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SOUL CITY CLEVELAND: A CELEBRATION OF ELDER BLACK ARTISTS

Updated: Feb 9



Musician Eddie Baccus Sr. fell in love with Cleveland. After arriving in Cleveland with legendary saxophonist Rahsaan Roland Kirk a second time in the 1950s, he decided to stay. The rest is history.


The 84-year-old Baccus is a focal point in the forthcoming film Soul City Cleveland. He is also enduring one of the longest periods in his life between live performances as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.


While the impacts of COVID-19 have been devastating for musicians and the music industry as a whole, elder Black musicians in cities with high poverty rates like Cleveland have especially been hit hard. Soul City Cleveland is fighting back!


Soul City Cleveland is a love letter to Black music, Ohio, and the unheralded elder musicians who most embody its spirit of self-determination.


Years in the making, Soul City Cleveland is an independent film that shines a bright light on artists such as “Crazy Marvin” Braxton, Estella “Caldonia” Young, Eugene Ross, Shirley Cook, Lou Ragland, “Art” Blakey, and George Hendricks. These artists, among those featured in the film, shared the same stages as some of Cleveland’s most famous performers— acts such as Bobby Womack and The O’Jays.


Among the film’s foci is Velma “Vel” Scott, the former owner, with her late husband Don Scott, of Vel’s on the Circle, an epicenter for Black political organizing and entrepreneurial ingenuity. The stories that Soul City Cleveland has uncovered help to tell the story of Black music in one of America’s most important musical cities, taking viewers on a music-filled journey from Cleveland to Japan, the U.K. and beyond. More than a film, Soul City Cleveland helps to reduce the social isolation and invisibility of elder Black artists while actively preserving, promoting, and celebrating their rich contributions to music culture and history in Cleveland.




“Soul City Cleveland” is the debut music single from the Soul City Cleveland Original Motion Picture Soundtrack.


"Soul City Cleveland" debut single available here!




Paul Hill Jr. and Marquita Hill, a union of 52 years, serve as co-founders of the National Rites of Passage Institute.


Since 1993, The National Rites of Passage Institute (NROPI) has been at the forefront of the American rites of passage movement. The foundation of NROPI is based on the African NTU philosophy “I Am Because We Are; Therefore, I Am.”


Rites of Passage are the structures, rituals, and ceremonies by which age class members or individuals in a group successfully come to know who they are (identity) and what they are about (purpose) as they proceed from one clearly defined state of existence to the next state of passage in their lives.


In the National Rites of Passage Institute, elders play an essential role in engendering a healthy cultural environment for children, adolescents and adults, and in enabling those youth and adults to one day become elders themselves.


According to the National Rites of Passage Institute, our society is characterized by a lack of meaningful, emotionally and spiritually empowering rites of passage and initiations to help people realize the potential fullness of each of life’s stages.


Soul City Cleveland is an outcome of my rites of passage process. It is a celebration of the role that elder Black musicians play as cultural bearers and tradition keepers in Greater Cleveland. Equally important, it is an exploration into the indispensable role that elders play in village building by inspiring pride, joy and hope through their undying artistry and neighborhood-based collective work and responsibility.


Through a partnership between Soul City Cleveland, Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future, the National Rites of Passage Institute and the Youth Resiliency Institute, the artistry, self-determination, and wisdom of elder Black musicians is being celebrated through intergenerational art-based events and activities.


This past June, two of Cleveland’s special greats, Eddie Baccus Sr. and Eugene Ross, were celebrated at Beachland Ballroom during a special African American Music Appreciation Month sold-out concert. The event included a photo exhibition at the Space: ROCK Gallery, anchored by the photography of 20-year-old Soul City Cleveland photographer, Khariya Reid. Through photography, Reid has been documenting Soul City Cleveland focal points and locations significant to Greater Cleveland’s African American music heritage.


The indelible artistry of Cleveland, Ohio music legends Eddie Baccus Sr. and Eugene Ross and their respective bands was on full display at Beachland Ballroom as part of Soul City Cleveland's African-American Music Appreciation Month celebration in partnership with Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future, Waterloo Makes Music, the National Rites of Passage Institute and the Youth Resiliency Institute.


This partnership, between Soul City Cleveland, Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future, the National Rites of Passage Institute and the Youth Resiliency Institute, is giving rise to Soul City Cleveland Stories, a culturally responsive community arts pilot project designed to connect youth and young adults residing in under-resourced communities to elder Black artists through generative immersion. Participants are initiating a repository that respectfully archives the wisdom and knowledge of elder Black artists who have spent lifetimes demonstrating artistic innovation and self-determination. In the process, youth are gaining unique perspective regarding the power of cultural organizing, Black art networks, and liberatory entrepreneurialism.


20-year-old Soul City Cleveland photographer, Khariya Reid presents Mr. Eddie Baccus Sr. with a photo from her solo exhibition in celebration of Mr. Baccus' legendary artistry.


Cleveland City Councilmen Blaine Griffin, Michael D. Polensek and Cuyahoga County Council Member Cheryl Stephens present Soul City Cleveland, Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present & Future, the National Rites of Passage Institute and the Youth Resiliency Institute with a special proclamation at Soul City Cleveland’s African American Music Appreciation Month concert in partnership with Waterloo Makes Music.



As Elders, Soul City Cleveland focal points continue to play an invaluable role in Cleveland. Yet the significance of that role -and elder Black artists themselves- are at risk right now. Through alliances and partnerships such as between Soul City Cleveland, Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future, the National Rites of Passage Institute and the Youth Resiliency Institute, Soul City Cleveland is helping to create a post-pandemic arts ecosystem in Cleveland that champions greater resources and supports for Cleveland’s elder Black artists. In the process, Soul City Cleveland is helping to elevate Black voices that have helped to shape Cleveland’s history while simultaneously reimagining hometown tourism by shining a bright light on local music venues and institutions that treasure elder Black artists through robust culturally responsive performance opportunities, events and activities.

The knowledge, wisdom and rich artistry of elder Black artists in Cleveland is needed more now than perhaps ever before. We cannot afford to fail Eddie Baccus Sr., Art Blakey, Eugene Ross, “Crazy Marvin” Braxton, Shirley Cook and the many other elder Black artists who have given Cleveland, and indeed the world, so much through their legendary artistry.


Welcome to Soul City Cleveland. We invite you to join us!


By Fanon Hill

August 28, 2021



To learn about how to become a Soul City Cleveland partner, affiliate and/or to contribute your time or treasure, please send an email to: soulcitycleveland@gmail.com


Arts administrator, filmmaker and East Cleveland native, Fanon Hill serves as Executive Director and co-founder of the Youth Resiliency Institute, a social benefit organization that provides culturally responsive arts-based programming throughout Greater Cleveland and in Baltimore, Maryland. Hill has served as a consultant for the National Guild for Community Arts Education, W.K. Kellogg Foundation, Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, and a multitude of school districts and organizations throughout the U.S. and Canada. Hill is a Case Western Reserve University Treu-Mart Youth Development Fellow and an Aspen Institute Executive Leadership Seminar cohort member. As a musician and music producer, Hill has been lauded in global music magazines such as Soulbounce and on Sirius XM radio. Hill has received a Congressional Citation from the U.S. House of Representatives for his work as a cultural arts organizer and has presented at the White House and the U.S. Department of Education on the power of the cultural arts in Black communities with high rates of poverty. Hill serves on the Board of Directors for Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future and the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative. Hill is director of the forthcoming documentary Soul City Cleveland.


"Soul City Cleveland" will be released by The Youth Resiliency Institute, in partnership with Waasi Films and Mbari House Films, and in association with the National Rites of Passage Institute, in 2022.



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