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Saving Monroe's Musical History Part Two

Remembering People and Restoring Places.

05/13/2018 - (05/13/2018) Monroe was once a thriving hotbed of musical history, hosting the likes of Louis Armstrong, Billy Holiday and Duke Ellington. The historic places where they played are disappearing, or already gone.

In Part Two of our series, we take a look at what local artists are dong to try to help us remember and celebrate the people and places in Monroe's Musical History.

Local Louisiana Musicians are joining forces to save what's left of Monroe's music history, and it all starts here. 1001 Desiard Street, at the site of the iconic Miller-Roy Building.

Once the center for black business, music, and culture in the community, this fading star of a bygone era is caving in, and is one of several sites Monroe musicians like Kirby Ramblin are trying to preserve.

"I'm just a native son of Monroe." says Ramblin, co-author of the 'Byway Blues' brochure. "That really feels like it's a shame for future generations to not know about this history. It's disappearing. This is where some of the greatest African-American artists came to play on what was called "The Chitlin' Circuit" where they could safely play and exist."

Monroe native and Louisiana Hall of Famer Doug Duffey is on the same page.

"My hobby is taking pictures of the building and trying to save it and other buildings around town." says Duffey.

Duffey has performed at many venues around twon that no longer exist, and is a regular at "Enoch's Pub & Grill" in Monroe.

The owner of Enoch's, Doyle Jeter, has been keeping music alive in Monroe for 32 years, featuring many national and local blues artists and has put together a committee to honor historic people and places around town.

“I think that at least putting up some historical signs, much like the Mississippi Blues trail, honoring great people, places and artists will help people remember their history..and help us celebrate those artists and landmarks." says Jeter.

One landmark on Doyle's list that is still around is the Elite Lounge at 1207 Griffin St. Closed now, it is in good shape and could re-open if the right investor comes along.

The Elite lounge, formerly Cain's Lounge & Motel was a hotspot on the Chitlin' Circuit in the 1960's featuring popular artists like Otis Jackson, Little Melvin, and Maurice Johnson.

“My father was Otis Jackson." says Dexter Jackson. "He used to play here a lot...back in the day...this was a really happening joint. Also Maurice Johnson."

Clarence Clark is a promotor at Elite Lounge."Maurice Johnson, his band the Dynamics, played here alot. He still plays. He's an excellent musician."

Maurice Johnson is one of the oldest living legends around who actually played on the circuit in the 50's and 60's. His band "The Dynamics"  were regulars at Cain's Lounge. A fixture in the community, Maurice was the band leader at Grambling State University, Wossman High. and Carroll High School. He's a Monroe icon and can still blow a pretty sweet sax.

But one of the hottest spots on the circuit back in the 1930's and 1940's no longer exists. It's just an empty field at Powell & Washington near 14th Street, where the Carroll Gym used to be.

Across from what is now J.S. Clark Elementary School, the field that was formerly Carroll Gym or Carroll Auditorium was the place to be in the 190's & 1940's if you wanted to see artists like Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Count Basie.

The only proof that the Carroll Gym even existed are rare archive photos and ads in the black newspaper of the era.

Kirby and Leslie Ramblin feature this site on their "Byway Blues" brochure, along with the Miller-Roy Building and the Elite Lounge.

Can any of this history be saved? Monroe musicians certainly hope so.

If you'd like to pick up a Byway Blues Brochure, stop by KEDM Radio on the ULM campus in Monroe.


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