Local News

Monroe's disappearing music history

MONROE, La. - (5/10/2018) The Miller-Roy building in a Monroe landmark. Built in 1929, just before the stock market crash, the building survived and thrived during the depression, thanks in part to the success of the Savoy ballroom on the third floor, which hosted musical legends like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald.

However, the iconic building is crumbling, and Monroe musicians, historians, and  residents want to save it.

"The Chitlin' Circuit", a tongue 'n' cheek nickname for music venues where black artists could play and stay during the segregated 1930's & 1940's, and all the way through the civil rights movement of the 1960's. In a time of "whites only" lunch counters and "colored" labeled lodging, black entertainers weren't welcome to perform in many mainstream places, and if they did, they had to come and go through the back door. They weren't allowed sit in the audience, eat at a table, or even try on a hat or jacket in a "whites only" store.

"So you had to be humiliated" says Pastor Roosevelt Wright, Editor of The Free Press. "So the African-American businesses filled in that void so you could go there and not be insulted. You didn't have to sit in the back or sit around the corner."

"The Stroll", also known as "Black Main Street," began on DeSiard Street near 6th Street by the railroad tracks, stretching down to 14th street. The centerpiece  and crown jewel  of the  strip was the Miller-Roy building, at 10th & DeSiard. But now, it's looks quite different.

"It's just been abandoned and left to time. says Lora Peppers, who is a Geneaologist at the Ouachita Parish Library. "The only thing standing are the outside four walls but the enture encter of it has collapsed."

"This is a lost piece of history here. Not many people know about it. It would be a showplace for our history here in Monroe. It's a very important building." says Peppers.

Even though the City Council voted to tear it down in 2010, to rid the city of blight, Mayor Mayo is glad it was put on the historical registry and hopeful it will be restored to its former glory.

"The Miller-Roy building was something that the black community could organize and be a part of and also be proud of." says Mayor Mayo. "This was the heart and soul of the  gathering place where black Americans could come here in the city of Monroe."

Pastor Roosevelt Wright agrees. His Free Press office used to be in the Miller-Roy building. Now, all you can see is debris scattered on the floor.  "If they tried to restore it into a 1929-1930 look and if they had big band performances or times that did that." says Wright. "School tourism and things like that alone would make it a profitable venture."

You won't hear any argument from Brenda Roy. Her grandfather, Dr. Joseph C. Roy is the "Roy" of Miller-Roy. He erected the building with  friend and colleague Dr. John T. Miller.  Brenda's connection to the building goes even deeper Her Uncle is the famous blues singer and pianist “Ivory Joe Hunter”...his office and recording studio were on the 2nd floor of the building--she used to visit him there as a child.

”He's written over 5,000 recordings. Some of his songs were sung by Sonny James and Elvis Presley." says Roy.

Looking back, Brenda regrets not paying more attention to Uncle Joe...as a kid she had no idea how famous he really was. "He played for our birthdays, he played all the time." says Roy. "If he had a new song, he came in the house and played it for us. We were like, okay, that's old and slow and we didn't want to hear it" 

Friday night, make sure you catch part two of this series on Monroe's disappearing music history. There is even more than the Miller-Roy building.

More Stories

Trending Stories

Latest News