Recap of Uncut, Student-Produced Documentary, “Rhythm & Race: A History of African American Music in Grand Rapids”

On Tuesday, February 28, West Michigan Center for Arts + Technology (WMCAT) premiered its uncut, student-produced documentary, “Rhythm and Race: A History of African American Music in Grand Rapids.” The first premiere of the documentary drew a packed-house at the Urban Institute for Contemporary Arts. Attendees of all ages and walks-of-life attended the premiere, many of which experienced the racial injustice that took place in Grand Rapids, as depicted in the film.

The film’s production team consisted of seven WMCAT students, along with WMCAT teaching artist, Mike Saunders, and Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives founder, George Baynard III.

The hour-long documentary explores how music genres have influenced the social justice system in Grand Rapids, post-World War II leading up to the 1970s. The purpose of the documentary was to highlight Grand Rapids’ creative music scene, and the impact this had on bridging the gap between African American and mainstream culture, which was shockingly apparent at the time.

In order to understand the racial injustice that took place during the 20th century, WMCAT students interviewed many community leaders and local music influencers from this time period. By facilitating these interviews, students were able to make the connection between race and music, and how these two components impacted, and shaped, the history of Grand Rapids.

“Rhythm and Race: A History of African American Music in Grand Rapids,” takes viewers back in time, as the documentary reflects on various hot-spots in Grand Rapids. In fact Grand Rapids was a premier stop for many musicians, as it was in between musical powerhouses, Detroit and Chicago. The documentary highlights The Horseshoe Bar, formerly on Grandville Ave, for uprooting famous Blues musicians such as Little Wolf. Also featured is Grand Rapids native and Soul music icon, Al Green, who was the first artist to sign with Hotline Music Journal records in 1967. HotLine was one-of-two recording studios that produced local musicians up until the 1970s.

Thanks to the financial assistance of a Heritage Grant from the Michigan Humanities Council, and a partnership with the Grand Rapids African American Museum and Archives, the documentary took around six months to complete.

To stay tuned on future viewings of “Rhythm and Race: A History of African American Music in Grand Rapids,” visit: wmcat.org/rhythmandrace.