Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Striking Vintage Photos of Houston’s Early R&B Scene

article-image

Club Matinee, Houston, 1957. (Photo: © Benny Joseph/Courtesy International Center of Photography)

The work of midcentury photographer Benny Joseph is the subject of a captivating new exhibition called “The Early Years of Rhythm and Blues: Photographs by Benny Joseph from the Documentary Arts Collection,” which chronicles Houston’s music scene in lush black-and-white photographs. Born in Louisiana in 1924, Benny Joseph studied photography after the war at Teal School of Photography, a school for African-American photographers in Houston, and began working professionally in the city in the late 1940s. 

Although studio portraiture was his main business, Benny Joseph also worked for the NAACP, and produced most of his music-related work on assignment for KCOH Radio, the Buffalo Booking Agency and Peacock Records. Using a Speed Graphic camera, Benny Joseph photographed renowned musicians such as B.B. King, Sam “Lightnin’ Hopkins and Junior Parker at music venues across Houston. 

With 50 of Benny Joseph’s photographs on display, the exhibition follows the rise of rhythm and blues through the 1950s and 1960s, during the civil rights movement. The exhibition also incorporates Joseph’s portraits of prominent African-Americans, including Martin Luther King Jr., Thurgood Marshall and Barbara Jordan.

The exhibition runs until January 10, 2016, by appointment, at ICP Mana

B.B King at City Auditorium, Houston, 1962. (Photo: © Benny Joseph/Courtesy International Center of Photography)

Della Reese, Houston, n.d. (Photo: © Benny Joseph/Courtesy International Center of Photography)

KCOH Radio disc jockey Skipper Lee Frazier and go-go girls, Houston, 1965. (Photo: © Benny Joseph/Courtesy International Center of Photography)

Couple dancing, 26 Men Social Club, Eldorado Ballroom, Houston, 1962. (Photo: © Benny Joseph/Courtesy International Center of Photography)

Sam “Lightnin’” Hopkins, Houston, 1972. (Photo: © Benny Joseph/Courtesy International Center of Photography)

Teen hop, Eldorado Ballroom, Houston, 1964. (Photo: © Benny Joseph/Courtesy International Center of Photography)

The Reverend Cleophus Robinson, Peacock Recording Studios, c. 1956. (Photo: © Benny Joseph/Courtesy International Center of Photography)

Thurgood Marshall, Houston, n.d. (Photo: © Benny Joseph/Courtesy International Center of Photography)