Black History Month is about community and culture, and Cincinnati residents are honoring both by creating street art featuring Cincinnati-based Black icons. Local nonprofit ArtWorks is behind some truly stunning murals created by Black artists and depicting groundbreaking celebrities who embodied Black excellence as well as Cincinnati culture in their careers. Legends Mamie Smith, James Brown, and Ezzard Charles can be found in murals across the city, representing their Cincinnati roots.
Mamie Smith, depicted in the mural Dreaming Blues, claims the title of the first African American blues recording artist. Born in Cincinnati in 1891, the “Queen of the Blues,” blazed a trail in the genre for both African American and female blues musicians. Smith later went on to star in multiple motion pictures, and her recording, “Crazy Blues,” was selected to be part of the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress in 2003. Dreaming Blues is part of the Cincinnati Legends Series, a series of murals across the city recognizing the most inspiring Cincinnati natives and residents who left lasting legacies in their careers in Cincinnati and beyond.
Mr. Dynamite, an iconic, technicolor mural in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, is an homage to James Brown, in honor of his early years spent recording on the Cincinnati-based label King Records. Some of Brown’s earliest hits were released on King Records, and they launched his international career. Brown shaped the world of funk, soul and hip hop and was one of the first inductees into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when it was founded in 1986.
Ezzard Charles: The Cincinnati Cobra is a mural honoring two-time World Heavyweight Champion Ezzard Charles. Charles grew up in Cincinnati and began boxing as a teenager before joining the world of prize fighting to contend with greats like Jersey Joe Walcott and Joe Louis. He won his two heavyweight titles in 1949 and 1950 and was inducted into the International Boxing Hall of Fame in 1990. Ezzard Charles was a widely respected citizen of Cincinnati as well as a jazz musician in the local music scene. Ezzard Charles: The Cincinnati Cobra can be found just down the street from James Brown’s mural in the Over-the-Rhine neighborhood, and it represents ArtWorks 100th completed mural since its inception in 2007.
ArtWorks has also sponsored other pieces depicting the city’s diverse history for Black History Month. Most notably, Cincinnati’s Lincoln Heights is home to a mural celebrating the first independently governed African American community in Ohio. The mural was created by residents of the historically Black Lincoln Heights neighborhood and under the direction of Black artists and designers.