SXSW Film Review: 'Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound'

South Florida’s ‘Motown’ from Overtown

“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.

Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound

24 Beats Per Second, World Premiere
Thursday, March 13, 1:45pm, Alamo Ritz
Saturday, March 15, 9:30pm, Rollins

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