South Florida in the 1960s was a hotbed of live soul, funk, rhythm, and blues; and Deep City Records was Liberty City's answer to Motown. Two public school teachers named Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall pooled their resources and formed the first black owned label in Florida. They based themselves out of Johnny's Record Shop in the heart of the city and began recording and promoting local talent. Eventually, disagreement over whether Pearsall's wife Helene Smith or Clarke's discovery, Betty Wright, should be the star of the label led to the end of Deep City. But the music lives on forever.
Now, the Knight Foundation's Dennis Scholl, and his Emmy winning team of local moviemakers -- Marlon Johnson, Chad Tingle, Art Nobo, and Mike Pijuan -- are making a documentary about it.
They recently shot a scene with industry pioneer Henry Stone, who took Willie Clarke and his discoveries (namely Clarence Reid, Betty Wright, and Little Beaver) into his fold, and converted their talent into global hits for what became TK Records.
The documentary has already been sold to WLRN and will premiere on television in Spring 2014. And according to Scholl, "Our last two movies played in a dozen festivals, and we hope that this one will too."
The national exposure will be buffeted by the licensing deal that Clarke struck up with Chicago's Numero Records in 2006. That company re-issued 22 of the label's classic tracks on CD and vinyl for its Eccentric Soul: The Deep City Label, which NPR once called the best album of the year.
The movie's co-director Chad Tingle says that the means by which Numero created the re-issue is just as interesting as the making of the original recordings. "They had to go and find the original 1/4" tape masters lying inside boxes in the back of cars, or digitizing the original 45s from collectors like Jeff Lemlich and Andrew Yeomanson."
And lest you think these old sounds have no bearing on today's culture, the songs produced by Deep City have been sampled by the likes of Jay Z, Beyonce, Sublime, and Mary J Blige. Look out for the Deep City documentary coming soon to a screen near you.
Keep New Times Broward-Palm Beach Free... Since we started New Times Broward-Palm Beach, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of South Florida, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering South Florida with no paywalls.