The Youth Resiliency Institute, in partnership with Waasi Films and Mbari House Films, and in association with the National Rites of Passage Institute, is proud to announce the upcoming release of the new film and accompanying COVID-19 food relief effort:
Soul City Cleveland
To ride the Underground Railroad, you had to punch your own ticket. No one could punch it for you, and the decision to embark was always an exercise in self-determination.
The state of Ohio had a vast Underground Railroad system, with routes and exit points along Lake Erie. The city of Cleveland was used as an exit point, the last stop before you were ferried across Lake Erie to freedom in Canada.
Self-determination was a moving force of the Underground Railroad, and it is a spirit that never left Ohio. Nowhere is that more evident than in Cleveland, Ohio; and perhaps nowhere has it manifested more than in the city’s soul music scene.
Soul City Cleveland is director Fanon Hill’s love letter to soul music, Ohio, and the unheralded musicians who most embody its spirit of self-determination. The film is not about the widely known names of Cleveland’s Black music, but those forgotten or and even those never known.
Estella “Caldonia” Young. Eugene Ross. “Crazy Marvin” Braxton. Lou Ragland. “Art” Blakely. Eddie Bacchus Sr. 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. These were some of the most sought-after recording session players in America. They were also part of the bedrock of Cleveland’s prolific Black political organizing efforts.
Cleveland, Ohio was home to some of the nation’s most prolific organizing for Black equality, justice, and liberation. From the efforts of John O’Holly and Cleveland’s Future Outlook League in 1935, founded by O’Holly to fight racial discrimination in employment through boycotts and pickets intended to persuade white employers to hire African Americans; to the role that Clevelanders such as the late great Judge Jean Capers and Anna Chapman played in helping Carl Stokes become the first black mayor of a major US city in 1967; Black leadership in America took notice of the self-determination and unfettered courage that took residency in Cleveland. Martin Luther King, Jr. made more than a dozen visits to Cleveland between 1956 and 1967, while Malcolm X delivered perhaps his most famous speech, "The Ballot or the Bullet,” in Cleveland, in 1964, and spent considerable time in Cleveland organizing with Black grassroots activists and tacticians. Black artists in Cleveland contributed to this landscape through their music, innovative business practices and even in the groundbreaking ways that they played their instruments and arranged music.
“Soul City Cleveland shines a light on an era in Cleveland, Ohio when Black artists, locally owned radio stations, and club owners collectively evolved a local music industry acknowledged by music lovers around the world,” says the film’s director Hill.
All the film’s focal points are ages seventy and up—living Cleveland history whose memory links the past and the future. 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. The film, through its subjects, also explores issues such as net neutrality, the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and public music education in relation to their impact on Black music.
Soul City Cleveland also pays tribute to the late great Estella “Caldonia” Young. Through interviews with those who knew her throughout her life, the film pieces together a narrative of one of Cleveland’s most remarkable figures, a shake dancer who led her own chitlin circuit revue, and mentored many of those featured in the film, as well as countless artists and entertainers, such as Cleveland jazz singer Jimmy Scott and comedian Rudy Ray Moore.
From studio sessions with Jimi Hendrix, to navigating mafia controlled clubs, to launching world-renowned independent record labels, the film’s focal points tell the story of Black music in one of America’s most important musical cities.
Director Hill was raised in East Cleveland Ohio. As a middle-school student, Hill built up a collection of Cleveland soul, blues, jazz and funk albums by bartering hip-hop records purchased for relative pennies in exchange. This experience of Cleveland’s Black music culture provided a necessary foundation for the future filmmaker, waterfront music festival founder, arts education consultant, and self-taught artist. As a result, Soul City Cleveland is not only a film, it is also an original motion picture soundtrack, and a public education campaign. Hill, who has served as a consultant for organizations and philanthropic entities such as the National Guild for Community Arts Education, the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation, will be launching cross-generational public programming in partnership with Cleveland Rocks: Past, Present and Future leading up to the film’s premiere throughout Cleveland, with a focus on connecting the film’s subjects with children and youth.
The original motion picture soundtrack accompanying Soul City Cleveland is entirely written and produced by Hill, who also produced the award-winning original motion picture soundtrack for his previous film, Lom Nava Love.
With live performance shut down, the majority of the music sector has lost the economic means for basic survival. As an independent filmmaker, Hill immediately recognized his responsibility in helping those subjects of the film who may also be in need to weather the Covid-19 crisis. 100% of proceeds from forthcoming soundtrack singles will go towards supporting artists featured in the film currently in financial need with grocery deliveries.
With rich cross-generational perspective from artists such as Conya Doss, Aaron Abernathy, Navasha Daya, Jonathan “Mr. Soul” Gilmore and more, Soul City Cleveland helps to uncover the story of Black music in a city that is home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, taking viewers on a music-filled journey from Cleveland to Japan, the U.K and beyond.
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 2021.
For more information regarding the release of Soul City Cleveland, please send an email to: