The BODDIE RECORDING CO., run by Thomas and Louise Boddie, was Cleveland's first African-American owned and operated recording studio, serving a clientele ranging from gospel, soul, and rhythm & blues groups, to rock, bluegrass, and country musicians from as far away as Detroit and West Virginia. Fascinated with Rube Goldberg machines and electronics since his childhood, owner Thomas R. Boddie built his first studio in the basement of his home at 9410 Pierpont Avenue during the 1950s. He used rebuilt or modified recording equipment exclusively, often building components from scratch using schematics loaned to him by his mentor, fellow studio owner Henry C. "Hank" Schneider. His first paying job was recording operatic tenor Jan Peerce who appeared at SEVERANCE HALL as guest of the Jewish Singing Society in 1959. Within a few years Boddie moved to 12202 Union Avenue and installed his studio and, in the 1970s, a record pressing plant in a small building that had once been used as a dairy, located behind his house. Because of their low rates, Boddie Recording attracted hundreds of musicians seeking to make demonstration records to send to labels like Motown Records. They also attracted many bluegrass, country & western, and traveling gospel groups--both white and black--who gave Boddie Recording the nickname, "Little Nashville." For customers who wanted limited runs of 45 rpm records to sell independently, the Boddies also created labels of their own: Plaid, Luau, Bounty, Soul Kitchen, and La Ricky, to name a few. Because they also had a portable setup, the Boddies did a good deal of on-site recording, ranging from funerals and bar mitzvahs, to a performance by popular soul group The O'Jays at LEO'S CASINO. After Cleveland's race riots of the late 1960s, the Boddies lost many of their white customers, now reluctant to go into black neighborhoods. When the oil embargo of the 1970s made it difficult for them to get enough vinyl to press records, the Boddies ground up old records to press new. In the 1980s, the Boddies became more involved in location recording and cassette duplicating, and in the 1990s, video recording of gospel music and religious services. In 2006, co-founder Thomas Boddie died. Boddie Recording Co. closed after his death.
LEO'S CASINO was a premier showcase in Cleveland for R&B and Motown artists. The co-owner of Leo's Casino, Leo Frank, got his first taste of the entertainment business while serving in the Navy in 1945. He was in charge of a theater on a base near San Francisco that featured Bob Hope, Harry James and other prominent entertainers. In 1952 Leo Frank opened his first club, called Leo's, at E. 49th St. and Central Ave. It started as a bar but expanded into a jazz room, featuring musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Cannonball Adderley. The building burned down in 1962. With his business partner Jules Berger, Leo Frank started Leo's Casino in 1963 at the old Quad Hall Hotel at 7500 Euclid Avenue. The new Leo's held about 700 people and served dinner. Admission was two dollars. The club continued to feature jazz until R&B acts quickly took over. The club usually had three shows a night, Thursday through Sunday.
Between 1963 and 1972, an illustrious entourage of musical acts performed at Leo's Casino, including Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops. Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin gave some of their first performances at the club while Otis Redding made his last stage appearance at the club prior to his fatal plane crash in 1967. The club also provided a springboard for numerous comedians, such as Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson and Redd Foxx.
Because of its racially mixed audiences, Dick Gregory called the place, "the most fully integrated nightclub in America," however Frank always explicitly made it clear that social justice had nothing to do with his motivations. His reason for opening the nightclub was to make money. The club served as a unique haven in the midst of the racial tensions that gripped Cleveland in the 1960s. In 1966 during the HOUGH RIOTS, just a few blocks away, hundreds of people, black and white, waited in line to see the Supremes. The Supremes played two sets on Sunday night, July 24, but the police told the club's owners to cancel the third show and shut down the club. Leo's Casino shut down for four weeks and then reopened with Ray Charles.
As the acts that performed at Leo's Casino grew more successful, the singers started playing one-night stands at larger venues for more money. While Leo's Casino would pay an act $3,000 or $4,000, they could get $15,000 at the larger stages. In 1970 Frank sold his share in the nightclub to Berger. Two years later Berger closed the club. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame designated the club an historic rock'n'roll landmark on June 24, 1999. Two weeks after the dedication ceremony, Leo Frank died of respiratory failure and pneumonia.
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