The vision behind the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame

When considering the impact of African Americans on the music industry, Detroit and Memphis are generally considered the premier cities for black art.

The lesser-known story is that of Cincinnati, whose rusty streets gave way to the creation of the doo-wop, funk, and other sounds that dominated the mid-20th century.

Perhaps Cincinnati’s black music legacy has been overlooked in the past, but Hamilton County Commission Vice Chairman Alicia Reece is seeking to change the narrative with the creation of the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Famous.

New:These artists will be inducted into the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame next month

The Walk of Fame, founded by Reece, is located outside the Andrew J. Brady Music Center, with Hollywood-style stars honoring musicians with Hamilton County ties. The 2022 winners include Penny Ford, techno-funk band Midnight Star, hip-hop producer Hi-Tek and jazz musician Wilbert Longmire.

2021 inductees included Bootsy Collins, Charles Fold, The Isley Brothers and Otis Williams.

Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame:These artists will be inducted next month

“I saw a need from what I was hearing from people,” Reece said. “We have a rich history of music and especially black music that I had learned growing up and being with her and my parents. And I said, wait a minute, this needs to be shared with the world. “

Reece’s musical journey

Barbara Howard, Reece’s late mother, was a national artist and her father owned an independent record company. Her parents met through music, and she grew up hearing many of their stories and those of other black musicians, such as Bootsy Collins.

“I used to hear these stories growing up, and we used to say, man, all of these stories are great, but the stories can’t just stop in my head. These stories need to be shared with the world,” he said. said Reece.

Why Representation Matters

Reece, 51, is the first woman and African American to win city, state and county races in Hamilton County. She served as Cincinnati’s vice mayor, state representative, and councillor. She is also the first African-American woman to hold the position of assistant director of tourism in Ohio.

She said she wanted to use the knowledge and experience she has accumulated over nearly 20 years of public service to honor the unsung contributions of black musicians in Cincinnati.

Reece seeks to share her story as a black woman in the local legislature and the stories of these musicians to inspire future generations.

“As an African-American woman, myself being the founder and creator of a black music walk of fame, this story itself is, I hope to be, an inspiration for other black girls to say you can do development. You can have an idea like this. You can contribute,” Reece said.

Why the Walk of Fame is where it is

The location of the Walk of Fame also underscores this message of empowerment. The interactive display sits near the new Andrew J. Brady Music Center, but the importance of location doesn’t stop there.

Reece explained that many African Americans fleeing chattel slavery would migrate from Kentucky to Ohio in search of freedom. They would cross the Ohio River and settle in the area now known as The Banks.

Although many black people eventually moved to the West End, The Banks is still an important site for black history in Cincinnati and was the perfect location for the Walk of Fame, Reece said.

What you can expect from the Walk of Fame

Reece describes the Walk of Fame as a “musical hallway”. This interactive tourist attraction will feature QR codes that viewers can scan to learn more about the artists and listen to their music in real time. There will also be LED screens displaying facts about Hamilton County’s black music heritage.

The Walk of Fame is a nearly $20 million publicly and privately funded project. She explained that this decision was taken to make the tourist attraction free and accessible to the public.

Reece said she doesn’t want money to be a barrier that keeps people from learning about Cincinnati’s rich black music history.

“I wanted it to be Disney World. I wanted it to be interactive. I wanted it to be fun. And I wanted it to be something that people around the world want to come and see from a tourism perspective,” said said Reece.

Each Walk of Fame star will be sponsored by Procter & Gamble. For an artist to be considered for the Walk of Fame, someone must submit an official nomination form and the nominee must meet the criteria listed on the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame website.

History of Black Music in Queen City

Cincinnati’s black music heritage dates back to the 1920s with blues singer Mamie Smith.

Smith was born in Cincinnati in 1883 and is known for her song “Crazy Blues”, which is widely considered to be the first recorded blues song and represents the emergence of black female singers into popular music culture.

Granny Smith:The queen of the blues was from queen town

However, the subject of Queen City’s music history cannot be addressed without analyzing the contributions of King Records. King Records was started in 1943 by Syd Nathan as a “hillbilly” label which became known for producing “race” music. “Race music” is an antiquated term for music made by and for African Americans.

King Records did what very few labels attempted to do at the time: fuse black and white audiences. Although it never gained the reputation of other labels like Motown, King Record’s impact on the American music industry has deep roots.

Billy Davis, former guitarist for Hank Ballard and the Midnighters, recorded for King Records. This independent label also released Charlie Feathers’ “One Hand Loose” and R&B singer Little Willie John’s “Fever”. According to The New York Times, King is where “The Twist” was first recorded by Ballard and where Wynonie Harris did “Good Rockin’ Tonight.”

In January 1956, James Brown and his vocal group The Famous Flames signed to Federal Records, a subsidiary of King Records which was established in 1950 to release primarily “racing” records. While at King, Brown released several hits such as “Dad’s Got a Brand New Bag”, “Say it Loud (I’m Black and I’m Proud)”, “I’ve Got The Feeling, “Out of Sight” and “Cold Sweat,” which many music experts credit with the song that created funk as a musical genre.

Brown’s funky sound would influence several bands in and out of Ohio, including Sly & The Family Stone, Funkadelic and The Ohio Players. By 1967, Brown was the King Records superstar with multiple top 10 records, a Grammy award, and film and television appearances.

Research librarian and music historian Brian Powers is something of a local King Records expert, having published “A King Records Scrapbook” for the Cincinnati Public Library in 2008. In discussing the importance of the contributions of Brown to King Records, Powers said, “There were other labels that were doing R&B here in Cincinnati, not just King, but King obviously was doing it on such a massive, national scale and all these hits of James Brown, you know, you realize all that stuff that you sort of think of in the late sixties as probably his most influential music and his biggest hits were while he was at King Records. »

Not all of Cincinnati’s influential black music was produced by King Records. Even some of the Walk of Fame inductees, like Penny Ford and the Isley Brothers, were not affiliated with the label.

Reece said that while King Records has created many well-known artists, there is no shortage of talent coming to Cincinnati from all directions. While the attraction will honor artists affiliated with King Records, it will also honor other artists, songwriters, bands and producers who have not signed with the label.

According to Reece, at one time Cincinnati was known for having more independent record labels than most cities in the country. Reece’s primary goal is to educate the public about Cincinnati’s contributions to the music industry. She said her connection to music, her more than 20 years of public service and her identity as a black woman were the catalysts for this project.

“Music is in the fiber and the foundation of my family and who I am,” Reece said.

When is the Walk of Fame induction ceremony?

The grand unveiling of the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame will take place during the 2022 Induction Ceremony on July 23 from noon to 3 p.m. This ceremony will take place during the Cincinnati Music Festival, one of the most important African-American music festivals in the country.

The great thing about the Walk of Fame, Reece said, is that when the music festival is over, Cincinnati residents have a permanent site dedicated to black music to which they can return.

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