Self-published author Jacob Katel describes himself as “an ’80s baby from Mexico City raised in Miami since 1988… attended Little Carver, Sunset, Ponce, South Miami, and Coral Gables schools. Fourth-generation writer. Russian Jew. Anti-establishment.”
Some years ago, Katel read an article in a Canadian newspaper about a Sam Cooke album recorded in Overtown at the Harlem Square nightclub. Curious to know the reason the album was not released until 20 years after Cooke’s death, Katel researched music including disco, the Miami sound, funk and R&B history. All of those topics led him to Henry Stone.
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In 2011, Katel called Stone, requested, and received an interview. Later Katel suggested, and Stone agreed, that they could write a book together about the music industry in the mid-to-late 20 century. Based on interviews with Stone and others, “The Stone Cold Truth on Payola in the Music Biz,” was published in 2013.
Katel prepared for the interviews by researching Stone’s life and work. The interviews, as short as five minutes and as long as seven hours occurred on a regular schedule provided background information.
Some interviewees were black people who lived and attended school in Overtown, Liberty City or Brownsville neighborhoods during a time when those areas were restricted to black people by custom and law. In the late 1960s, federal legislation lifted the restrictions. Other interviewees were white people who conducted business in the black neighborhoods.
At an early age, Stone was sent to a Jewish reform school upstate in Pleasantville. While there, he learned to play trumpet. Later, he served with the U. S. Army in World War II, where he played in one of the military’s few mixed-race bands.
In 1948, Stone settled in Miami. During his lifetime he was involved in every part of the music industry, but his passion was “making records.” He eventually manufactured records and built a substantial celebrated distribution of records to jukebox operators in Overtown and throughout Florida.
Along the way, he helped launch the careers of numerous performers many of whom were black Americans including Ray Charles, James Brown, Timmy Thomas, Betty Wright and George McCrae. He also worked with the multiracial KC and the Sunshine Band.
More than 300 pages long, “The Stone Cold Truth” is neither biographical nor in linear order. In fact, Stone made it clear,“no family stuff.” According to Katel, “All we ever talked about was music, or music business.”
Stone, in colorful language, recalled personalities, events, and transactions mostly in Miami including stories about Ray Charles, James Brown, Sam & Dave, Aretha Franklin, Prince, The Bee Gees, paying radio DJs for airplay and gun violence at TK Productions. This book ends with Fresh Kid Ice of 2 Live Crew remembering Stone.
Stone was a leader in disco music, TK Records, and the Miami sound which was widely known. TK Productions had 27 gold records for worldwide sales. Stone had his own record labels and was the distributor nationally for the other record companies. For many years, he hosted the record distribution pipeline. The New York Times, Billboard Magazine and The Telegraph in the United Kingdom all reported his 2014 death in Miami at age 93.
After Stone died, Katel continued interviewing and publishing. Early in the process, it was decided that the traditional narrative literary style did not fit this intended work. Katel read and adopted for the Stone project Mark Twain’s ideas about autobiography/biography: It should not be written chronologically, and entertaining topics should be presented at will.
Katel’s next book, “A People’s History of Overtown Vol. 1,” contains more than 150 pages of of reminiscences by former Overtown residents and musicians/performers including retired police Lieutenant Archive McKay, Irb McKnight, Steve Alaimo, Clint from the Bahamas, Jerry Butler, Pastor Vincent Spann, Kelsey Collie, Sonny Rabin, Abdul Mushin and Enid C. Pinkney. Each gives highlights about their connection to music and Overtown.
The book contains some inaccuracies, which Katel should correct for the sake of history. Still, his insight and efforts in preserving Stone’s legacy brings value and adds to the body of knowledge of the music industry and Miami’s history.
Dorothy Jenkins Fields, PhD, is a historian and founder of the Black Archives, History and Research Foundation of South Florida Inc. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you go
Author Jacob Katel will speak about Miami’s music scene during the Miami Book Fair at 3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 19, at Miami Dade College, Room 7128, 300 NE Second Ave., downtown Miami.