Professors, Students Help Preserve Jefferson Street Musical History

Posted at 7:51 PM, Feb 13, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-13 20:56:45-05

Vanderbilt University professors and students have recently launched a new website to help preserve the long and rich musical history of Jefferson Street.

Professor of Management and Innovation David Owens and his team have been on a years-long project to further research what was once a vibrant street by collaborating with Lorenzo Washington of Jefferson Street Sound, LLC.

From the 40s to the 60s, Jefferson Street was a main entertainment corridor for rhythm and blues music and had big named-legends perform in its numerous clubs.

"B.B. King, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, Aretha Franklin, Ike and Tina Turner, I I mean there were just so many I can go on and on," Washington told NewsChannel 5.

Washington once frequented the clubs that made Jefferson Street so colorful. 

His friend and musician Jimmy Otey remembered playing drums as a part of Jimi Hendrix's set. He will never forget when the iconic artist had a guitar battle with Johnny Jones at the famed Club Baron which has since become Elk's Lodge. 

At its peak, Jefferson Street had more than 600 businesses and homes, according to Washington. 

"It was exciting. You looked forward every weekend to come into Jefferson Street to go into the nightclubs. You can just walk down Jefferson Street and all kinds of stuff was happening," recalled Washington. 

Jefferson Street could have rivaled other entertainment districts like Beale Street in Memphis if the construction of the interstate never happened. 

Many blamed the interstate for splitting the community in two and driving out businesses.

"It was blocking the roads in three or four or five different areas at one time when they were building the interstate. There was a lot of blasting so the folks that owned houses and businesses on this street moved out," said Washington.

He opened a small museum showcasing pictures, memorabilia and even a piece of an old organ in 2010. 

Through his partnership with Vanderbilt University, the effort to keep the legacy alive and teach younger generations will be easier.

"What we're asking people to do is tell stories and tell them through the medium of a map," said Owens.

The project which launched in October has allowed people to share stories about a specific spot on Jefferson Street.

It lists out clubs that once stood and who performed there by sharing a playlist of their songs.

"It's a website where people can go and put pins into things and upload images and texts and tell stories of what's in there now. We're moving towards being able to put a base map of the place at that time. Let's say you were on Jefferson Street in 1963, what would you have seen what would it have looked like," explained Owens.

Anyone can explore the map through

Students of Vanderbilt's Space, Learning & Mobility Lab (SLaM) at Vanderbilt's Peadbody College of education and human development are part of the project.