By Ebony J. Wynn 

    Hamilton County Commission President, Alicia Reece, made history as the first woman to win City, State, and County offices in Hamilton County. President Reece, a graduate of Grambling State University, started a career in radio and worked for Cincinnati’s first black radio station WCIN. Upon graduation and later in her career, President Reece served as the Deputy Director of Ohio Tourism, where she promoted many tourist attractions including the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio as well as developed a led a successful State of Ohio campaign featuring the O’Jays titled, “Livin’ for the Weekend.”

    President Reece grew up with parents in the music industry. Her mother, Barbara Howard, was a national recording artist and performer who opened for Steven Wonder at the Cincinnati Jazz Festival at Riverfront Stadium. Her father, Dr. Steven Reece, Sr., was a local representative for Motown Records and started his own independent label called, SR productions, which produced Barbara’s self-titled album, “Barbara Howard on the Rise.”

    President Alicia Reece was elected and sworn as the newest Hamilton County Commissioner on Jan. 2, 2021. After taking office, she championed and developed a countywide mobile one stop bus called the “513 Relief Bus”. To date, this bus has assisted over 4,000 citizens with economic and medical resources. In the midst of developing this new initiative, on April 26, 2021, she held a press conference in front of an empty lot filled with rocks on the along the Ohio Riverbanks across from the NFL Cincinnati Bengals (now Paycor Stadium) with a diverse group of community leaders, industry stakeholders, musicians, standing with her as she called for the creation and development of a Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame tourism attraction. On July 1, 2021, it was unanimously passed by the Hamilton County Board of County Commissioners. That same year, President Reece enlisted the assistance of Procter & Gamble’s corporate leader, Damon Jones, who provided private funding for the Stars and Induction Ceremony. On Saturday, July 22, 2023, the historic Grand Opening of the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame, the new interactive tourism attraction, will occur at Noon with a free celebration and Induction Ceremony honoring James Brown, Louise Shropshire, the Deele, including original members LA Reid and Babyface, Louise Shropshire, and  Philippé Wynne, former lead singer of the Spinners. There will also be a free concert performance by the Ohio Players. Citizens and visitors will get a chance to experience the new amusement and interactive park.

    So, I wanted to know President Alicia Reece’s journey and process as the first Black woman creative developer of an historic project on the Cincinnati, Ohio Riverbanks, that houses both an NFL and MLB stadiums, and now a Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame. Check out my one-on-one interview: 

Hello President Alicia Reece. I’m so excited about the Grand Opening of the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame. Can you tell us what inspired you to do this? 

Thank you. This has truly been an assignment and blessing from God. My inspiration was the stories of many of the Black musical artists, songwriters, and producers who are from this area and have created new musical sounds and have made a major impact worldwide, but there was nowhere for them to be recognized in a permanent way. Lincoln Ware approached me and said there needs to be something done about this and there needs to something on the Ohio Banks. I had this idea some time ago when I was the Deputy Director for Ohio Tourism, where my job was to promote tourism attractions. One of the attractions I promoted was the Rock in Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, Ohio. I came up with a campaign called, “Livin For The Weekend,” named after the O’Jays’ hit song. I remembered knowing they were once called the “Mascots” and recorded in Cincinnati. I said to myself, “wow there is so much history in Southwest Ohio, Cincinnati, Dayton, Hamilton, Lincoln Heights, Springfield, Middletown and more.”

The Rock in Roll Hall of Fame is in the northern part of the state, but we need something in the southern part of the state.  

Fast forward and I am at another event and with Doowop Hall of Famer, Otis Williams. Mr. Williams, who was 80 years old at the time and standing on a walker, says to me while pointing at the brand new Icon Andrew Brady Music Center (named after a Caucasian music teacher from the westside in the 1930’s) and adjacent to an empty lot filled with rocks next to it, “Alicia, why can’t we be included?”  I said then, “okay God I hear you.” This was the missing link and a way to bring everyone together. So, on April 26, 2021, I held a press conference calling for the creation of a Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame. These stories and legacies cannot die when we leave this earth. It must be recognized in a permanent way for generations to come. I prayed and stepped out on faith. 

And here you are getting ready for an historic grand opening. 

No, here WE the community, citizens, the music artists and their families are together getting ready for the historic grand opening of the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame.  We did it!

Why was having the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame on the Ohio Riverbanks so important and significant?  

What is referred to now as the Banks is 198 acres and houses our NFL Bengals stadium on one end and MLB Reds stadium on the other end. This area, known as “Bucktown,” was also where our ancestors who escaped slavery lived. They were later forced to relocate to the West End. We created music sounds that kept them strong. Now, today, we are back to this sacred land honoring Black musical artists who have impacted music worldwide. The Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame is on a half-acre out of 198 acres, but we use technology, the visitors’ interactive experience, and social media platforms to share their stories and expand the footprint. 

How did you come up with this idea and how did your background in music and tourism impact that? 

When I was a teen, my Father had me read the story of Walt Disney, who he was able to dream and develop Disney Land and Disney World from a swamp. With this project, I said, “let’s take this empty lot filled with rocks and turn it into a state-of-the-art interactive Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame tourism attraction.” At our very first design meeting, I said, “bring me Disney World without the Disney budget of course.” That has been the story of my life and God blessed me with vision. It was important for this to be a permanent tourism attraction that is free for  visitors and connects generations through technology. 

Can you walk us through what visitors will see when they come to the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame? 

It is important to note that this is a tourism attraction that has something for everyone, from the grandparents to the grandchildren. It’s an outdoor year-round technology amusement park. You will be able to enjoy interactive album kiosks and there is music throughout the park. There are also screens with Augmented Reality (AR), an interactive beatmaker machine with a colorful water fountain with laser lights, a special 3D STAR for selfies and more. It’s fun for the entire family! 

Why is the legacy of Black music so important? 

Black music and Black musical artists created sounds that have impacted all genres of music and these stories need to be told. Some of these Black artists were not allowed to perform in fancy facilities or stadiums. Others had to break in their songs at the skating rinks or the chitlin circuit or even had to sing with their backs turned to the audience. Many Black musical artists also had their ownership rights stolen. 

As a Black woman Developer, Creator and Founder of the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame, why is that important? 

I want to open doors for Black women and girls in general. It is important for them to see me doing all this work and breaking down barriers so they know that they can do the same and achieve whatever it is they set their mind to. I don’t want the next generation to be told they can’t do it. 

How is the Black Music Walk of Fame Funded? How much did the project cost and is there any private investment? 

The infrastructure is funded by Hamilton County primarily through ARPA replacement funding for economic development. The Stars are funded by Procter & Gamble. This is a public and private partnership. Everything on the Banks is located on top of a garage because of the flood plain. Therefore, this project was in two parts; the garage and the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame on top. The project is $24 million dollars, the least expensive project on the banks to date. And, the Cincinnati Black Music Walk of Fame is free and open to the public. 

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1 Comment

  1. Alicia Reese is, herself, a Hamilton County treasure. Her love of this city and county is unmatched in my opinion. She continues to leave history for all of us to learn from. I cant wait to see the Walk of Fame and get in on all the excitement. I will take my grandson so he can learn and appreciate those who made everlasting music for everyone. Thank you Alicia .

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