Preserving American Music History Through Education
Over the years the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation has spearheaded a variety of exciting educational and preservationist programs to inform both young and old about the contributions and impact of unknown American music artists. One such effort was our partnership with New Orleans’ Ogden Museum of Southern Art, in which the foundation regularly presented a legendary or otherwise culturally significant American music act the Ogden’s weekly award-winning “Ogden After Hours” program. The live interviews conducted in between the music sets were recorded for our oral-history project and will serve as an essential resource to American cultural historians for years to come.
The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation also partnered with the Ogden Museum and the University of New Orleans to bring musicians into the school system. Modeled on the “Ogden After Hours” format, this outreach program was able to introduce young people to musicians who have never been given the attention they deserved.
The artists’ school visits brought an unparalleled, vivid experience of American history into the classroom, helping to supplement musical-education offerings that are sorely lacking in many modern school curricula. The Good Shepherd School in New Orleans served as a program site.
The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation also partnered with Xavier University to conduct a service-learning project with 75 freshmen. Their work entailed meeting local musicians, conducting oral-history interviews, and researching key locations and people for a music-mapping project.
Preserving the American Music Story: Oral History Project
A key component to honoring the history of American music is to capture, document and archive the stories of the men and women who were there: the musicians who provided Little Richard with the back beat for his fiery debut recordings, backed Elvis Presley on the road and in the studio, and taught Ray Charles how to mix the sacred and profane to create rock ’n’ roll.These are the type of stories the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation has brought to light.
Too often the opportunity to capture the lives behind the songs are missed. The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation has worked to document the disparate stories behind the music while they can still be heard, before these treasures of American history are lost forever. This is American history, not just music history, and we are at risk of not having a complete and honest version of it.
Over the years we have collected oral histories from dozens of American musicians, including Joe Clay, Earl King, Rockie Charles, and Teenie Hodges.
The regular interviews conducted at “Ogden After Hours” and the Ponderosa Stomp Music Conference have formed a rich archive of raw historical material for use by partner organizations such as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, which has preserved them.
Engaging Living History: Ponderosa Stomp Music Conference
In 2008 the foundation partnered with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum to launch the first-ever Ponderosa Stomp Music History Conference as part of the Ponderosa Stomp Festival. It was the first-ever music conference dedicated to the unsung heroes of American music and their influence on contemporary music and culture.
The Ponderosa Stomp Foundation’s Music History Conference is not your average day at school. In 2008, for example, Smokey Johnson and Bob French had dueling memories about who pawned whose bass drum, Harold Battiste and other founding members of AFO Records remembered the visionary label’s earliest days, and fans gathered at the feet of J&M Studio’s legendary Cosimo Matassa (literally – all the chairs were taken). It is these interactions and conversations that make the Stomp’s Music History Conference special; it presents the study of American music history in a unique first-person, primary-document context, through a full slate of daytime panels, discussions, and oral histories, providing students and adults an opportunity to meet and have a dialogue with artists —
engaging, teaching, and fostering a lifelong love of the arts and cultural history. Significantly, all of the above music legends (Johnson, French, Battiste, and Matassa) are now deceased, making these lasting documents of their experiences all the more important.
The Ponderosa Stomp’s conference lineup draws some of the country’s most respected experts — music writers, historians, educators, producers, and musicians — to explore the heritage of American music.
Featured speakers have included Ponderosa Stomp performers such as Sonny Burgess, Barbara Lynn, Dale Hawkins, Wanda Jackson, Question Mark, Dan Penn, Dennis Coffey, and Roy Head, as well as acclaimed authors and historians Peter Guralnick (Sweet Soul Music, Dream Boogie), John Broven (Rhythm and Blues In New Orleans), Holly George-Warren (Public Cowboy No. 1), Robert Gordon (Respect Yourself: The Stax Records Story film), Nick Spitzer (American Routes radio), and music-biz legends like Joe Bihari (founder of RPM and Modern Records) and Bob Sullivan (original engineer for the Louisiana Hayride), among others.
Each session is recorded and archived at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum.
Music History Conference Schedule and Information
Celluloid Heroes: Rock ’n’ Roll on Film
In 2009 the Ponderosa Stomp launched Celluloid Heroes — Rock ’n’ Roll on Film, a film screening series dedicated to uncovering the hidden histories of rock in sight and sound. Celluloid Heroes featured screenings and artist- and critic-led discussions of four of our fave recent documentaries that relate to past and present Stomp performers. The event later became known as the Clandestine Celluloid Film Series and continued for several years.
“UNSUNG HEROES” EXHIBIT AT THE LOUISIANA STATE MUSEUM
In conjunction with the eighth-annual Ponderosa Stomp concert and second-annual Music Conference in April 2009, the Ponderosa Stomp Foundation, in partnership with the Louisiana State Museum, curated an exhibit that took a sweeping look at the rich musical heritage of Louisiana.
The purpose of the exhibit was to show the cultural importance and influence of Louisiana music, illustrating how the various regions of the state developed their own sound, while at the same time they influenced each other.
“Unsung Heroes: The Secret History of Louisiana Rock ’n’ Roll” was the first freestanding, continuously accessible physical repository of the Ponderosa Stomp’s extensive (and arcane) body of information about obscure and influential Louisiana music history. It also was the first museum exhibit of its kind – a much-belated celebration of the state’s formidable contribution to American music.
Many panelists and interviewees from the Stomp conference toured the exhibit between sessions. Classie Ballou, Dave Bartholomew, and Cosimo Matassa were among those who were able to locate their names and albums on the walls – in the famously modest Matassa’s case, it was a whole wall dedicated to the achievements of his world-changing studio.
“Unsung Heroes” took visitors inside the record collections, photo albums, and memories of the Ponderosa Stomp’s brain trust, including founder Dr. Ike, historian John Broven, and former Louisiana Hayride engineer Bob Sullivan.
Artifacts from the Louisiana State Museum’s collection on display included James Black’s drum set; Fats Domino’s piano; Louisiana blues legend Lazy Lester’s harmonica; Earl Palmer’s drums; Dave Bartholomew’s trumpet; a Shirley and Lee concert poster from 1955; a sign from Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Cosimo Matassa’s historic J&M Record Studio (where Fats Domino, Little Richard, Ray Charles, Dr. John, and others cut groundbreaking sides); and nearly a hundred original 45-rpm records and LPs unearthed from Dr. Ike’s personal collection. The exhibit’s video station played original interviews with several Ponderosa Stomp artists.
In typical Stomp fashion, an entire wall celebrated the famous eccentrics of New Orleans music, including “Emperor of the Universe” Ernie K-Doe; outsize personality Guitar Slim, who dyed his hair to match his suits; the wing-wearing electric guitar evangelist Utah Smith; and the flamboyant rock ’n’ roll piano pounder Esquerita.
The Ponderosa Stomp also hosted a series of live interviews and concerts at the Louisiana State Museum with several of the Louisiana artists featured in “Unsung Heroes.”