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Historic African American blues records, photographs discovered in Knoxville home

Archivist Bradley Reeves believes some of the photos date back to the pre-1920s and hopes someone might recognize any of the faces in them.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — A historical treasure hidden from view inside the basement of a Knoxville home for decades is now in the hands of record collector and film archivist Bradley Reeves. 

"I was amazed. This stuff usually doesn't survive. It does get thrown away," Reeves said. "The amount of dirt and grime on the records and in the creases of the original photographs say to me that these have been tucked away and forgotten for many years...decades." 

The owners of Lost & Found Records called Reeves when someone dropped off a bin containing old blues/jazz records and pictures they had found while restoring a Knoxville home. 

"Whenever they find old blues and jazz 78s, they contact me and let me know, but this one even surprised me. I did not expect what was in store," Reeves said. 

Reeves dusted off the records and blues music from the 1940s and 50s blared inside his Maryville home. 

"It was just some of the coolest early rhythm and blues and jazz and swing. There was a mixture back in the late 1940s, early 1950s where they mixed jazz, rhythm and blues, gospel, and it created a sound all of its own that lead to the beginnings of Rock & Roll," Reeves said. 

An even bigger surprise for Reeves was a collection of photographs depicting life for Knoxville's African American community that seems to date back to before the 1920s. 

"I'd love to be able to track down the source. That's going to be some real detective work, but it's well worth it. It's been a real gem and really nice to look at some forgotten African American culture," Reeves said. 

Reeves held up one of the pictures showing a group of men in hats and ties that he believes to be taxi cab drivers who may have had links to Knoxville's underground music scene at the time.

"It's interesting to see the folks that were involved in either driving the taxi cabs or involved in local jazz and music, There was a whole underground scene downtown. The Waiters and Porters club, for instance, was one swinging little joint, and I've heard about so many legends over the years. So, I'm thinking there's a connection there. It's, it's also interesting to know who would work with African Americans during that time period between 1915 and 1920 to develop their pictures and to produce negatives and photographs.," Reeves said.

Credit: Bradley Reeves
Reeves believes this photo dates back to before the 1920s based on its coloring and the man's attire.

He flipped over the back of one portrait to reveal a Kay Jewelers stamp. While it gives insight into who developed the pictures, Reeves hopes he'll one day be able to find out who's in them too. 

Reeves will be playing the records live on the air during his radio show on WDVX on April 1 from 10 p.m. to midnight. 

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