Forget whatever you assumed about music in Bell County. As a crossroads county in the middle of the state, musicians of all genres converged here at one time or another.

The upcoming Bell County Museum exhibit “Portraits from the Golden Age of Jazz: Photographs by William Gottlieb” is a glimpse into the artistic angst of these traveling artists. The exhibition of about 75 photographs will be on display Saturday through June 9.

Jazz artists especially left a huge imprint on the landscape. Such luminaries as Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Ella Fitzgerald performed in local clubs and at Fort Hood. Since most hotels were off-limits to them because of Jim Crow restrictions, they frequently stayed in the home of L.B. Kinchion, a respected Belton educator who left a remarkable legacy of his own.

During the 1930s and 1940s, William Gottlieb photographed the contemporary jazz scene to illustrate his columns in The Washington Post, Down Beat magazine and other publications. The photographic negatives were stored for more than 30 years until Gottlieb’s retirement in 1979, when he began printing the negatives. The rest, literally, became history. Gottlieb is now one of the most honored jazz photographers.

Stephanie Turnham, museum executive director, and her staff have created an accompanying display of Bell County’s unique jazz heritage.

Among the jewels is a photo of Duke Ellington personally autographed to his host, Kinchion. A 1937 jukebox will play a variety of jazz classics. A display of gowns and fashion accessories from the 1930s and 1940s will add to the era’s ambiance.

The story of ragtime composer Scott Joplin’s brief sojourn in Temple also will be on exhibit. In 1895-96, Joplin published his first three compositions in Temple — a waltz and two marches. The three sheet music publications were remarkable because it was rare for blacks just three decades after the Civil War to get published. Although records are unclear how long he stayed in Temple, he and his brothers performed throughout Central Texas with the Texas Medley Quartette.

Gottlieb’s images of these jazz artists from the era considered by many to be the “Golden Age of Jazz” have become the standard icons of jazz history. His images of jazz greats such as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, Louis Armstrong, Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday, Charlie Parker and Stan Kenton have been widely published in magazines, books, calendars and posters. They also have been featured in more than 250 album and CD covers, in television documentaries and major motion pictures.

Recently, the National Portrait Gallery also acquired Gottlieb’s photograph of Duke Ellington, and the U.S. Postal Service has featured four of his photographs on postage stamps.

Smith Kramer Fine Art Services, a traveling exhibitions company in Kansas City, Mo., is handling the traveling show.

The museum at 201 N. Main St., Belton, is open from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday.


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