Deep City Records Documentary: A Behind the Scenes Look

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.

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