National non-profit Notes for Notes has launched a new program that will offer East Austin youths free access to a state of the art recording studio. The studio quietly set up shop opened its doors in Doris Miller Auditorium and in late April and site director Ray Price has been offering free private lessons and group sessions on a drop in basis ever since. Along the way, he’s already picked up a few enthusiastic students who he’s designated volunteer interns.
“I’m letting them kind of curate the environment because I want them to feel like this is you all’s home. Because it is. It was designed for the youth. It’s not for me, it’s not for adult musicians,” he says.
The studio celebrates its grand opening with a ribbon cutting ceremony Friday at 1 p.m.
The studio is part of a larger rehab of the facility that was built in 1942 by the Civilian Conservation Corps, during a period of Austin’s history when the city’s social activities were strictly segregated by race.
“This was kind of the congregation spot for all the recreation and dances for the Afro-Americans,” says Victor Davis of the Austin Parks department.
During World War II the facility hosted USO dances and concerts. It became a stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” where African American musicians passing through Texas could play. In the early years musicians like Ella Fitzgerald and Ike and Tina Turner graced the stage.
Later, the facility hosted the city’s first hip-hop shows where rapper Terrany Johnson a.k.a. Tee Double played one of his first gigs, a sold out show, with the group Dope Melody that also featured Austin emcee Tigre Liu, “way before they would even let hip-hop downtown,” says Johnson.
When Davis took over the facility several years back he says he “wanted to bring back what this place used to be, years ago.”
He started looking for a partner, and roughly two and half years ago connected with Notes for Notes who built the studio in the back. The main part of the auditorium is primarily used as a gymnasium, but Davis has plans to upgrade the sound and lighting to reclaim the space’s history as a concert hall. His primary objective is to serve the community and provide a space for the students involved in the studio program to perform, but eventually, the auditorium, which has a capacity of roughly 400, could be used to host outside concerts and shows.
Doris Miller Auditorium is open from 1 p.m. to 9 p.m. Mon-Thurs. and 1 p.m. to 6 p.m. Friday. The studio has several more events coming up this summer, including a meet and greet and studio tour with Johnson’s Urban Music Alliance on June 9 from 6 to 8 p.m.