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A current exhibit and upcoming events at Tuskegee University’s Legacy Museum will memorialize famed legendary bass player and photographer Milton John Hinton. During his seven-decade career, Hinton became one of the most recorded bassists in history, while also capturing behind-the-scenes life in music.
During the week of September 11-14, the Legacy Museum will host “Playing the Changes: The Life and Legacy of Milt Hinton,” a traveling exhibition of the Oberlin Conservatory Library. The exhibit combines Hinton’s original photographs with insightful biographical materials.
The exhibit provides an unrivaled perspective on the life and legacy of one of the 20th century’s most accomplished bass players, while also documenting the sobering racial inequalities faced by African-Americans throughout the 20th century.
The grandson of a slave growing up in rural Mississippi, Hinton knew the realities of racism. Discrimination continued during his Jim Crow-era travels with the Cab Calloway Orchestra in the 1930s and ‘40s. Later, segregation persisted when Hinton worked to break through the color line in New York recording studios.
“The title of this exhibit, ‘Playing the Changes,’ is metaphoric because Milt Hinton did just that — he played the changes of life by dealing with life in a segregated America, overcoming hardship, and being able to see America change throughout the years,” said Legacy Museum curator, Dr. Jontyle Robinson.
Through his hard work, Hinton became known as a first-call studio musician in the recording industry.
“Mr. Hinton would be one of the firsts that recording agencies would call, because he was reliable, talented and creative,” noted Robinson. “He worked with performers across the spectrum of styles, from Cab Calloway to Louis Armstrong, Bing Crosby, Barbara Streisand to Paul McCartney.”
Not only was he a musician, but Hinton developed an interest in and eye for photography. He began taking photographs of his friends in the 1930s and, during the following six decades, his collection grew to more than 60,000 images.
One of his photographs on display as part of the exhibit is of recently deceased Aretha Franklin, during a recording session. In the photo, a confident Franklin is seen before or between a set — “serene, perfectly dressed, perched atop a stool with legs crossed at the ankles and her feet splendidly adorned in wonderful high-heeled shoes,” Robinson noted.
“Mr. Hinton reveals his mastery of the camera in the manner like no other. He was rare in that he was a master of both the musical and visual arts,” Robinson said.
The exhibit includes 50 framed black-and white pigment prints that highlight Hinton’s passion for capturing moments in history. The prints are featured selections from the Milton J. and Mona C. Hinton Collection and the Oberlin Conservatory Library Special Collections.
“He captured and documented the extraordinary lives of several notable celebrities, including Wynton Marsalis and Cab Calloway — you name them, and they’re on the walls of the Legacy Museum,” Robinson noted.
In conjunction with the Milt Hinton exhibit, David Berger and Holly Maxson will show their film and lead a question-and-answer session focused on Hinton on Wednesday at 4 p.m.
Thursday’s events honoring Hinton will begin at 4 p.m. with Dr. Willie Ruff’s media presentation — “A Tuskegee-trained Tailor, Mr. Handy’s Blues, a Band and a Parade” — followed by a musical performance by Antoine Roney and Kojo Roney.
“Because of the accommodation of music and the visual arts, we like to highlight interdisciplinary exhibits in the museum to educate our students. Through this effort, we hope to open their eyes to our continued history,” Robinson explained.
The exhibit is sponsored by Jock Reynolds, former director of the Yale University Art Gallery, and his wife, Suzanne Hellmuth.
“The Legacy Museum is proud to have this important exhibition, and we could not have done this without the support and generosity of Jock and Suzanne. This is a phenomenal exhibit and we urge everyone to come and view it,” Robinson said.
The “Playing the Changes: The Life and Legacy of Milt Hinton” exhibition will be on display through the end of 2018. It is open to the public without an appointment during the Legacy Museum’s normal hours of operation — Monday through Friday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To learn more about the Legacy Museum, visit https://www.tuskegee.edu/legacymuseum.
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