For Hamilton County Commissioner Alicia Reece, a space dedicated exclusively for recognizing influential African-American musicians from southwest Ohio is a concept that’s been years in the making. But this weekend, the public can preview plans for the forthcoming Black Music Walk of Fame and interactive space at The Banks honoring hometown hitmakers.
Reece is at the wheel of the project, which is slated for completion by summer 2022. The attraction will be at the entrance of the Andrew J Brady ICON Music Center, and the sprawling, 198-acre riverbank location is partly what inspired her to act on creating a passageway for visitors connect to legendary artists from the area.
“The Banks brings inclusion,” Reece explains. “It creates a connector to the ICON as well as Paul Brown Stadium, where the Cincinnati Music Festival takes place. It creates a music corridor that we can market and get more people to come from all over the world. It captures our history.”
She says that longtime radio personality Lincoln Ware once told her, “We need something permanent that will showcase all of the folks that have come from this area” and she agreed, but it was one of the city’s first successful rhythm and blues recording artists who helped spur her to action.
“It was an event I was at [with King Records’ artist] Otis Williams where he pointed at the ICON Center, and he said, ‘Hey, how can we be a part of that? How can we be included?’” she recalls.
Williams is a founding member of The Charms, a doo wop group that spent nine weeks at No. 1 on the R&B charts in 1954 with the crossover hit, “Hearts of Stone.” Their song was featured in a scene from the 1990 film, Goodfellas.
“It lit the fire under me,” Reece continues. “I thought, ‘I would like to give people their flowers if I can while they’re here.’”
Throughout the Withrow graduate’s career as a public servant, one of her goals has been to use her influence to create national awareness of southwest Ohio’s music legacy. When she served on city council, she and John Cranley (who was a councilmember at the time) went to Memphis to visit Stax Records and Beale Street, a downtown tourism draw often referred to as “the birthplace of the blues,” and they felt that Cincinnati was long overdue for its own music attraction. Her collaborative efforts with the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland helped King Records become a historic landmark in 2008. And, the same year, she pushed an Ohio tourism ad that appeared on cable outlets like BET, which featured Canton, Ohio, soul group, The O’Jays singing their classic, “Living for the Weekend,” as the campaign’s song.
Considering Reece’s musical family roots, it’s no surprise to hear that local music preservation is something that she’s passionate about. Her grandfather pressed records at King and her father, Steven Reece, developed a local talent showcase called Operation Step Up in the late ’60s (he later became a national promoter for the Ohio Valley Kool Jazz Festival) while her mother, Barbara Howard, recorded what’s now considered a rare soul album in 1970, On the Rise. More importantly, she says the walk of fame attraction is about putting “a stake in the ground.”
“According to the Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, The Cincinnati Music Festival has the largest economic impact of any annual event in Hamilton County,” Reece notes. “It brings in $107 million. But once [entertainers and tourists] come, the hotels are filled and money is being spent, what do we have that is permanent? We look at what’s happening in Nashville and other areas. Why not honor and tell our own stories and capture our own history?”
(The National Museum of African American Music in Nashville and Atlanta’s Black Music & Entertainment Walk of Fame both opened earlier this year.)
The county commission’s goal is to have the project completed in time for when the Cincinnati Music Festival comes back in 2022. This Saturday, July 24, at 2 p.m., there will be a free kick-off ceremony at the ICON Center to announce the inaugural inductees: Otis Williams, The Isley Brothers, Gospel pioneer Dr. Charles Fold, and Bootsy Collins. Guests can expect to see an unveiling of the three-by-three-foot star and a conceptual art of the attraction.
The Isley Brothers, Williams and Collins are expected to attend in person, and The Isleys will also headline the Cincy Soul Fest happening at Sawyer Point later in the evening.