Jan 29, 2024 - News

Portland's Black music archive launches Thursday

A room with vinyl LPs hi-fi equipment a reel-to-reel tape player and a wall of photographs of musicians

The family room of a prominent Black Portland family, the Fouthiers, in Albina. Photo: Courtesy of James Benton photographic archive

The Albina Community Archive launches Thursday, offering 32 terabytes of images and music from the 1960s through the 1980s from Portland's majority-Black neighborhood.

  • Soul, funk, gospel, jazz … and cats in big shades. It's the cool Portland that the elders talk about but is little known.

Why it matters: A piece of Portland musical history has been saved and made available to the masses digitally.

  • The sounds come from tape recordings from long-gone Portland spots such as Paul Knauls' Cotton Club and funk bands such as Pleasure.
  • The images range from newspaper clippings to printed photos of performers who played locally but rarely made commercial recordings.

Bobby Smith — a former Waldorf teacher and current XRAY FM host — hit the motherlode in 2015, when his interview with musician Calvin Walker turned into a four-hour history lesson off the air.

They teamed with Ken Berry at the World Arts Foundation, who had been archiving documents and recordings from Albina for 40 years.

  • It was Portland's Black neighborhood before it was carved up to make way for I-5, Legacy Emanuel Hospital and Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

During the pandemic, Smith and Walker used the lockdown to digitize the collection.

  • Smith asked web designer Lee Ritter for a user experience friendly to youth and elders alike.
  • For example, if a photo of a vinyl 45RPM record comes up on screen, click the arrow until the MP3 version appears and stream it
  • "We wanted to create an experience that is multi-generational, community access as opposed to institutional access," Smith told Axios.

. Go deeper: The Albina Music Trust has already put out nine albums on vinyl of forgotten music, such as The Gangsters, whom Calvin Walker played in.

  • Local heroes Ural Thomas and Jimmy and Johnny Saunders were also in The Gangsters.
  • So was Thara Memory, who used to teach Esperanza Spalding and won a Grammy with her in 2013.

What's next: Get on board the soul train at:

  • The Albina Community Archive Release Party, 6pm-9pm Saturday (free), at the Oregon Historical Society.

Swing by the Albina Music Trust Archive Listening Party 5.30pm-7.30pm, Feb. 7, Leftbank Building.

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