BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – IU Soul Revue, the nation’s first and only university credit-bearing Black popular music ensemble, will celebrate its 50th anniversary at Indiana University Bloomington with events and performances throughout the 2021-22 academic year.
“I am incredibly proud of the IU Soul Revue,” said James Wimbush, IU Bloomington vice president for diversity, equity and multicultural affairs. “For the past 50 years, the IU Soul Revue has celebrated Black excellence and culture through their dynamic performances of R&B, soul, funk and contemporary Black popular music, and I could not be more excited for their anniversary performances.”
The kickoff event, at 5:50 p.m. Oct. 7 in the Neal-Marshall Black Culture Center Grand Hall, will include performances not only by IU Soul Revue but by the African American Choral Ensemble and African American Dance Company. All three ensembles will also perform in the Potpourri of the Arts in the African American Tradition on Nov. 14 at IU Auditorium.
Among the 50th anniversary celebration events this month are a public conversation and songwriting workshop with students Oct. 11 and 12 on the IU Bloomington campus featuring Daryl Simmons, a Grammy-winning songwriter, musician and producer. Simmons has worked with artists such as Elton John, Aretha Franklin, Diana Ross, Whitney Houston and Boyz II Men.
IU Soul Revue alumni will play a key part in the 50th anniversary weekend celebration in the spring. They’ll perform during a banquet April 22 at the JW Marriott and during a concert April 23 at the Madam Walker Legacy Center. The concert will feature alumni from the ensemble’s formative years of 1971 to 1973, as well as current members performing.
The ensemble was created in 1971 when Herman C. Hudson, founder of IU’s Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, recognized that a significant amount of student talent and interest in Black performance styles existed on campus. He envisioned performance ensembles being an integral part of academic coursework and Black studies curriculum, with tenured or tenured-track faculty members hired as the instructors.
Hudson recruited esteemed ethnomusicologist Portia Maultsby, who served as IU Soul Revue’s founding director until 1982.
“Over the years, many universities and colleges have attempted to duplicate this program, but none have succeeded,” Maultsby said. “As the first institutionalized African American performing ensemble specializing in Black popular music, the Soul Revue added to and enriched the cultural and social life of African American students, faculty, staff as well as the local community and the broader campus, a role it continues today.”
IU Soul Revue became a space for celebrating and valuing Black culture in an academic setting, and it has carved a legacy of excellence through its performances and the training it provides.
“Dr. Herman Hudson’s vision of a Black popular music ensemble course was unique, revolutionary and bold back in 1971,” said Charles Sykes, executive director of the African American Arts Institute. “Fifty years later, that ensemble course, the IU Soul Revue, is still unique, revolutionary and bold. We are honored to celebrate the legacy he built.”
Currently directed by James Strong, himself an alumnus of the ensemble, IU Soul Revue is known for dynamic performances of R&B, soul, funk and contemporary Black popular music. Its resume includes a performance with funk legend Bootsy Collins at the Cincinnati Music Festival, and before a sellout crowd at the renowned Spaghettini jazz club while touring in Los Angeles. IU Soul Revue also has opened for famed artists James Brown and Booker T. Jones.
“My experience in Soul Revue gave me the confidence I needed to make the career decision that would eventually turn into a 30-year run in the music business,” said Strong, a bassist, musical director and producer who has worked with Stephanie Mills, LL Cool J, New Edition, En Vogue and many others. “The instruction students receive by taking our Soul Revue course gives them a bird’s-eye view of what it’s like to be in the business, while developing their skills in time management, relationship building, effective communication and collaboration. These are skills they can apply to whatever field of work they choose.”
Ensemble alumni have equally impressive and diverse resumes. For example:
Crystal Taliefero, singer and multi-instrumentalist with John Mellencamp, Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger and Elton John.
Eric Deggans, best-selling author and NPR media analyst who received IU’s Distinguished Alumni Service Award.
Mike Burton, saxophonist for Patti LaBelle, Jill Scott, Anita Baker, Mary J. Blige and others.
Angela Brown, renowned opera and concert singer.
Kevon Edmonds and Keith Mitchell, founding members of the successful recording R&B group After 7.
Gonzalo Curiel, U.S. federal judge appointed under President Obama’s administration.
Donna Taylor, backup vocalist with Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello.
Durand Jones, founding member of the popular R&B/soul group Durand Jones & The Indications. (Group co-founder Blake Rhein also was a technician during the IU Soul Revue class.)
“The IU Soul Revue has provided life-changing experiences for hundreds of students and thousands of audience members,” Sykes said. “We are excited to celebrate this incredible legacy.”