CRENSHAW : Music Hall Gets Chance at Encore


While searching for a suitable location to move his growing commercial and music recording business in 1986, Randy Woodard thought he had found the perfect place when he discovered an aging complex at 54th Street and 10th Avenue.

Though a South Los Angeles native and lifetime musician, Woodard had never heard of the Institute of Musical Art, a music school and performance hall built in 1922 in a pocket of the Crenshaw district then known as Chesterfield Square. Intrigued by photos, cassette tapes and other memorabilia he found scattered about the building’s many rooms, Woodard began researching the institute’s history and was quickly convinced that it was a tradition worth preserving in more ways than one.

“I found out that this place was a hot spot for a lot of black entertainers over the years--Marvin Gaye, Sarah Vaughan, Patrice Rushen, Della Reese,” said Woodard, 37, seated in the institute’s small front office on a recent afternoon. “It had a a rich history, one that not only needed to be recognized, but continued.”


So Woodard and partners Kenneth Smith and John Osborne set about acquiring the building at 3210 West 54th St. Two years and $150,000 worth of renovations later, it is poised to reopen this month as a new and improved music facility.

Declared a historical monument by the city in 1987, the building now houses the institute, recording and rehearsal studios, instruction rooms, a film production office called One Chance Productions, and Woodard’s new nonprofit group, the Preservation of Endangered Musical Art.

“I wanted to make this a place dedicated to preserving all the music indigenous to black America--jazz, blues, rap,” explained Woodard. “Too often, black people don’t look after their own musical traditions. We’ve been defined by music industry marketing people. We need to see how each musical tradition evolved out of another one. They’re all related.”

From its original incarnation as a music school and performance venue, the institute evolved in the 1960s into a recording and mixing spot for a wealth of jazz and soul artists, including Billy Davis Jr., George Bohanon, the Sylvers, Nancy Wilson, and Earth, Wind and Fire. It was also patronized by local politicians such as former Mayor Tom Bradley and Rep. Maxine Waters, who recorded and produced radio spots for their campaigns.

Though recording will continue to be the institute’s stronghold, music instruction will still be its heart, said Woodard. Education will cover the technical side of the business--sound engineering, mixing, recording and marketing--as well as performance.

“Scratching and sampling are OK, even creative, but young people don’t understand the real music beneath the electronics,” Woodard said. “Music education is dying in the schools. We have to pick up that slack.”


Renovations have suffered some setbacks: A flood last year and the recent earthquake have slowed construction. Though Woodard does not expect the institute to be visually perfect for another year, the studio is operational and IMA is opening this month with a local talent search for the film company’s first project, an account of the history of black music.

That suits Woodard, who is also forming a musical archive.

“A lot of the history is already right here in the community,” he said, gesturing toward a hallway filled with framed gold discs inscribed with the names of recording artists. “We didn’t think we had a place for it. Now we do.”