A Victorious Negotiation
Ethnomusicology graduate student helps showcase historic musicians
Once home to the "Chitlin Circuit" and now listed on the United States Department of Interior's National Registry of Historic Places, the Victory Grill is the last juke joint standing on East 11th Street. Today, the Victory Grill is a tribute to East Austin blues musicians and the vibrant black music scene that dominated the area during segregation, thanks to University of Texas at Austin Ethnomusicology graduate student, Jonathan Meyers.
Meyers' specialty within Ethnomusicology is in African-American music. His work uses this music in order to address questions about subjectivity, race and inequality. In his master's report, Meyers studied "juke joints" and the Chitlin Circuit, which is the network of primarily black blues clubs that formed a significant part of American music before integration, and which has played a tremendous role in the survival of an African-American aesthetic. His case study for this project was the Victory Grill.
The Victory Grill and the Texas Music Museum – who donated the exhibit - had been talking for years about collaborating on a project, but it was Meyers, with his skills in communication and his love of blues music, who enabled the project to happen. Working between the two non profits, he negotiated time, space, materials and costs for placing the East Austin blues musicians exhibit at the Grill.
Jonathan Meyers' idea to use the museum's resources to set up this exhibit came to fruition in a consulting class taught by Tommy Darwin, offered through PDCE (Professional Development and Community Engagement) within the Graduate School. He chose this specific course because it allowed him to put activist research to work in the community, and because it allowed him time to carefully design his project and to gain experience presenting it. The class emphasized communication and negotiation—two skills that became indispensable for Meyers as he worked through this large-scale project.
Meyers has long been interested in music, but when his band, The Stingers, was chosen as the subject of a central Texas field project done by two of his friends who were ethnomusicologists, it occurred to him that he might enjoy pursuing a career in ethnomusicology. He says: "I liked it because I've always tried to look as deeply as possible into music, and really, that's what the field does. It seemed like a good career choice for me, both in the sense of employment and as a career musician."
The end of the story is a hopeful one: in addition to hosting this exhibit, the Victory Grill is currently working to restore the original structure, create programs and raise funds to preserve the history and musical culture of the era.
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