An award-winning documentary on jazz music in Rhode Island co-written and directed by Community College of Rhode Island Videographer and Film Professor Norm Grant and filmmaker Tom Shaker will be featured as part of the CCRI’s Black History Month festivities at all four campuses.
Grant co-wrote and co-directed “Do It, Man! The Story of The Celebrity Club,” which premiered in 2017, with Shaker, a fellow college professor and author. The film tells the story of Providence’s legendary Celebrity Club, which featured the top national jazz and R&B acts throughout the 1950s and was widely considered the first interracial nightclub in New England.
Owned by local businessman Paul Fillipi, who years later went on to open Ballard’s Beach Resort on Block Island, the Celebrity Club hosted the likes of Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Duke Ellington, uniting people of all cultures through music in what were remembered as turbulent times for race relations in Rhode Island.
“Do It, Man!” screens for free on the following dates, times and locations during Black History Month: February 19 from 12:30–2 pm at the Liston Campus Auditorium, February 20 from 1–2:30 pm in Room 222 of the Newport County Campus, February 24 from 1–2:30 pm in Room 2344 of the Flanagan Campus, and February 25 from noon–1:30 pm in Room 1130 of the Knight Campus.
The film earned the 2018 Peter C. Rollins Award for Best Documentary Film through the American Popular Culture Association and the 2018 Best Documentary Film award at the Shawna Shea Film Festival. “Do It, Man!” also screened at the 2018 Rhode Island Black Film Festival and the 2018 Miami Independent Film Festival.
“It’s nice to see it screened here,” said Grant, who laid the groundwork for the documentary more than a decade ago with Shaker. “When you look at the news in recent years, race is still a relevant story, so I think this story is still relevant because of that.”
Retired CCRI music professor Lloyd Kaplan approached Grant more than a decade ago about profiling the history of jazz music in Rhode Island. Grant read Who’s Who in Rhode Island Jazz, a book written by Kaplan and Hall of Fame bass player Bob Petteruti, and became fascinated with the section detailing the Celebrity Club, hence the idea to write and produce a documentary on the club’s origins. Grant and Shaker teamed up on the project and began interviewing subjects for the film in 2005, from local musicians to noted historians.
In addition to the music, “Do It, Man!” focuses heavily on Rhode Island’s tempestuous race relations in the ‘50s. Black musicians were often denied access to hotels in order to perform at local venues, Grant said, but Fillipi owned a handful of rooms above the Celebrity Club and would allow visiting performers to stay for a week at a time so they could play each night in front of sold-out crowds. The Celebrity Club, located in the Randall Square section of Providence, closed in the early ‘60s after first opening its doors in 1949, but is often credited for ushering in a wave of social change in Rhode Island.
“If it wasn’t a turning point in race relations in the state,” Grant said, “I think it was at least a significant step forward.”
A former award-winning photojournalist who has had his work published in the New York Daily News, Boston Globe and USA Today, Grant worked in CCRI’s Department of Information Technology before joining the Marketing and Communications Department. He is the college’s chief videographer and currently teaches Foundations of Video and Audio Production, Media and Broadcast History and Documentary Production.
CCRI is at the forefront of improving the ways community college students are prepared to advance their education and career prospects. Last May, the college achieved its highest two- and three-year graduation rates in more than 20 years and awarded more credentials than ever before. The college expects to have the highest three-year graduation rate of any community college in New England by 2021.