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Wednesday, January 27, 2021

‘Echoes of Indiana Avenue’ unearths Black excellence

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When Kyle Long began recording and producing his WFYI radio program “Echoes of Indiana Avenue,” he wanted to share the forgotten tales of Indiana Avenue’s once bustling music scene. Long’s interest in local jazz and arts started as a teenager in Hendricks County, where he found a copy of Billy Wooten’s “In This World.” While virtually forgotten in Indiana — where the album was produced and released — it’s an essential album to DJ’s around the world.

“Indiana Avenue was the heart and soul of so much of our arts and culture scene in Indianapolis, from rock ‘n’ roll to blues, to gospel and funk,” Long said.

Long’s longtime colleague, Herman “Butch” Slaughter, narrates the weekly show, but Long is responsible for much of the research and interviews. Slaughter grew up on Indiana Avenue and founded the local band Words of Wisdom. Despite a lifetime of being surrounded by music, “Echoes” is his first time working in broadcasting.

“I take great pleasure in promoting the legacy of Naptown and Indiana Avenue because a lot of people do not know this history and I want to make sure that it’s heard,” Slaughter said. “As a former performer and recording artist, I feel it’s my duty to share this information because I was part of that history.”

In each episode, Long and Slaughter introduce listeners to the performers who headlined venues on the Avenue — some of whom went on to tour the country, taking the Indianapolis sound with them. This year, the duo look forward to sharing more stories such as Little Miss Cornshucks. Born Mildred Jorman, Little Miss Cornshucks, was a groundbreaking rhythm and blues artist who dominated the Avenue in the 1940s. Long said Jorman is emblematic of many of the former stars of Indiana Avenue who don’t get credit for their role in shaping Indianapolis culture.

While “Echoes” is an entertaining way to share Indianapolis history, the promotion of Black excellence throughout time speaks to national conversations regarding race happening today.

“This is a reevaluation of American history,” Long said. “We’re finally recognizing how the weight of white supremacy has distorted our understanding of history, and you can see it so clearly in Indianapolis. The arts movement on Indiana Avenue is the most important cultural moment in Indy history, but it hasn’t been given the respect it deserves. We’re trying to change that.”

Listen to “Echoes of Indiana Avenue” at 8 p.m. every Thursday on WFYI, 90.1 FM. The show is replayed at 7 p.m. every Sunday.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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