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The mural, painted by acclaimed Kansas City muralist, Alexander Austin, is located at 1st & Main Street on the north side of Bruce's Point of View Optical.

3rd & Main St.

Downtown Black History and Performing Arts Mural

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The mural depicts 12 Black artists and activists who performed in or visited Joplin during the time of racial segregation in America: jazz saxophonist Charles McPherson; composer and pianist Scott Joplin; jazz composer and pianist Duke Ellington; contralto and civil rights activist Marian Anderson; performer, singer, and community organizer Melissa F. Cuther; jazz and rhythm and blues singer Ella Johnson; jazz performer Dizzy Gillespie; jazz performer Cab Calloway; poet, playwright, and social activist Langston Hughes; entertainer Sammy Davis Jr.; entertainer Mamie Smith, and jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald. 

Also depicted: Lincoln School, the historic school for Black students where many of the featured performers would play for the student body; and Joplin Uplift, the historic Black owned and published newspaper.

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In 1994, Austin received national recognition when the Studio Museum in Harlem included his work in a show titled “Black Romantic: The Figurative Impulse in Contemporary African-American Art.” Listing him as one of the top 30 African American artist working in the United States of America. His work has graced the pages of Essence magazine, The New York Times, Washington Post, Time magazine and has been seen in commercials and TV shows like Malcolm and Eddie and American Idol. His art is a part of the Sprint collection and hangs in the homes of celebrities like Will Smith and Danny Glover. He has works in many private and corporate collections in and outside of the United States.In 2007 Alexander Austin received a commission to paint the biggest canvas ever, the sweeping southern facade of the Power & Light District. The mural covering 18,000 square feet, transforming a two-block stretch of blank wall into a panorama that now stands as the gateway to the district. Austin received a certificate of appreciation from the Mayor’s office, voted 2009 one of the 100 most influential African American in Kansas city by The Kansas City Globe news paper and honored to sit in baseball’s Hall of Fame John “Buck” O’Neil’s legacy seat at Kauffman’s stadium. Currently, Austin is currently working on a tribute to the Kansas City Monarchs on the new Two Light building.

Alexander Austin


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Links to Mr. Austin's pages below


Born: May 15, 1886 - Died: July 28, 1968

Melissa Fuell Cuther

Melissa Fuell Cuther was born in Warrensburg, Missouri and graduated from Lincoln Institute, known today as Lincoln University. 

Mrs. Cuther was a singer, writer, educator,  community organizer, and a leader in the Joplin community. She was instrumental in the formation of the George Washington Carver National Monument, the first US National Park dedicated to an African American, and Carver Nursery School, the first preschool established for African American children in Joplin. 

Mrs. Cuther performed with John "Blind" Boone in Joplin and wrote a book about him and his travels. The book, Blind Boone: His Life and Achievements, was a groundbreaking achievement making Mrs Cuther the first African American to write a book about a Black musician. 

Mrs. Cuther was highly respected and spent her life working to improve the Joplin community.  




Born: December 8, 1925 - Died: May 16, 1990

Sammy Davis Jr.

Born Samuel George Davis Jr., Sammy Davis Jr. began his vaudeville career at age three performing with his father and godfather as The Will Mastin Trio. It was during these early years when Mr. Davis performed in Joplin. 

Mr. Davis would go on to become one of the most sought after performers of his time. He was a singer, dancer, producer, director, actor, and civil rights activist. His nickname was "Mister Show Business," as most of his life was spent entertaining audiences. 


Born: February 1, 1901 - Died: May 22, 1967

Langston Hughes

James Mercer Langston Hughes was born in Joplin, Missouri. He was a poet, novelist, columnist, playwright, composer, and social activist. He influenced American culture through the literary art form called jazz poetry and was a leader in the Harlem Renaissance. 


Mr. Hughes returned to Joplin in 1958 as the guest of Mr. Ralph Baird. The Baird family had found information concerning an older brother of Mr. Hughes' that had passed away in infancy. Mr. Hughes went to see the grave of his older brother in Fairview Cemetary followed by a meeting with leaders of the Black Community at the Negro Service Council building, now known as the Minnie Hackney Community Service Center. 


Afterwards, Mr. Baird hosted Mr. Hughes and other members of the community in what was called at the time "the first interracial cocktail party in Joplin." 


Mr. Hughes' first published poem The Negro Speaks Rivers was written as he crossed the Mississippi River outside of St Louis. Some of his most famous works were written for children.


Born: October 21, 1917 - Died: January 6, 1993

Dizzy Gillespie

John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie was a Jazz trumpeter, bandleader, educator, composer, and singer. One of bebop's most prominent symbols of showmanship, Mr. Gillespie continues to influence the greatest musicians of our time. 

Mr. Gillespie's trademark trumpet had a bell which was bent up at a 45-degree angle, rather than straight. Originally the result of accidental damage in 1953, Mr Gillespie was attracted to the tone made by the bent bell. He had these upturned bell trumpets professionally made for him for the rest of his life. 

Mr. Gillespie played at the Holiday Inn in Joplin during the 40s and 50s. 


Born: May 26, 1891 - Died: September 16, 1946

Mamie Smith

Ms. Smith was a vaudeville singer, dancer, Pianist, and actress. She made blues history in 1920 by making the first recording by a Black blues singer. Her recording of "Crazy Blues" in 1920 sold over a million copies making her one of the wealthiest Black women of her time. 


Ms. Smith paved the way for other Black women performers who came after. She was the superstar of her time and Joplin was one of the many stops she made while touring the United States in the mid 20s.


Born: April 25, 1917 - Died: June 15, 1996

Ella Fitzgerald

Known as "The First Lady of Song" "Queen of Jazz" and "Lady Ella," Ella Fitzgerald was Jazz royalty. She had a voice like no other and used her talent to break racial barriers all across the United States. 

Ms Fitzgerald toured the country with Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, The Ink Spots, and Duke Ellington to name a few. Throughout her lifetime, she won 14 Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, the NAACP's inaugural President's Award, and a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1967. The First Lady of Song was also awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. 

Ms Fitzgerald performed at the Holiday Inn with Duke Ellington during the 40s.


Born: July 24, 1939

Charles McPherson

Charles McPherson was born in Joplin, Missouri and moved to Detroit at age nine. After growing up in Detroit, he studied with the renowned pianist Barry Harris and started playing jazz professionally at age 19. He moved from Detroit to New York in 1959 and performed with Charles Mingus from 1960 to 1972. While performing with Mingus, he collaborated frequently with Harris, Lonnie Hillyer (trumpet), and George Coleman (tenor sax). 


Charles McPherson returned to Joplin in February of 2022 to perform for a free community concert. The event was held at the historic Fox Theatre located in the 400 block of Main Street.


Born: November 24, 1868 - Died: April 1, 1917

Scott Joplin

Scott Joplin was a musician and composer. He is considered the “King of Ragtime Writers.” Ragtime is music played in “ragged” or off-the-beat time. This varied rhythm developed from African American work songs, gospel tunes, and dance. Joplin wrote forty-four original piano pieces or rags, two operas, and one ragtime ballet. He also co-wrote seven rags with other composers. Joplin performed at the Joplin House of Lords Saloon located in the 300 block of South Main Street.


Born: April 29, 1899 - Died: May 24, 1974

Duke Ellington

American jazz pianist, composer, and leader of his eponymous jazz orchestra from 1923 through the rest of his life.[1] Born and raised in Washington, D.C., Ellington was based in New York City from the mid-1920s and gained a national profile through his orchestra's appearances at the Cotton Club in Harlem. A master at writing miniatures for the three-minute 78 rpm recording format, Ellington wrote or collaborated on more than one thousand compositions; his extensive body of work is the largest recorded personal jazz legacy, and many of his pieces have become standards. 


Duke Ellington performed at the Holiday Inn Club located at 33rd and Main Street.

Joplin Globe Article


Born: December 25, 1907 - Died: November 18, 1994

Cab Calloway

American singer, songwriter, dancer, bandleader, conductor and actor. He was associated with the Cotton Club in Harlem, where he was a regular performer and became a popular vocalist of the swing era. His niche of mixing jazz and vaudeville won him acclaim during a career that spanned over 65 years.

Calloway was the first African-American musician to sell a million records from a single and to have a nationally syndicated radio show. 

Calloway performed at Memorial Hall in 1939.


From a previous post from the Joplin Post Art Library.

Cab Calloway performed at Memorial Hall in Joplin, Mo. in 1939. Photo courtesy of Betty J. Smith, who received it at a matinee at Lincoln School, as, at that time, black people were rarely admitted at the Hall even to see black performers. Someone added a copy of the admission ticket for Cab Calloway and His Hi-De-Ho Band.

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Minnie The Moocher From The Blues Brothers movie in 1980:

Minnie The Moocher in 1958:

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Born: February 27, 1897 - Died: April 8, 1993

Marian Anderson

An American contralto and civil rights activist, Marian Anderson was considered one of the greatest singers in the world during her lifetime.


In 1939 during the era of racial segregation, the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) refused to allow Anderson to sing to an integrated audience in Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. The incident placed Anderson in the spotlight of the international community on a level unusual for a classical musician. With the aid of First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt and her husband President Franklin D. Roosevelt, Anderson performed a critically acclaimed open-air concert on Easter Sunday, April 9, 1939, on the Lincoln Memorial steps in the capital. The event was featured in a documentary film. She sang before an integrated crowd of more than 75,000 people and a radio audience in the millions.

Anderson performed at Joplin Memorial Hall on March 8th, 1942 at 4pm. 


Born: June 22, 1919 - Died: February 4, 2004

Ella Johnson

American jazz and rhythm and blues singer who performed with her brother, Buddy Johnson. 


Her popular 1945 recording of "Since I Fell for You", composed by her brother, led to its eventual establishment as a jazz standard. She continued to perform with Buddy Johnson into the 1960s.


Ella Johnson and the Buddy Johnson Orchestra performed at Joplin Memorial Hall in the 40s. 

"Since I Fell for You"

"Alright, Okay, You Win"


Born: June 22, 1919 - Died: February 4, 2004

Lincoln School

Created in 1908, the Lincoln School became the hub of education for Black children of the Joplin area. Surrounding towns that had no black school of their own bussed their children to Lincoln school to further their education. Lincoln School was celebrated for the dedication of its teachers and Marion Dial, the school’s principal for 36 years, was a pillar of the local Black community. Once the area finally desegregated the school system the building fell into decline and was eventually demolished in 1989.

The Joplin Uplift


The Joplin Uplift Newspaper was published during the late 20s and 30s in Joplin, Missouri. It was one of a very few newspapers in this area owned and edited by an African American. Mr. Augustus Garvin Tutt published both a Springfield and Joplin version. Mr.Tutt lived in Joplin and was a World War 1 veteran. His son,Lt. Colonel Garvin Alexander Tutt, attended elementary school in Joplin at Lincoln school and went on to become a decorated soldier. Lt Colonel Tutt's daughter, Mr Augustus Garvin Tutt's granddaughter is Congresswoman Barbara Lee from the State of California.

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