In 1973, Stax Records’ Dale Warren was fresh off the success of his smash hit composition “Salvation Symphony” performed by an orchestra the year before at the famed Wattstax concert Stax hosted in Los Angeles in front of more than 112,000 people. He had also arranged Isaac Hayes’ industry-changing Hot Buttered Soul, The Isaac Hayes Movement, and …To Be Continued albums, and had written compositions for other Stax artists including Albert King, the Staple Singers, The Bar-Kays, and Eddie Floyd.
Yet somehow he came up with the idea to bring a soul and funk music group of more than a dozen teens from Cincinnati to Memphis who’d been touring the county in a rented U-Haul, eating cold spaghetti out of cans, and were broke. They called themselves The Ditalians.
But Warren, a classically trained violinist and piano and cello prodigy (he was also the nephew of Berry Gordy’s second wife Raynoma and had arranged strings at Motown) had a vision. First the group would change their name to 24-Carat Black, and he would them guide them through recording a concept album about poverty, Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth. The album documented inner-city life and was full of major shifts in the arrangement, which included chimes, strings, gospel, and spoken word. It was filled with a kind of dark imagery and themes of the country’s low-income communities, an audience that ultimately didn’t embrace their music.
This was around the time that Stax was having severe financial problems due to a stagnant distribution deal with CBS Records, and the LP received very little to no attention from Stax publicity department. It was all but lost in the dustbins.
However, in the 1990s, it became an inspiration for a new generation of hip-hop artists, and was sampled by the likes of Eric B, Dr. Dre, Jay-Z , Digable Planets, Naughty by Nature, and, more recently, Kendrick Lamar, Metro Boomin, and Pusha T. Much has been made in the press about the original band members not receiving royalties, and much has been made about Ghetto: Misfortune’s Wealth now being one of the most influential albums – on its own – of all time, and what Warren is most known for.
On Thursday evening, October 6 at 7 p.m., the Stax Museum of American Soul Music will host for the first-in-50-years a reunion of three of the original members of the band along with their biographer Zach Schonfeld. The original members who will engage the crowd in a listening party and lively discussion include singer C. Niambi Steele, saxophonist Jerome Derrickson, and singer Princess Hearn, who actually married Warren at age 16 and later divorced him before his death in 1994. Subsequent recordings by 24-Carat Black have been released by the Numero Group and Craft Recordings.
“These three original members, along with their biographer Zach Schonfeld are extremely excited to be coming back to be reunited for the first time in decades,” said Stax Museum executive director Jeff Kollath. “This has been a long time coming and we hope we can play our part in making them as relevant today as they were in 1973.”
The event is free and open to the general public.