There is currently a mobile exhibit available for Black Music Month events, School and College Events, Social Events, and Fundraisers. You can find out more information about the actual museum, as well as, the mobile exhibit on their web site at rbhalloffamemuseum.com.
By REGINA “G STYL” CRAWFORD
History. Nostalgia. Memories. Remembering the times, the innovators, the contributors, the landmark that was Leo’s Casino. Leo’s Casino R & B Music Hall of Fame and Museum Complex is the brainchild of LaMont Robinson, Fred Wheatt, and Freddie Arrington, and they are diligently working on making it a reality. The goal is a lofty one but after meeting with these gentlemen and seeing and hearing their passion for R & B music and Leo’s, I have no doubt that they will achieve their goal.
LaMont “ShowBoat” Robinson is a Cleveland native who grew up in Warrensville Heights, and is a member of the Harlem Clowns which is a traveling comedy basketball squad, as well as, the Founder of Leo’ Casino R & B Hall of Fame Museum. LaMont’s uncle also played in the band at Leo’s. Freddie Arrington was the MC at Leo’s Casino, as well as, the manger and the maître’d. Fred Wheatt is the CEO of Hall Of Fame Productions, Founding Director of the Melting Pot Orchestra, as well as, the Executive Director of the Wheatt Foundation. He was also a former house bandleader at Leo’s Casino from 1966 to 1973.
The complex will be an inspirational attraction that will celebrate the accomplishments of R & B Music’s timeless heroes. Each era will be presented chronologically, and will be brought to life through the use of multimedia technology. Visitors will be able to truly experience the emotions and drama of each era through auditory and visual displays which will allow them virtually sing with Otis Reading and dance alongside Gladys Knight and The Pips.
“It started from when I was a child. I was a big James Brown fan and my uncle played in the band at Leo’s Casino behind Edwin Starr, and I’ve always had a big love for music,” begins LaMont on how the concept for the museum was formed. “Once I started traveling with the Globetrotters and the Harlem Clowns all over the world, I started collecting memorabilia from around the country on different entertainers. In the last five years I developed the concept of building this. I looked around the country and there were talks, but there were never ever ever any plans that ever went through. So I decided since Cleveland was already the Rock Capital of the World that we ought to make it the Rhythm and Blues Capital of the World, and I began to start putting together memorabilia and the concept and talking to different people that would help me put it together as far as the construction and different things of that nature,” he continues. “About a year ago I was told about this guy named Freddie Arrington who was the MC at Leo’s, and he had all this pictures at Leo’s because there weren’t that many out there, and he came back from California and I was put in touch with him by my uncle. My uncle also put me in touch with a guy by the name of Fred Wheatt who was also very instrumental in having a house band at Leo’s called The Corporation. That’s how the collaboration came, I put the two gentlemen together, and they have been working with me side by side to put the only and first R & B Music Hall of Fame Museum in the World. I thought that because Leo’s was such a melting pot of R & B and Motown and different entertainers as one of the top nightclubs in the world that I would name it after Leo’s, but it doesn’t just honor people that were at Leo’s it honors people beyond Leo’s,” concludes LaMont.
Leo’s Casino was designated an historic rock ‘n roll landmark by the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in 1999, and served as a catalyst for R & B music in Cleveland in the 1960s. It was co-owned by Leo Frank and Jules Berger, and first opened in 1952 on the corner of 49th and Central as a bar. However, it expanded into a Jazz Room featuring such acts as Dizzy Gillespie and Cannonball Adderley. After the club burned down in 1962, Leo and Jules moved the club to the old Quad Hall Hotel on Euclid Avenue and were then able to accommodate 700 people as well as serve dinner.
“I worked in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and they do their own thing, but there are not a lot of us represented there,” states Freddie Arrington. “If you go down there half the people down there you don’t even know,” he adds. “Groups like The Dramatics, The Stylists they might not ever get in there [Rock and Roll Hall of Fame], and if they do we not get to see it. They deserve to be in it,” interjects LaMont. “I don’t get mad when they honor Bruce Springsteen and all these other big names cause we as black folks need our own,” adds LaMont. After providing with some statistics on the black population in Cleveland, and stating that there aren’t any black owned businesses or even a Black History Museum here, LaMont gives his reasons for wanting to start the museum and why he chose Leo’s Casino to be enshrined within the museum. “One of the reasons he wants to do this and I chose to back him one hundred percent,” begins Freddie Arrington, “Is because at one Cleveland [Ohio] was a Mecca for a lot of entertainers.” He goes on to add, “You had maybe a hundred nightclubs, and not just small juke joints but nightclubs all black. And you had white entertainers coming into town all the time to see black entertainers, right into the hood . . . Leo’s was one of them.”
There is currently a mobile exhibit available for Black Music Month events, School and College Events, Social Events, and Fundraisers. You can find out more information about the actual museum, as well as, the mobile exhibit on their web site at rbhalloffamemuseum.com. Keep watching as the museum comes to life, I know I certainly will be watching closely.