In the 15 years that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis’s Flyte Tyme Studios were active in Edina, the songwriting and production duo made music history, with ten number one pop songs and numerous R&B hits like Boyz II Men’s “On Bended Knee.” The team worked with Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey, Usher, and many more, first at the studios’ original Minneapolis location and then, from 1988-2003, at the second location on 76th Street in Edina.
Black music history was being made as Black music history shone down from above in the form of Ta-coumba Aiken’s pointillist portraits. The paintings were affixed to the studios’ ceiling and brought artists ranging from Jimi Hendrix to the Supremes into the space.
Today, as the structure is about to be razed and the location used to build an affordable housing unit from developer Aeon, there has been a concerted effort to restore and preserve the works of art and honor the legacy of the space. In an interview with Edina TV, facilities supervisor Tim Barnes recognized the significance of the pieces. “I’m holding these in my hand,” he said, “thinking of where these were located, if they could tell a story.”
Barnes and the team at the site, most recently housing the Minnesota Media Institute: College of Media Arts, reached out to the Minneapolis Institute of Art to work on preserving the pieces. Rita Berg, a paintings conservator with the Midwest Art Conservation Center, said they were excited to hear about the pieces and said, “This was very unique.” In order to preserve the pieces properly, they had to learn more about the artist behind the portraits’ technique.
Celebrated muralist Aiken trained in realism but got bored with the style and shifted to pointillism. “Even though it seems like it’s more tedious and all of that, it takes me – I have to get in almost a trancelike kind of mindset to do some of the things I do because it’s so intricate and so detailed,” he said.
This particular project, the “History of Black Music Project,” took Aiken a few months to finish, and he painted them all on the road. Aiken made the dozen or so pieces based on photos of the artists. “These pictures were in black and white,” said Aiken. “But because I’m colorblind, I can figure out what was in color better than anybody looking at black and white sometimes.”
Aiken said it was an honor working on the project, and that while he wishes he could have included more musicians, he’s glad the portraits are being preserved “I thank Flyte Tyme and the people that are preserving it and the people that have made it happen because a lot of times, some people would just take this and throw it in the trash.”
In an interview with the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers, Lewis said, “Man, do you ever have an idea when you’re creating history? I say, no. You just do what you do and then as time goes on, people keep the measure of history, and it pops up that you did something at a certain time that influenced a lot of people, and I think we did.”
The portraits will be installed in Aeon’s unit, continuing to serve an ode to music history as well as the history of Flyte Tyme Studios.