Deep City Records Documentary: A Behind the Scenes Look

Categories: Arts & Culture

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Jacob Katel
Dennis Scholl and Henry Stone

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.

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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."

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Henry Stone Music's Mitch Egber, James Echols, and Joe Stone

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.

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