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Mingering Mike‘s career as a soul sensation didn’t take any of the usual routes to superstardom, nor did his eventual appreciation as an outsider artist. In the 1960s and 1970s, Mike, a shy kid from D.C., produced dozens of albums, 45s, movie soundtracks, and liner notes—-including 15 LPs in 1972 alone—-corresponding with an elaborate mythology and a dizzying number of record labels, like Sex Records and Ming/War. Like many lost soul artists, Mike was rediscovered by crate diggers, searching for records at a flea market outside RFK Stadium: When DJ Dori Hadar found a stash of 15 to 20 of Mike’s hand-painted cardboard albums (with cardboard vinyl) for $2 a pop, he bought as many as he could. He posted images for fellow vinyl geeks online.
The imaginary soul career of Mingering Mike—-as well as some actual recordings he made, rudimentary soul cuts with collaborators like Big D—-finally got the attention it had dodged for decades: a story in the New York Times, a show at Hemphill Fine Arts, a fine-art book, a noncardboard vinyl 45, not to mention a definitive account by Jason Cherkis in Washington City Paper.
Now, more than 100 artifacts created by Mike have a new home: The Smithsonian American Art Museum. Yesterday, the museum posted an interview with its curator of folk and self-taught art, who described Mike as having taken “inspiration from his life and the culture around him. Through a body of work that develops over approximately a decade, one can follow his growth as an artist and as a person as well as the changing times he experienced.” Mike now joins the ranks of Washington outsider artists like James Hampton, whose “The Throne of the Third Heaven of the Nations’ Millennium General Assembly” also sits in SAAM’s collection.
A show featuring highlights of the Mingering Mike collection goes on view in 2015. You can look at images from the Mike discography here; and listen to songs here.
An American Art Museum rep was unable to speak this morning, and Hadar is currently out of the country. I’ll have more on the acquisition soon.
Image via Smithsonian American Art Museum