“Here in South Florida, we had that grit,” says a player for Deep City Records, Florida’s first black-owned record label. Very much a DIY achievement, the label was a labor of love by two Florida A&M student musicians – Willie “Pee Wee” Clarke and Johnny Pearsall.
The partners learned on the fly, and based in Pearsall’s record shop, recruited players from Miami’s still-segregated neighborhoods: Clarence Reid, Arnold “Hoss” Albury, Helene Smith. Documentarians Dennis Scholl, Marlon Johnson, and Chad Tingle note that while Sixties soul is familiar from Detroit or Memphis, soul music was a national phenomenon, and “each city had a different sound.” Miami’s was influenced not only by pop radio, but by Caribbean sounds (and players) and horn-heavy marching bands, for a grittier, big-band soul that later underlay the Latin-based Miami rhythms.
“The Miami Sound,” says music historian Jeff Lemlich, was a product of “the scrappy black culture of the Sixties,” and would yield its brightest star in Betty “Clean Up Woman” Wright – also the straw that broke Clarke and Pearsall’s partnership. The film is breathless with black pop history, preceded by its unofficial soundtrack – “Eccentric Soul: the Deep City Label” – released by the Numero Group.
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