Memory Builds the Monument
We are preserving the rich history of the Fifth Ward. Compelled by the vivid memories of the legendary Club Matinee by Houston’s elders, Memory Builds the Monument is a documentation project to share the rich history of the Greater Fifth Ward. MBTM holds all of the historical efforts and celebrates its history and culture.
This artist-led project includes a documentary film, oral history collection, and events. Each is an opportunity to connect across generations, melding memories and inspiration while realizing new forms of community.
This cultural landmark was an exceptional musical venue founded in 1936. After opening with Cab Calloway, this visionary Cotton Club of the South hosted entertainment legends from Ray Charles (one of his first gigs) to James Brown, Aretha Franklin, Quincy Jones, Louis Armstrong, Sam Cooke, Little Richard and B. B. King.
The Club lasted until 1973, ultimately closing after the insensitive highway and urban renewal projects of the 50s and 60s fragmented the neighborhood. While many of the physical archives of the Club were lost in the floods of Hurricane Harvey, the memories of the Club still resonate in the elderly population of the community and the importance of recording these recollections is urgent.
A thriving renowned neighborhood landmark for 37 years was physically lost, but can be (re)found through documentation of community memories.
A decade before the ascendance of Motown, Houston’s Duke and Peacock record labels flourished as an African-American-owned company. Don Robey founded Peacock Records in 1949 and ran it with an iron hand. In 1952 Robey and James Mattias of Duke Records (founded in Memphis, Tennessee, earlier in the year) formed a partnership. A year later Robey became the outright owner of Duke and centralized its operation in Houston. The company’s staples were gospel (the Five Blind Boys of Mississippi) and gospel-oriented blues (Bobby “Blue” Bland and Junior Parker, with arrangements by Joe Scott and Bill Harvey, respectively). In 1953 Willie Mae (“Big Mama”) Thornton recorded the first version of “Hound Dog,” which Elvis Presley turned into a rock-and-roll anthem three years later. In 1954 Duke’s ballad singer Johnny Ace became the first martyr of the new teen era, losing at Russian roulette after a concert; his posthumous hit “Pledging My Love” became one of the most-played “oldies” in the decades that followed.
The De Luxe Show
"The De Luxe Show," was the first racially integrated exhibition in the U.S. Today, that premise hardly seems provocative. But at the time, when protests led by Black artists against their exclusion from the U.S.’s top museums were mounting, it was a major step.
Based on local reporting during the show’s run, the exhibition received a healthy stream of visitors. Critic Clement Greenberg, who played an integral role in defining Abstract Expressionism during the postwar era, attended the exhibition and later wrote, “When the neighborhood people started coming in, I became aware of something like a tingle of exhilaration in the air… People were really looking. They were taking the art seriously.” The Houston Post’s report on the exhibition claimed that it “demonstrated that there is a vast untapped reservoir of curiosity and human potential new experiences that is rarely piqued or reached by the conventional museum format.”