At Home at 18th & Vine: A Conversation with Ronnie Medlock
By Marissa Baum
If you have ever visited the museums at 18th & Vine, or reveled in live music in the Blue Room, chances are, you know Ronnie. Ronnie Medlock is the official Host and Greeter for the museums at 18th & Vine and the Blue Room jazz club, and he takes his job of 17 years very personally. I had the pleasure of chatting with Ronnie about his personal mission and experiences here in the heart of the Jazz District.
“I love hosting and meeting people because they are the ones who make it happen, they are the ones who are here to see the history and the culture.” For Ronnie, his work is more than just a job and his passion shines through as he launches in: “This museum is so important because it helps you understand the history and culture of this neighborhood. It lets you know how alive and brilliant it was back in the day. And the experience of the African Americans. I learn a lot of history just sitting here and talking on the bench outside.”
He navigates some pretty tough topics, but his eyes sparkle as he begins to paint a scene for me: “Ya know,” he starts, “during that period of time, African Americans couldn’t go past 27th street, but oh, they lived baby. They enjoyed themselves! Legendary Buck O’Neil, Monarch players, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, or Charlie Parker, they all walked these streets. They sat there havin’ breakfast, they had their own fire departments, they had their own businesses. It was vibrant!” He goes on, “It’s so important that the history ain’t forgotten, and when you walk these streets, it’s almost like you feel their spirits…yeah. This is what it’s about…”
Ronnie says he moved to 18th & Vine long before the museums and the Blue Room as we know it even existed. “Matter of fact when I moved down here, there wasn’t nobody. There wasn’t nothing.” He chuckles to himself as he reminisces, “It was just me and an ol’ black cat. And me and that black cat would get up early in the morning... And me an’ that cat would sit out there and just look at each other.” To be a part of this history, and to watch this new story of 18th and Vine unfold is a blessing to Ronnie.
“I used to watch some of the businesses come up. I would watch the backhoe dig and make the Peachtree lounge happen. Watching the whole process and watching it grow...grow…grow. To me, it was like a spiritual awakening of 18th and Vine.”
I asked Ronnie about his experiences with visitors from all over the world, and the message he – as the first face visitors see -- hopes to convey. “When somebody walks in that door, my objective is to make them feel at home. This place, this culture, this history down here, people from all over the world come an’ see this here, and it’s amazing when they come and walk these streets, and they be like ‘WOW. That’s fascinating.’ and now it’s ALIVE. So it’s way bigger than what we think because the legends and people who worked hard to make sure that this happened…it’s just phenomenal.”
He went on to elaborate on the impact of preserving these stories and sharing them with visitors, the community, and the world. “We have to not only tell the story about 18th & Vine to those who are abroad, but to our young men….our young African American men. We have to tell them this is your history, this museum. In reality it belongs to everybody but importantly, it belongs to them. Those old souls that live, work, talked about, loved it, enjoyed it. But somewhere down the road, we forgot it, so we have to bring it back. That’s what it’s all about.”
As we wrapped up our time together, Ronnie’s final thoughts took us back to the heart of the matter and we looked to the future. “It’s almost a spiritual thing for me. We have to spread the gospel of the baseball. We have to spread the gospel of the American Jazz Museum…you know what I’m saying? You have to have that compassion, and that love for it. This museum is going to stand forever. I may not be here to see it. And it’s never gonna be like it was back in the day again…it’s gonna be even better.”