Glendale music association
performance is political
In May of 1931, African American baritone Clinton Rosemond was scheduled to perform at Glendale’s Hoover High School. He was being sponsored by the Glendale Music Association, an organization founded a decade earlier and presided over by Mrs. Antoinette Jones, a trained musician and wife of Mattison Boyd Jones, a lawyer and local real estate investor. Throughout the 1920s and 1930s, the Music Association hosted teas, recitals, and lectures at private residences and a yearly music series featuring renowned musicians, performers, and their own produced oratorios, or longer musical compositions with vocalists and an orchestra.
Clinton Rosemond specialized in Spirituals, an African American folksong tradition emerging out of slavery, and had only recently returned from ten years of living and touring in Europe; a highlight of his career abroad was a concert for England’s King George V and Queen Anne with the Royal Southern Singers Quartet.
Although the Glendale Music Association had hosted other Black performers, including Roland Hayes and Marian Anderson, both acclaimed musicians who broke barriers and would go on to impact the Civil Rights Movement in different ways, the coverage of Clinton Rosemond’s performance in the Glendale News-Press on May 18, 1931 enraged one particular resident, Rupert L. Larson.
The News-Press article about the Music Association and their honored guest thanked the Glendale City Council for their programming support; they received funding from community sponsors, ticket sales, and a $2500 municipal government award.
In response Rupert L. Larson wrote two vitriolic letters to the City Council protesting Black performers coming to Glendale and being sponsored with community tax dollars which, in his view, did nothing to “raise the standards of the community.” He further opposed the use of the high school auditorium by the Music Association, and he argued that he should be able to use the space in protest for a meeting of “white-minded white people . . . for the purpose of forming an association to combat by peaceful means (but energetically) the growing menace of niggerism.” The “threat” was not only the Music Association’s invitation to Rosemond, but the possibility that his presence challenged the community’s “whiteness” and could motivate other African Americans to “flock to Glendale.” He derisively suggested that anyone who wanted to listen to Black musicians go to Los Angeles’s Central Avenue, which at the time was the center of African American life and jazz music.
Not content with the response he received from the City Council to his letters, Larson started a letter-writing campaign of like “white-minded white people.” In all, eighteen other Glendalians joined Larson in the record by writing either their own letters or signing a form letter. The form letter indicated support for Larson in his assertion that having Black people as sponsored performers in Glendale was “taking bread out of the mouths of unemployed white persons and their families” during the economically devastating years of the Depression where blame for the scarcity of jobs was often placed on those most affected and with the least power. One resident hatefully but astutely pointed out, “We are not willing to have these ‘negroes’ for neighbors, so why should we spend our hard-earned money to hear them sing and play?”
Historical letters in this section of the exhibit contain offensive racial slurs that may be upsetting to some readers.
PLAY, BUT DON'T STAY IN GLENDALE
The practice of redlining and restrictive covenants written into housing deeds (see Episode 1: All-American City) kept African Americans newly arrived in Los Angeles from securing bank loans and buying homes in the city and surrounding suburbs like Glendale. The segregated area that was Central Avenue in Los Angeles, now known as South Central, was a product of those discriminatory practices.
From the 1920s until the 1950s, by necessity, Central Avenue became a thriving commerce and cultural hub for the growing African American community who were denied services, or charged more for them, elsewhere. The Black-owned newspaper, the California Eagle, had its office there, and so did countless hotels and nightclubs like the Dunbar (which housed many celebrities and was where the first West Coast convention of the NAACP was held), Billie Holiday and Anita O’Day sang at Club Alabam, and Charlie Parker played at the DownBeat Club. There were after-hours jam sessions, chorus girl lines, and stage shows at night along with clubs, bakeries, banks, and pharmacies for daytime activities—all Black owned and operated. Central Avenue was one of the few areas in Los Angeles where African Americans could secure a loan to own and occupy their own home.
Many African American musicians who had a history with the Los Angeles jazz scene on Central Avenue took part in the University of California, Los Angeles’s Center for Oral History Research project, “Central Avenue Sounds,” to capture that time period and preserve their memories. From 1989 to 1999, interviews were conducted by researcher Stephen Isoardi and included trumpeter Clora Bryant with drummers Lee Young and William “Bill” Douglass. Jazz was popular, and they performed all over Los Angeles during the 1940s and 1950s, and one theme remains consistent in their oral histories: when playing in Glendale clubs, they did not want to wander outside into the city when they finished a gig. Bryant told Isoardi that club owners gave the names of Black performers to the police department beforehand so that if they got stopped, they could account for their presence in the otherwise all-white enclave (indicating that the interaction with police could be problematic otherwise). Bill Douglass recalled that the Melody Room (or Club) was a hotspot for musicians and white music-lovers, but Glendale was a place where “you wouldn’t dare be caught walking around the streets” at night. Because of its hostile reputation to Black people, Douglass noted that Glendale was known as “Little Mississippi,” a nickname which was confirmed by Lee Young as well. All three musicians denied having run-ins with Glendale police, but the city’s prejudiced reputation was certainly so well established that when Bryant, Young and Douglass were interviewed about that reputation forty years later, they still remembered it.
Copyright notice: Any materials under copyright in this exhibit are covered by the Fair Use provision of the Copyright Act. Permission and preferred attribution were requested of all copyright holders.
"Glendale Group to Stage Oratorio Soon." Los Angeles Times, 27 Oct. 1929, pp. 23. ProQuest. Reprinted by permission of the Los Angeles Times.
Clinton Rosemond, CA. 1922. Image. Glendale Central Library. Glendale Library, Arts & Culture.
"Praise Accorded Negro Baritone." Glendale News-Press, 21 May 1931. Glendale Central Library. Glendale Library, Arts & Culture. Reprinted by permission of the Los Angeles Times.
“The Musical West.” California Eagle, 5 June 1931, p. 3. Newspapers.com. Downloaded on 23 Feb. 2021.
“Contralto Singer.” Burbank Daily Evening Review, 16 Jan. 1931, p. 4. Newspapers.com. Downloaded on 23 Feb. 2021.
Protest Letters Registered with the Glendale City Clerk's Office. Glendale Central Library. Glendale Library, Arts & Culture.
Central Avenue Sounds: William Douglass. Interviewed by Stephen L. Isoardi. Department of Special Collections. University of California, Los Angeles.
Central Avenue Sounds: Clora Bryant. Interviewed by Stephen L. Isoardi. Department of Special Collections. University of California, Los Angeles.
Central Avenue Sounds: Lee Young. Interviewed by Stephen L. Isoardi. Department of Special Collections. University of California, Los Angeles.
Black - Central Ave Los Angeles, CA. YouTube, uploaded by nameyoufriend, 28 Sept. 2017.
Glendale, California Biographies: Mattison Boyd Jones. The USGen Web Project. From History of Glendale and Vicinity by John Calvin Sherer. The Glendale Publishing Company, c. 1922.
Klein, Christopher. “Last Hired, First Fired: How the Great Depression Affected African Americans.” History, 18 April 2018, updated 31 Aug. 2018. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.
Meares, Hadley. “Club Alabam Was the Center of LA's Jazz Scene In the 1930s And '40s.” LAist, 25 Aug. 2020. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.
Murphy, Annie. “It’s Cool, It’s Hot, It Swings, It Slides … It’s Jazz (and it’s in L.A.).” Photo Friends, Los Angeles Public Library, 6 May 2019. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.
Sonksen, Mike. “The History of South Central Los Angeles and Its Struggle with Gentrification.” KCET, 13 Sept. 2017. Accessed 24 Feb. 2021.
Wilkerson, Isabel. “The Long-Lasting Legacy of the Great Migration.” Smithsonian Magazine, September 2016. Accessed 25 Feb. 2021.