Charles Walton Papers, 1928-2005
Biographical Note: Charles Walton
Scope and Content: Charles Walton Papers, 1928-2005
Bronzeville Conversations Memoirs | Bronzeville Conversations Drafts
Interviews: Inventory and Transcripts | Interviews: Oral History Recordings
Subject Research Files | Published Material | Serials
Music Recordings | Photographs
|Provenance:||Donation of Charles Walton in 1996. Additional donations made by Lorraine Walton in 2009, 2010.|
|Size:||28 linear feet (36 archival boxes)|
|Repository:||Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Carter G. Woodson Regional Library (Chicago Public Library), 9525 S. Halsted Street, Chicago, IL 60628|
|Citation:||When quoting material from this collection the preferred citation is: Charles Walton Papers [Box #, Folder #], Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection of Afro-American History and Literature, Chicago Public Library.|
|Processed by:||Celeste Day Moore, Mapping the Stacks, University of Chicago|
|Supervised by:||Michael Flug, Senior Archivist, Harsh Research Collection|
Charles Walton was a jazz drummer, music educator and author of “Bronzeville Conversations,” a research and oral history project that documented the jazz and blues world in Black Chicago. Walton was born on July 7, 1925 in Selma, Ala. He moved to Chicago’s South Side as a child and attended Douglas Grammar School and Wendell Phillips High School. Following high school, Walton joined the United States Navy and later attended Kentucky State College and Maryland State College before completing his formal education at Roosevelt University, where he received a bachelor of arts and master of arts in music education.
Walton learned how to play drums following his military service and later performed with a number of Chicago bands, including the Johnnie Pate Trio and Duke Groner’s band, and he also served as a “session man” for blues and R&B recordings, including those of Chess Records. Walton began teaching at Malcolm X College in 1970, where he was associate professor of music until his retirement in 1989. At Malcolm X and with the Chicago Community Music Foundation, he worked with young people and musicians to organize jazz bands and provide educational opportunities. As a musician, Walton was a member of the all African American Local 208 of the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) for over 50 years. During this time, he was active in the merger of Locals 10 and 208 that integrated the white and black locals in Chicago and was elected to the board of trustees for Local 10-208. As Walton wrote in his account of the merger, he was “greatly concerned with the hyphen in A.F.M. Local 10-208.” (Walton, “A Tempo of the Times”) Documenting the history of the musicians’ union was a significant component of the “Bronzeville Conversations” project.
In addition to his work as a musician and educator, over the course of two decades Walton conducted oral history interviews with close to 200 musicians, club owners, politicians, promoters, producers and anyone associated with Bronzeville jazz and blues. His method was to engage interviewees in conversation, which would proceed as a discussion between two people with a vast, shared body of knowledge. In these interviews, Walton interrogated the structure of jazz of Chicago: the economic relations of the music, the race relations, the creation and significance of jazz spaces and clubs like the Sutherland Lounge and the DuSable Hotel, and the interactions among club owners, bookers and the union. He traced a network of individuals and institutions that defined an era during which African American-owned cultural institutions thrived. Although restrictive covenant laws helped to form Bronzeville, it was also the space in which, “partly from necessity and partly by choice,” African Americans in Chicago developed their own churches, businesses and recreation. (Walton, Bronzeville Conversations)
In the early 1990s, the Jazz Institute of Chicago invited Walton to begin writing a column called “Bronzeville Conversations,” and over the years, Walton contributed 53 columns based on his research and interviews. Meanwhile, Walton worked to publish a book based on his lifelong project. Before he could finish the book, Walton died on March 30, 2005 at an AFM conference in New York.
Barlow, William. Voice Over: The Making of Black Radio. Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1999.
Cohodas, Nadine. Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2000.
Demlinger, Sandor and John Steiner. Destination Chicago Jazz. Chicago: Arcadia Publishing, 2003.
Green, Adam. Selling the Race: Culture, Community and Black Chicago, 1940-1955. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007.
Lewis, George. A Power Stronger Than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2008.
Monson, Ingrid. Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.
Newman, Mark. Entrepreneurs of Profit and Pride: From Black-Appeal to Radio Soul. New York: Praeger, 1988.
Pruter, Robert. Chicago Soul. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1991.
Sengstock, Charles A. Jr. Jazz Music in Chicago’s Early South-Side Theaters. Northbrook, IL: Caterbury Press, 2000.
Spaulding, Norman W. “History of Black Oriented Radio in Chicago, 1929-1963.” PhD diss., University of Illiinois at Urbana-Champaign, 1981.
Travis, Dempsey J. An Autobiography of Black Jazz. Chicago: Urban Research Institute, 1983.
The Charles Walton Papers have been arranged in seven separate series: Bronzeville Conversations, Interviews, Subject Research Files, Published Essays, Serials, Musical Recordings and Photographs. This is not a traditional personal collection but rather, a research collection about music. The papers are thus arranged according to Walton’s unfinished book, Bronzeville Conversations. The first series includes the components that would have been published and is followed by the evidentiary material that related to this project, as well as components published elsewhere. Related papers at the Vivian G. Harsh Research Collection include the Timuel D. Black Papers, the Charles A. Davis Papers, Walter Dyett Papers and the Theodore Charles Stone Papers.
Series 1: Bronzeville Conversations, 1936-2005
This series has been arranged in close approximation to Walton’s plans for the writing and publication of Bronzeville Conversations. The arrangement begins with several drafts of Walton’s memoir, which traces his own life, jazz career and his interest in telling Bronzeville’s history. The memoirs would have been part one of the book. This is followed by an early draft of what would have been part two, an edited collection of essays and conversations constructed from interviews and research. This part begins with subject articles on Bronzeville’s history, locations in Bronzeville and jazz clubs. Second are excerpts of conversations, subdivided into two parts—musician and non-musician—in order to aid researchers; however, it should be noted that Walton viewed all participants as equally significant in the creation of Bronzeville’s jazz community. The final components are primary sources and secondary material on the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) and Walton’s book section on black radio in Chicago.
Series 2: Interviews, 1970s-1990s
This series includes an inventory of interviews, transcripts of interviews and 343 compact disc (CD) recordings of oral history interviews with 179 subjects. The interviews were originally recorded, from the early 1970s to the early 2000s, on cassettes, minicassettes and VHS tapes. They were often recorded in jazz clubs and crowded spaces, and are not always clear recordings. In addition, the oral history interviews do not define terms, people or places, as they were usually informal and between professional acquaintances. Only a small percentage of the interviews have been transcribed thus far.
The tapes were transferred to more stable formats from fall 2009 to summer 2010, and efforts were made to improve sound quality. Each interviewee has a unique numerical designation (eg, OH 010) but in many cases, there are multiple compact discs. In those cases, each compact disc is foldered separately with a subfolder number. The number of CDs does not necessarily reflect the number of interviews, as some interviews exceeded the capacity of one CD. When dates of interviews were written on the original tape, this has been indicated in the finding aid. In most cases, there are no dates indicated; therefore, the order of the CDs does not represent the order in which interviews were conducted. The keyword descriptions that appear in the list of interviewees were written by Charles Walton.
The transcripts were completed over the course of several years, with some edited by Walton himself and others transcribed beginning in 2009. Both transcripts and interviews are generally arranged alphabetically; however, some later additions are arranged at the end of the list and are not in alphabetical order.
Series 3: Subject Research Files, 1959-1992
This series includes files and notes that appeared throughout Walton’s papers and that likely aided in the creation of Bronzeville Conversations. They have been arranged alphabetically.
Series 4: Published Material, 1980-2003
This series includes published essays by Walton in the Jazz Institute of Chicago’s newsletter Jazzgram and one essay by Gloria Coleman, whose master of arts thesis “The Du Sable Hotel Locale” was based on oral history interviews and conversations with Walton. Copies of Walton’s columns in Jazzgram are arranged chronologically when the date is known and followed by columns published online with no date. Copies of his column were made from originals in Special Collections at the University of Chicago Library.
Series 5: Serials, 1928-1977
This series consists of published serials in Walton’s collection and is arranged chronologically.
Series 6: Music Recordings, 1930s-2000s
This series includes music records and compact discs in Walton’s collection and is arranged chronologically. It includes a rare copy of the Johnnie Pate Trio’s feature LP.
Series 7: Photographs, 1930s-1970s
This series includes over 150 photographs of jazz musicians, performances and clubs ranging in date from the 1930s to the 1960s. This series also includes an album of unidentified photographs. The photograph series follows no arrangement.