Minneapolis’ History of Segregation in Music

Sound & Vision
Hosted by Kevin Cole

KEXP DJ Kevin Cole talks with Andrea Swensson, author of the book Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound.

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Andrea Swensson // photo by Leslie Plesser

The book Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound by Andrea Swensson explores Minneapolis’ segregated music scenes and the systemic racism historically at play in the city. It also showcases the overlooked bands and artists who shaped the city’s sound as well as Prince’s sound. The book starts in 1958, the year Prince was born and ends in 1981, the year Prince broke out to Minneapolis’ white audience. That break out happened when he performed at a music venue called Sam’s, which later became First Avenue, where KEXP’s DJ Kevin Cole worked. 

“It was an amazing show and one that certainly blew me away,” Cole says. “And there’s this kind of white narrative that certainly I have played a role somewhat in perpetuating, that here’s this amazing artist that appeared fully formed out of no where and blew everybody’s minds as if he had been dropped down from another planet, which obviously is not the case. And this book, ‘There’s Got To Be Something Here’ is an amazing read not just for Prince but to really understand a lot of the issues that artists and bands with people of color experienced.” 

Cole speaks with Swensson about the bands and artists who shaped Prince, the Highway Act that split largely-black neighborhoods in Minneapolis and how black artists, bands and venues were scrutinized by police and the local music industry. Swensson says black artists told her they had to integrate and form racially integrated bands with white musicians as a form of survival.

“They knew they had to have white people in their bands in order to be booked in most venues,” Swensson says. “A shocking thing for me to learn was there was an unspoken agreement between the Minneapolis police department and the city council. The agreement was that there would not be black entertainment within a certain border that covered all of downtown Minneapolis and also Uptown and that area. And if you had more than one black person in your band, they would start putting pressure on the clubs to stop booking that entertainment, stop trying to attract black clientele to downtown.”

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