Remembering Prince Julius Adeniyi

Adeniyi with student. Photo from Storytelling Arts Indiana website.

Prince Julius Adeniyi, known nationwide as a teacher of Yoruba culture through music, dance, storytelling, food and the language of drumming, has been particularly loved by two generations of children, parents, teachers and friends in Indianapolis. He had lived in the city since 1971, raising a family and connecting the community at large with the growing presence of Nigerians who work here as professionals.

For many of us, Prince Julius has been a central figure at international and arts and music events, welcoming us into his circle of friendship. His warmth, joy of life and never-ending curiosity has inspired us to be open and eager to learn not only about his heritage, but our own.

With the late drummer Jack Gilfoy, in 1977, Prince Julius formed the performing-teaching group, Drums of West Africa. The group led to the development of the Omo Obukun African Cultural Resource Center, in what he liked to call “the heart of an ‘African Village’ in Indianapolis.”

His influence has transcended time and place as a master teacher with Young Audiences, which named him YA 2002 Artist of the Year, and with Traditional Arts Indiana, performing on the TAI Indiana State Fair stage, demonstrating, and working with apprentices in Yoruba drumming and drum making.

Prince Julius participated in the first Lotus Festival in 1994 at the Waldron Center in Bloomington, Ind., taking the stage late at night, and keeping us enthralled way past closing time. For many years we enjoyed Prince Julius’ cuisine at his Sambusa Hut restaurant at 40th Street and Boulevard Place.

For me, most memorable was his patience in teaching me to listen to and speak with the African drum. Prince Julius taught as he learned at age three in his Yoruba home, by placing his hands over the hands of his maternal grandfather as he drummed. Prince Julius lovingly spoke of being infused with his family’s drumming tradition through personal touch.

Prince Julius’ mantra lives on the Traditional Arts Indiana website, where he is quoted: “You don’t beat drum. You play drum. Every time you put your hand on the drum, you want that drum to say something.”

Prince Julius is survived by his wife, Margaret Adeniyi; his children, Julius Jr., Adedayo, Adedapo, Adetokunbo and Oluremilekun; his stepchildren, Melvin Bell, Ann Bell and Sharon Butler; and 27 grandchildren.

Visitations: Friday, Dec. 16, from 5-8 p.m. at Lavenia, Smith & Summers Home for Funerals, 5811 East 38th Street; Saturday, Dec. 17, at 10 a.m. at First Baptist Church North Indianapolis, 880 W. 28th St., followed by A Celebration of Life at 11 a.m., followed by interment at the Washington Park North Cemetery.

The Lotus Fest and Storytelling Arts blogs also have remembrances.

This brief video interview was posted on the Storytelling Arts blog:

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