PORTIA MAULTSBY remembers the first time she saw James Brown live in concert.
“It was an expression of Black culture,” says the ethnomusicologist. “The totality of our culture was wrapped in this one show, from our verbal and musical tradition to the live performance. It was more than entertainment, and at a young age, I began to think about why I was so mesmerized by it.”
Years later, Maultsby was recruited by Herman Hudson, founder of Indiana University’s Department of African American and African Diaspora Studies, to serve as the director of a new group dedicated to promoting and preserving Black popular music. The first collegiate ensemble of its kind, the IU Soul Revue was founded in 1971, giving Maultsby an opportunity to share her love for Black expression with IU students.
“I always knew I wanted to have a connection with the performative aspect of Black life, whether it was dance, music, or art,” Maultsby says. “I thought Black expressive culture said a lot about Black life.”
Celebrating its 50th anniversary this month, the IU Soul Revue is now led by James Strong, one of its alumni. Strong has worked with everyone from Toni Braxton to Tupac over the course of his long musical career. Much like Strong, several other IU Soul Revue alumni went on to do big things after their ensemble days were over, including 12-time Grammy winner Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds, Crystal Taliefero (singer and multi-instrumentalist with Billy Joel, Bruce Springsteen, and John Mellencamp), and Durand Jones (frontman of soul group Durand Jones & The Indications).
A former student of Maultsby’s from 1976 to 1980, musician Alan Bacon Sr. made the IU Soul Revue a family tradition. Alan and his wife, Mary, got married while members of the group. The couple then passed their love for music on to their son Alan Bacon Jr., who performed in the ensemble, too. “Soul Revue definitely had a major impact on my understanding of music and culture,” Bacon Sr. says. “It opened doors as far as getting more gigs with higher credibility.”
To commemorate the IU Soul Revue’s 50th anniversary, the band will perform at an alumni reunion at the Madam Walker Legacy Center on April 23. Strong sees the Indiana Avenue theater as a fitting venue for their half-century salute: “It’s a special place to the Black community. And it’s a special place to Indiana University. That’s why it’s monumental that we’re doing it there.”
Singing Their Praises
Since 1991, Charles Sykes has led IU’s African American Arts Institute, which manages IU Soul Revue performances. He recalls a few standout alumni of the group over the years.
Lead vocalist of The Dynamics
“There was a singer way back in the day named Jackie Wilson, and his nickname was Mr. Excitement. If there’s anybody who fits that bill in our band, it’s Darran Mosley.”
Former director of IU’s African American Dance Company
“She developed that dance group into what it is now. Her impact was shaping the lives of so many students over 43 years.”
Community engagement strategist at IUPUI
“I always call him Melvin Franklin, who was a bass singer for The Temptations. I listen to his voice and I hear that deep bass, which was always a rarity.”