Written by Brian Powers, Reference Librarian, Popular Library, Downtown Main Library and Kent Mulcahy, Reference Coordinator, Genealogy & Local History Department, Downtown Main Library
Saturday, July 22, 2023 will mark a historic day in Cincinnati’s rich musical history. The Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame will open to the public, finally giving southwestern Ohio African American musicians the spotlight they so rightly deserve, given their impact not only on our region, but the global music scene at large.
Read the history of this year's inductees to the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame – and how to listen to their music using your library card – before joining the opening celebration on Saturday, July 22, 2023.
2023 Inductees to the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame
Along with the unveiling of the Walk of Fame itself, 2023 will see four new inductees: Louise Shropshire, The Deele, Philippé Wynne, and James Brown.
Louise Shropshire was born in Alabama in 1913, and her family moved to Cincinnati in 1917. While in Cincinnati, Shropshire published and copyrighted numerous gospel songs, many of which are collected in “History in Song: The Legacy of Mother Louise Shropshire.” So deep and well known was her involvement in the American civil rights movement, Martin Luther King Jr. stayed with her family during his visit to Cincinnati in 1962. Many believe her composition, “If My Jesus Wills,” served as the inspiration for what became the iconic civil rights song “We Shall Overcome.” Learn more about Louise Shropshire and the impact of “If My Jesus Wills” in Isaias Gamboas’ “We Shall Overcome.”
Taken from the group’s ability to “deal” with adversity, The Deele was formed in Cincinnati in the early 80s by group leader and drummer L.A. Reid. Along with Reid, early incarnations of the The Deele’s lineup included bassist Kevin “Kayo” Robertson, vocalists Darnell “Dee” Bristol and Carlos “Satin” Greene, and guitarists Steve “Tuck” Tucker and Stanley “Stick” Burke. But it was when Indianapolis’ Kenny Edmonds, known better as “Babyface,” joined on keyboards and backing vocals that the group’s career took off. After notching their first hit with 1983’s “Body Talk,” it was their third album, 1987’s “Eyes of a Stranger” that gave them their biggest hit, “Two Occasions.” Not long after “Eyes of a Stranger,” Reid and Babyface would leave the group and begin their own paths that, as producers, songwriters, performers, and talent scouts, would have a hand in hundreds of millions of album sales. From Whitney Houston to Avril Lavigne; from Jay-Z to The Killers...the influence of L.A. Reid and Babyface can’t be understated, and it all began in Cincinnati with The Deele. Check out their music in The Best of.
Phillipé Wynne was born in Cincinnati in 1941. After finding himself in the New Orphanage Asylum for Colored Children, he left Cincinnati for Detroit, where his musical career began. After spending time in the bands of Bootsy Collins and James Brown, Wynne landed in Motown Records alumni Spinners in 1972. After scoring a handful of hits in the group, including “One of a Kind (Love Affair)” and “The Rubberband Man,” he struck out on his solo career in 1977. Wynne released three solo albums before passing away from the result of a heart attacked suffered mid-performance on an Oakland, California stage in 1984. Check out two of his solo efforts on Hoopla - free with a CHPL library card.
Though he wasn’t born in Cincinnati and never lived here, The Godfather of Soul, Mr. Dynamite himself, James Brown is an obvious choice for inclusion in the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame. Among many other influential tracks, James Brown recorded “Funky Drummer” in 1969 right here in Cincinnati for King Records. “Funky Drummer,” with its undeniable drum break played by Clyde Stubblefield, is easily one of hip-hop's most sampled tracks. From hip-hop's earliest days to the present, James Brown’s King Records releases would be sampled by hundreds of producers and rappers, including A Tribe Called Quest, The Wu-Tang Clan, and Kendrick Lamar. One would be hard-pressed to find better evidence of Southwestern Ohio’s impact on the world of music. Check out some of Brown’s most well-known tunes in 20 All-time Greatest Hits.
Preserving Cincinnati’s Music Heritage
The Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame is the vision of Hamilton County Commission President and CHPL customer Alicia Reece. In 2023, Commissioner Reece formally introduced the 513 Relief Bus program, after its initial pilot in 2021 helped over 4,000 individuals access health and economic resources. The Library has hosted the 513 Relief Bus at five of its locations. View upcoming library locations hosting the 513 Relief Bus on our website.
It was Commissioner Reece’s parents, Steve and Barbara Reece (Howard), who instilled in her the passion for music that eventually brought us the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame. Her father was a producer, entrepreneur, and activist, and her mother was a successful performer and singer. Together, with Steve producing and contributing two of his own compositions, “Barbara Howard on the Rise” was released in 1969 to enthusiastic reviews.
Because of her parents’ status as pillars of the local music scene, Commissioner Reece grew up around music, hearing local musicians, many of whom would become national chart toppers, perform and tell their stories along the way. She hopes the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame will preserve those stories, and cement Southwestern Ohio’s place as a hub of musical innovation.
The idea for the Walk of Fame was presented and approved in April 2021. July 2021 saw the introduction of the founding inductees: Bootsy Collins, The Isley Brothers, Dr. Charles Ford, and Otis Williams. One year later, four more inductees were given stars: Penny Ford, Midnight Star, Wilbert Longmire, and Hi-Tek.
When the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame opens this year, visitors will enjoy a deeply immersive, interactive experience. Commissioner Reece was adamant that, along with providing a space for education, it would also provide fun, both for music obsessives and casual listeners. Visitors will be able to virtually perform with inductees, or dance along to music on the dance floor. Pulse drums played by visitors will trigger a light show to accompany the songs.
Mark your calendars for Saturday, July 22 at noon as the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame opens at 25 Race Street, next to the Andrew J. Brady Center. And visit the Library to get yourself prepared by checking out all the groundbreaking music and musicians who will be honored!