“When we performed in the IU Auditorium, lines started forming around the building before shows and it was always packed. People came from Kentucky, Evansville, Gary, and Indianapolis, all around—parents, friends, and others who heard about the group. When we traveled, they’d say, ‘Wow, this is like professional entertainment for free,’ although paid for by the sponsoring university or organization. My greatest sense of accomplishment came from the impact the ensemble had on Bloomington’s African American community. Seeing these ensembles, seeing what these black undergraduate students could accomplish, really inspired a lot of people, especially the youth. I didn’t think about it at the time, but community members later made me aware of this influence.”
Born and raised in Orlando, Fla., Maultsby was a musical prodigy, taking private piano lessons with a renowned female teacher from the age of 5 and later, a retired Julliard piano professor who relocated to the nearby suburb of Winter Park, Fla. With skills honed from waking up daily at 5:30 a.m. to practice (waking up her supportive neighbors with pieces of classical music; they’d repay the favor by sponsoring Maultsby to return home for concerts, even after she left home), she would represent her all-black community as a soloist at numerous public events, then go on to perform with the high school choir and play the French horn with the award-winning marching and concert bands at Jones High School—not to mention co-founding a female vocal group that sung popular Motown songs and hits by other groups.
Influenced by their older brother, Maultsby and her twin brother went to Benedictine College in Kansas. At Benedictine, Maultsby continued two traditions—she formed a group that performed black popular music, and she had a female mentor, just like her first music teacher. Having developed her piano skills and learned music theory from her teachers, Maultsby initially wanted to be a concert pianist. But as her undergraduate years went on, she felt the pull of wanting to teach, a nod to her mother, a schoolteacher in an all-black elementary school in the segregated South.
“I was influenced by how my mother worked with students and her commitment to them. After school, she made home visits and worked with their parents. She was an activist, you might say, with great concern for her students, providing many opportunities for them to succeed as the community did for me as a musician,” she recounted. “During my undergraduate studies, I performed a lot and practiced between four and five hours every day, and that’s when I decided that wasn’t my social world, that I wanted to be more connected with the black community than I ever could be had I pursued a career as a concert pianist, even though my teachers said that I had a good deal of potential to be successful. I decided that I wanted to switch into an academic graduate program, and that’s why I ended up going to the University of Wisconsin in musicology.”
There, she completed her master’s degree in a year and a half—something unheard of—thanks to her excellent education at Benedictine. Fortunately, Maultsby found another mentor—the female director of Wisconsin’s new ethnomusicology department in the School of Music.
“That’s when everything began to come together intellectually for me,” Maultsby said. “I combined my interest in African American music in an official, intellectual way with my interests in African American studies and African studies, in addition to the my band there—Portia and the Soul Syndicate.”
While those interests were certainly evident in both the classes she taught and the Soul Revue—modeled after musical icon James Brown’s show—perhaps they are most crystallized in the Archives of African American Music and Culture, which Maultsby started in 1991. After she relinquished directorship of the Soul Revue, in conjunction with her research and publications on African American popular music and the music industry, Maultsby reached out to contacts she had met in the 1970s and ‘80s, and asked them to donate their collections to IU, rather than having to pay for-profit sellers for their use that they acquired at no cost.
“I grew up in the era of black empowerment and embraced the philosophy of self-sufficiency. I decided to find my own images, and establish some repository to make these and other materials available to scholars and others researching or programming topics on African American music and culture. That was the impetus for the archive. I attended several music industry conventions and talked to DJs and music industry executives, and they began providing photographs and other materials related to their careers,” she explained. “I collected in the areas of post-World War II black popular music and religious music, because no archive specialized in those traditions at that time. I acquired a lot of collections and continue to do so on behalf of the archives.
“I’m really proud of how far the archive has evolved over the past 26 years with the assistance of Brenda Nelson-Strauss (the archive’s head of collections), particularly in documenting the accomplishments of African Americans who would have remained unknown, like the founders and executives of black music divisions, heads of major labels, and others behind the scenes who contributed to the worldwide popularity of black music and the growth of the music industry as a multibillion dollar business. As I tell my potential donors, ‘This material is doing you no good in your closet or basement. Your story needs to be told.’”
Looking back at her tenure in Bloomington, Maultsby cites numerous people who were integral in helping her build the Soul Revue into the household name it is today, figures such as: coaches and assistant directors Lillian Dunlap and Kenneth Ware; James Mumford, who made a name for himself as the director of the African American Choral Ensemble; Iris Rosa, a dancer in the Soul Revue who became the first and only director of the African American Dance Company; Cheryl Keyes, Maultsby’s first Ph.D. student and now a full professor of ethnomusicology at UCLA; and administrators like the late Dr. Jimmy Ross, IU’s former director of IU’s Office of Scholarships and Financial Aid, retired chair of Afro-American Studies Dr. Joe Russell, retired Dean of Students and Jacobs School of Music Professor Dr. Michael Gordon, retired IU Chancellor Ken Gros-Lewis, current IU Provost Lauren Robel, and James Wimbush, IU’s vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion and dean of the University Graduate School.
While it’s tough for her to single out individual students, Maultsby remains delighted about how many of the performers under her and her assistants’ tutelage in the Soul Revue went on to successful careers in music—including current director Crystal Taliafero, the first female director since Maultsby herself—but also in other fields like business, real estate, medicine, education, and government. For example, she describes Judge Gonzalo Curiel, an original member, as “an excellent guitarist and conga player.”
“I’m very proud of all of them and I’m pleased by the way my career developed at Indiana University. There are markers of success and for me—they are how the students benefited from the programs and the time invested in them, and after they left, their careers flourished. We mentored our students, most of whom came to IU through the Groups Scholars Program. I couldn’t have done it by myself. I didn’t know Indiana University when I arrived, but with the assistance of others, I was able to identify undergraduate and graduate students, faculty, and staff who believed in my vision and we worked hand in hand,” she said.
“I guess I’ve always been more of a builder. I’ve enjoyed being on the ground floor, assisting in the development of African American programs and organizations in their infancy. I did that with Afro-American Studies and the Soul Revue—I contributed to the vision, then became a leader. It was especially gratifying and exciting to witness an African American unit evolve into a competitive, ranked department, and have a high level of quality. The faculty was great. Everybody chipped in and pulled their weight, and we were all committed to its success, the success of our students, and to establishing a reputation as a leader in the field, which we did become.
“I was just as elated to have witnessed the formation of the African American Arts Institute in 1974. When I started, there was no AAAI. It’s just amazing how the ensemble began with no real administrative support staff—booking, travel arrangements, public relations, and so forth. For over four decades, AAAI has mushroomed, propelling the three ensembles to new heights. The institutionalization of black performing arts in African American units established by African Americans must be preserved, and the nearly 50-year legacy of exceptional achievement in this area at IU, celebrated.”