Through the Lens of Jimmy Baynes: Cleveland Rock and Roll History

Friday, February 8: 4:40 p.m.
Posted by Jennie Thomas
Photographer Jimmy Baynes' images provide a candid look at African-American life, music and culture.

Cleveland has been a hive of live music for decades. The city experienced tremendous growth in the years following World War II and, with it, an explosion of live music venues. The core of this activity took place on the east side of the city, home to Cleveland’s African-American population. Clubs like the Music Box, the Tia Juana, Leo’s Casino and Gleason’s hosted the best jazz, blues and R&B performers the era had to offer. The economic prosperity of the time was mirrored in the pulsing entertainment scene. 

Following this lively scene was postal worker Jimmy H. Baynes (July 12, 1922 – September 9, 2010), who supplemented his weekly paycheck through Baynes Foto Service at 2220 East 87th Street, primarily photographing local events in the African-American community. Though Baynes was not a trained photographer, the images he created over  three decades, from the 1950s into the 1980s – whether they are of weddings, beauty competitions, burlesque shows or live music performances  – provide an authentic and candid glimpse into African-American life, music and culture. Throughout the years, Baynes’ photographs appeared in Cleveland magazines and newspapers, such as the Call and Post.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum was fortunate to acquire some of Baynes' photographs, and now that collection of materials has been processed by the staff of the Library and Archives and is ready for researcher use. The Jimmy Baynes Collection consists mainly of Baynes’ photographs and negatives taken at live music performances at Cleveland area music halls, along with some promotional materials for local performers, concerts, radio stations, record distributors and venues. The bulk of the images in the collection feature prominent jazz, R&B, and rock and roll musicians of the 1950s and 1960s, including Louis Armstrong, Ruth Brown, Aretha Franklin, Mahalia Jackson, Louis Jordan and Memphis Slim. Also included in the collection are images of local performers, radio deejays, and venues, such as Chic-a-Dee, Kim Tolliver and Fats Heard, or the Cotton Club, Music Box and Pla-mor Ballroom — some long forgotten but for Baynes’ tireless work. (pictured, left: Hall of Fame inductee LaVern Baker performing live in Cleveland.)

In conjunction with recently processing the collection, the Library and Archives has created an exhibit of Baynes’ photographs to help celebrate Black History Month, entitled Through the Lens of Jimmy Baynes: Cleveland Rock and Roll History, 1950s-1960s. The exhibit will run through April 2013.

Library and Archives director Andy Leach will host a panel discussion on the collection in the Main Reading Room on Saturday, February 16. The panel will feature Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum curatorial director Howard Kramer, head archivist Jennie Thomas, and special guest George Hendricks of Cleveland vocal group the Hesitations. Attendees are encouraged to share their stories about Cleveland music history and the people and places depicted in Baynes’ photographs. For information on tickets, please see the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum’s website.

Click here for a gallery of images from the Library and Archives Jimmy Baynes CollectionFor more information on resources related to Jimmy Baynes and Cleveland music history, please see the Library and Archives’ new research guide for Black History Month.



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