,” while the mask representing the older wife is named “Odomodo,” or “too big,” while the mask representing the younger wife is “Ikekemede,” or “quarrelsome woman.” Sieber notes elsewhere that the husband, Ikonyi, is performed in a “threatening manner” and restrained by a rope around his waist. The three masks always appear together, and seem to constitute a humorous engagement with the practice of marriage and the conflicts produced by that relationship.

“Odomodo,” (older wife, ‘too big’) on the left, “Ikekemede” (young wife, ‘quarrelsome woman’) on the right
Odomodo on the left, Ikekemede on the right
“Ikonyi,” the husband or ‘big mouth too big.’ Carved wood with paint and red seeds at the mouth.
Odomodo on the left, Ikekemede on the right
“Ikekemede” (i.e. quarrelsome woman. Ikonkyi’s young wife); carved wood with paint and bark cloth costume

While Sieber does not provide more context about the spirit in which these masks are intended or received, it is apparent that they are important enough to be performed consistently. Masks are often passed down from one owner to another and can last many years. The mask called Egodoji is a Janus-faced helmet mask, a style that appears in both central and west Africa. Helmet masks are associated with depictions of local ancestry and royal lineages. The masks of the husband and wives, on the other hand, are “horizontal masks,” which often have animal attributes and are associated with “potent sorcery and spirits.” Considered together, these two sets of photos suggest that the masquerades may be used to associate marital responsibilities and the identity of ancestors or royal figures with the attributes of spirits, animals, or the natural world.

Indiana Remixed Playlist Project: Indianapolis

Our Indianapolis spotlight starts in the late 1920s with “Kokomo Blues” by Scrapper Blackwell. Blackwell, an Indianapolis native, wrote and recorded this song in reference to Kokomo, Indiana, and the song is notably the basis for Robert Johnson’s iconic “Sweet Home Chicago.” Jumping forward 20 years to 1949, Indianapolis continues to be home to iconic blues artists like Guitar Pete Franklin, who in addition to solo recordings is credited alongside delta blues legends like Tampa Red.

By the 1950s and into the 1960s, pop music shifted to accommodate a growing interest in country, rockabilly, and vocal groups. The Blankenship Brothers of Indianapolis were unique in their blending of rockabilly tempos and rhythms with country-influenced vocal harmonies and traditional fiddle accompaniment, as heard on their 1959 B-side “Lonesome Old Jail.” Vocal groups like the Four Freshman would fade entirely from popular music by the 1960s, but their impact on the future of popular music is undeniable, and the Indianapolis quartet is cited as a major influence by Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys. Bobby Helms, a singer and lifelong Indiana resident, is notable for his place in country music history, contributing to the growing market for country records with singles like 1957’s “My Special Angel” and the 1959 holiday classic “Jingle Bell Rock.” Even lesser known Indianapolis artists like Lattie Moore anticipated the coming popularity of rock ‘n’ roll with upbeat, guitar-driven recordings like “I’m Not Broke, but I’m Badly Bent.”

By the 1950s and 1960s, a surprising amount of jazz artists came out of Indianapolis, revolutionizing the world of jazz in the process. J.J. Johnson, a notable trombonist and Indianapolis native, released the iconic “Blue Trombone” in 1957. Meanwhile, three Indianapolis brothers, Wes, Monk, and Buddy Montgomery, each changed the trajectory of jazz with their mastery of guitar, bass, and piano respectively. Though they are each notable members of independent groups and solo compositions, their chemistry together is undeniable, as heard on tracks like “Bock to Bock” from 1961’s Groove Yard. Wes himself is an icon in jazz, revolutionizing jazz guitar with his unique stylings best represented in the recently released live concert performed in Indianapolis in 1959.

By the late 1960s, rock ‘n’ roll and psychedelic music had fully invaded popular culture, influencing groups across the city to experiment with a fusion of historically popular music and psychedelic studio effects. Garage rock act Sir Winston and the Commons exploded out of Indianapolis with 1966’s “All of the Time,” becoming mainstays in Chicago nightclubs. Southeast of Indianapolis, in the small town of New Palestine, bands were traveling to the home of Moe Whittemore to record at 700 West, an independent recording studio welcoming the experimental artists of Indianapolis. Sessions at the studio produced hours of psych-influenced gems, from the acid-funk of Ebony Rhythm Band and Indianapolis legends Amnesty to the guitar driven Anonymous and proto-metal group Primevil.

The city housed a thriving soul, gospel, and funk scene in the 1970s and 1980s, sparking the formation of LAMP Records, based in Indianapolis. LAMP was home to a plethora of Indianapolis soul and funk groups, the city’s artists producing countless lost hits like the Indy’s “Come See About Her” and P.H.D.s’ “The Way It Used to Be.” Bands like Manchild, an early project of Indiana star Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, came close to stardom with the hit “Especially for You” released in 1977. Gospel groups like the Stovall Sisters and King James Version made national waves with driving rhythms and powerful vocal arrangements. Into the 1980s, Indianapolis continued to produce iconic recordings reflective of national music trends. Al Hobbs and His Indianapolis Mass Choir released the upbeat and energetic gospel record Let Him Have His Way in 1982. As new wave and power pop grew in popularity across the globe, Indianapolis’ The Late Show released their album Portable Pop in 1980, and though it failed to chart, potential hits can be heard, as displayed on “Take a Chance.”

By the 1990s and into the 2000s, hip hop had taken the nation by storm, and artists in Indianapolis began to release their own contributions to the genre. The city’s early hip hop scene is best exemplified by Mudkids on their 1998 debut 4 Trackmind. Experimental hip hop artists like MAB LAB also came up in the late 1990s naptown hip hop scene, offering a unique blend of beats, samples, live instrumentation, and soul influenced vocalizations on their 1999 track “Fade Back.” Towards the end of the 2000s, instrumental artists like The Sound Defects offered their take on hip hop instrumentation, as heard on 2004’s “Faded Soul.”

Moving into the 2010s and 2020s, new artists have emerged to carry the torches passed on by their musical predecessors. Country, folk, and pop rock are blended together into the sound of Margot and the Nuclear So & Sos, as represented here by “Broadripple is Burning.” Experimental hip hop and electronic music is being pushed to new extremes by artists like Indianapolis’ DMA. Garage and psychedelic rock have seen a resurgence in the last decade as represented by artists like Vacation Club. Indianapolis natives Hoops continue to release soul and funk influenced guitar rock, with a new record due out soon. Hip hop in Indianapolis is more active than ever, led by exciting young artists like Nagasaki Dirt, Oreo Jones, Mark Battles, and Sirius Blvck. These and many more modern Indianapolis artists represent a coalition of the city’s rich musical history, pushing the boundaries of their genres into the new decade and continuing the tradition of leaving powerful cultural artifacts for future generations of naptown artists.

Resources for Further Exploration
On LAMP Records – episode of “Cultural Manifesto” on LAMP Records, out of Indianapolis
700 West Studios – label website for 700 West Studios, out of Indianapolis
Oreo Jones – interview with Oreo Jones about Indianapolis and growing up in Indiana
The Mudkids – interview from NUVO magazine with the Mudkids