The Forgotten Colossus: Take a Tour of Rahsaan Roland Kirk’s Life and Legacy in Columbus
Discover 10 spots where the jazz legend learned, performed, found inspiration and more.
1. Life in Flytown
Location: near Harrison and Pennsylvania avenues, Victorian Village
A row of 1970s-era apartments now stand where Gertrude and Theodore Kirk raised their son Ronald Theodore, who later changed his name to Rahsaan Roland. The home was in Flytown, a multiracial, working-class neighborhood that was wiped out by “urban renewal” in the 1950s and ’60s. According to author John Kruth’s biography “Bright Moments,” Kirk’s parents ran a convenience store, Kirk’s Confectionary, in the front of the house.
2. Gaetz Music House
Location: 49–53 W. Long St., Downtown
Owner Charles Gaetz introduced young Kirk to a wide array of musical instruments, including obscure types of saxophones Kirk called “the stritch” and “the manzella.” Gaetz “was a really nice man, and he really loved Rahsaan,” Bruce Woody, Kirk’s childhood friend and later band leader, told biographer Kruth.
3. 1973 ComFest
Location: 16th and Waldeck avenues, Campus
Kirk was an international jazz star when he came to town for the second ComFest—then a much more modest affair near the Ohio State campus—and performed at 10 p.m. Saturday, June 2, 1973. He played “Volunteered Slavery” and other numbers on a temporary 16th Avenue stage.
4. Long Street Bridge Cultural Wall
Location: Between Lester Drive and Elijah Pierce Avenue over the I-71 corridor, Downtown
Kirk is included in a mural running the length of the bridge, honoring notable Black figures from Columbus past and present.
5. The former Ohio State School for the Blind building
Location: 240 Parsons Ave., Olde Towne East
From 1941 to 1953, Kirk was enrolled at this school, now the home of Columbus Public Health. “The school had a good music program,” his friend Raymond Powell said in “Bright Moments.” “At lunchtime, he’d always be in the band room practicing. Then he started playing gigs at night, and he would come to the school in the daytime.”
6. Sculpture at the new Ohio State School for the Blind
Location: 5220 N. High St., Clintonville
“I first heard about Roland Kirk from my music teacher at Walnut Hills in Cincinnati,” says Queen City artist John Leon, who created a bas-relief sculpture of the musician at the new Ohio State School for the Blind. “I was fascinated by his music and amazed by the obstacles he overcame to pursue his passion. I saw him perform a few times and even had the opportunity to shake his hand and say, ‘Hi.’”
7. Star at Lincoln Theatre
Location: 769 E. Long St., King Lincoln-Bronzeville
Kirk was inducted posthumously into the Lincoln Theatre Walk of Fame in 2013, along with fellow saxophonist Rusty Bryant.
8. Proposed Mural at Secret Studio
Location: 503 W. Walnut St., Franklinton
Co-owner Amy Turn Sharp raised funds to commission a mural honoring Kirk, which is expected to be completed later this year. “It’s like he made music 3D,” says Columbus artist Lisa McLymont, who’s working on the project.
Location: 1401 Woodland Ave., North Central Columbus
In 1977, Kirk was interred in a funeral ceremony attended by close family and friends at Evergreen Burial Park in North Central Columbus. The grave marker is the “Old Rugged Cross” (a spiritual that Kirk recorded a remarkable rendition of on the 1971 album Blacknuss) with a tenor saxophone engraved and a medallion depicting him performing.
10. Columbus City Hall
Location: 90 W. Broad St., Downtown
Local soundman and drummer Nick Schuld has started an online petition signed by nearly 1,200 people to replace the banished Christopher Columbus statue with one of Kirk. “He was a shining star of the underdogs, a true and truly humble original,” the petition reads. “A better local inspiration could never be found.”
This story is part of a feature on Rahsaan Roland Kirk from the May 2023 issue of Columbus Monthly.