The North Minneapolis and Rondo neighborhoods played key roles in the evolution of Minnesota’s music scene, culminating in the birth of the Minneapolis Sound. Until Prince began to garner national attention in the late 1970s, the budding movement went mostly unnoticed and undocumented by the people who weren’t living and breathing it. But this story is much bigger than Prince, and Andrea Swensson’s new book, Got to Be Something Here: The Rise of the Minneapolis Sound, is a tour de force that sheds light on a greater story that needed telling.
Swensson, the former City Pages music editor, music journalist, and host of The Local Show on Minnesota Public Radio’s 89.3 the Current, digs through all the segregation, the discrimination, and even the construction of Interstate 94 to get to the social issues that plagued the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s and percolated into the local music scene. “The big narrative is the social history, and that was the really eye-opening part for me to learn about,” Swensson said. “To learn just how deep the discrimination and segregation has run, how it’s still seen today—it was just really incredible and kind of mind expanding for me to dig into that kind of history.”
Published by the University of Minnesota Press in October, Got to Be Something Here had been in the works for several years. “My editor reached out to me four years ago and asked if I had any ideas for books, and I did,” Swensson told me. “I had a lot of ideas; I gave him four. We kind of narrowed in on this topic as something that was very timely.” Once she began researching and conducting interviews, she realized how truly on the nose the timeliness of the book would be. “I had the experience—two or three times—where I interviewed somebody and they passed away within six months. It just felt like this was the moment to have a tape recorder on and be writing down these conversations.”
Prince’s death also influenced the trajectory of the project. “Thankfully, most of my research was finished about him before he passed away. The biggest effect that that had was that I went into mourning. Probably about six months of my life was just really caught up in processing that loss—and not just personally but for the community. I wrote a lot about the immediate aftermath of him dying, and what that did to our scene and how people came together to pay tribute to him,” Swensson said. After having had a deeply personal interaction with Prince, she wrote the epilogue to Got to Be Something Here with a tone that’s quite different from the rest of the book, reading more like a personal essay than the journalistic writing of the chapters that follow. Supplementing her prose, which reads crisp but oddly slips into the passive voice a bit in later chapters, the 232-page hardcover includes a healthy dose of black-and-white illustrations, an extensive bibliography, and a list of significant recordings.
Aside from conducting personal interviews, Swensson corroborated and supplemented her story by digging through research materials, sifting for artifacts, and listening to the albums featured. Her process included looking at petitions, newspaper clippings, official records, and other documents, which led to some stunning revelations. “I think the surprising thing to me is just you never know where you’re going to find a living, breathing document of moments in cultural history. I had a lot of moments like that,” Swensson said, relating the story of researching King Solomon’s Mines for the book. Named after the popular 1950 film, King’s Solomon’s Mines was a 1960s jazz club and bar located in the Foshay Tower during a time when black musicians had little to no chance of playing other clubs in downtown Minneapolis. An anomaly, the featured location gets its own chapter and individualized attention, given that it served as both a premium example and a cautionary tale of how difficult and racially charged the live music scene was for black musicians to break into. The fate of the club is also a reminder that Minnesota was just as plagued by civil-rights issues as the rest of the country at that time.
With a popular debut at the Twin Cities Book Festival and launch event that was held at the Fitzgerald Theater last week, Got to Be Something Here objectively and succinctly details the rise—and, in some cases, the fall—of many prominent local acts. From the Amazers and Maurice McKinnies to the Family, the Time, Prince, and the Revolution, Swensson beautifully captures the Twin Cities’ funk, soul and R&B scene from 1958, the year Prince Rogers Nelson was born, to 1981, when the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee hit the stage at Sam’s (soon to be renamed First Avenue). It is sure to interest regional music lovers and readers who are starved to learn the truth of the musicians who defied strenuous circumstances to build the complex and elegant Minneapolis Sound.