Willie Clarke, Miami Independent Music Pioneer, Talks Growing Up in Overtown

Jacob Katel
Willie Clarke (second from right) and some fellow SoFla legends: Willie "Little Beaver" Hale, Jimmie "Bo" Horne, Timmy Thomas, and Henry Stone.

Miami independent music pioneer Willie Clarke is a Grammy winner whose music has been sampled by Beyonce.

In the mid 1960s, he and a college buddy named Johnny Pearsall started a label called Deep City, based out of Johnny's Records in Liberty City. It was the first independent, black-owned record label in Florida, and today, its output is revered by both vinyl record collectors and digital re-issue soul heads.

Clarke grew up in Overtown, surrounded by nightclubs and jukeboxes in a golden era of entertainment and entrepreneurialism. His lyrical style was shaped by years of radio cartoons, rhythm and blues, and Louis Jordan and His Tympany Five's "Saturday Night Fish Fry."

Here are some of his memories of growing up in Overtown.

See Also:
-"Deep City Records Documentary: A Behind the Scenes Look"

"I never can actually remember when I first heard music. It's been with me from the very first day, when I was actually born.

"And to this day, good music will always make me stop in my tracks and make me get all into my mind and my body and interpret it. Songs are like stories, complete stories that you can hear in three or four minutes with a beginning, middle, and end.

"As a kid, I'd listen to a song and see who was telling the story, and how well, and I'd just start singing these songs, and TV wasn't kicking in when I was growing up. We had to really depend on radio.

"Radio was Superman, Batman, and the Lone Ranger. I memorized a lot of that dialogue. I would be fascinated by the 'get back at ya' cliches and they would all stick in my head.

"They'd open with the theme song and then you'd hear 'The Lone Ranger, in early Western America, a masked man with a faithful Indian companion who led the fight for law and order in those days of yesterday, the thundering hoofbeats of the great horse Silver, The Lone Ranger!'

"Those shows were a major influence to my songwriting. Then of course, there was the music."

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It's all good though. I was sitting in the Sir John at 15 years old wanting to be a man. No one ever said a word except the old chicks who tried to Georgia me. Back then it was all about how you carried yourself. Today these gym shoe bandits don't have a clue.


And tell the Brother grinning the loudest that maybe if he put that Gin glass down for a minute he'll remember his dentist.


There are literally thousands of people who went on to become doctors and lawyers

and head Nwords in charge. I went from a Macaroni to a God.


Get some up-to-date content Miami Times. Step out the box and stop printing this old BS

about overtown. You're writers and assignment editors are living in the past.


Willie Clarke was my art school teacher in Mid school he was one of the best teacher in my life GOD bless him :) love u Mr. Clarke

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