In the early 1960s, Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall were two school teachers who met at Florida A&M University and shared a deep love for music. Clarke had a background in the school’s fabled Marching 100 band and Johnny Pearsall ran a small record shop called Johnny’s Records located in the heart of Overtown, Miami. Inspired by Detroit’s Motown and Memphis’ Stax Records, the two friends pooled their teaching paychecks and founded Deep City Records, the first black-owned record label in Florida. Though short-lived, the label’s releases would come to define what is known as the “Miami Sound.” Many of those involved would go on to work together on countless hits throughout the heyday of Hialeah-based label TK Records.
Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound is a 2014 independent documentary that tells Clarke and Pearsall’s incredible story along with songwriter Clarence Reid, Arnold “Hoss” Albury, and all the other singers and musicians they worked with. A labor of love by local filmmakers Marlon Johnson, Chad Tingle, and Dennis Scholl, the film features interviews with the “First Lady of South Florida Soul” Helene Smith, Ken Shipley of Numero Group, Deep City co-founder Willie Clarke, songwriter Clarence Reid, and many others.
The documentary is available to stream in its entirety courtesy of The Soul Archive:
Synopsis: “Deep City is an inspirational story that explores the early days of soul music in South Florida, the pioneers of that era and their lasting contributions to the broader American musical landscape. During mid-1960s Miami, producers Willie Clarke and Johnny Pearsall masterminded Deep City Records. Both from the mean streets of Miami, this duo honed the business and musical skills learned in college and went on to change the face of soul music in Miami, and eventually the country by creating the first black-owned record label in Florida. Deep City is a documentary that delves into the life and times of these groundbreaking producers, their label, the unique artists they spawned and the remarkable era in which they accomplished it.”
Check out Numero Group’s incredible 2006 compilation on Deep City Records:
Also, listen to legendary soul singer Betty Wright’s first ever release, which was recorded when she was just 12 years old and released on Deep City Records in 1967.