Funky Naptown: Celebrating the Legacy of Indianapolis Soul Music
Indianapolis is home to a significant history of R&B music. Many music historians trace the roots of R&B back to Indianapolis’ Leroy Carr, a popular blues singer based in the city’s Indiana Avenue neighborhood. The songs Carr wrote in the 1920s and 1930s were later recorded by early R&B stars, including Ray Charles and Big Joe Turner.
During the 1930s, the vibrant Indianapolis music scene gave birth to the Ink Spots. In 1989 the Ink Spots were inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame—the only Indianapolis group to have received this honor. The Ink Spots inspired scores of Indianapolis teenagers to form their own singing groups, including Thurston Harris. In 1957, Harris scored a top ten Billboard hit with "Little Bitty Pretty One”.
During the 1960s, R&B bands like The Moonlighters, The Presidents, and Billy Ball’s Upsetters packed local clubs like The Place to Play and Blue Eagle. With the goal of putting the Indianapolis R&B scene on the map, a young Indianapolis firefighter named Herb Miller formed Lamp Records in 1969. Miller recorded important funk and soul acts in Indianapolis, launching the careers of Billboard-charting artists like The Vanguards and the Ebony Rhythm Band.
The arrival of the 1970s saw the rise of funk bands like Amnesty, Rhythm Machine, and Manchild. Manchild featured a gifted young musician named Kenny “Babyface” Edmonds, who has since reached national prominence. Babyface credits the Indianapolis R&B scene for providing him with the tools to succeed. Today, R&B stars like Tiara Thomas continue to spread the legacy of Indianapolis soul music.
This exhibition of contemporary and vintage photographs and objects, curated by the award-winning Indianapolis-based music journalist, DJ, and radio personality Kyle Long, highlights the people, places, and recordings important to the enduring richness of R&B in Indianapolis. For more, check out the online archives of Long’s radio programs Cultural Manifesto and Echoes of Indiana Avenue at www.wfyi.org.
- Jess Nijjer
- Ted Somerville
- Herb Miller
- Ernest Stuart