The Tiny Record Empire in Cleveland

Thomas Boddie never had aspirations to build another Motown, but the legacy left in his sealed-up studio is an important piece of musical history.

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The Boddies managed to rustle up $2,100 to pay for two behemoth machines with manual presses. It took four minutes to press a record by hand. Louise did the manual labor, placing a ball of melted vinyl pellets into a lathe, then yanking down the heavy cover on the press. Each record took four minutes to set in the press, during which time Louise trimmed other records and put them in sleeves.

Pressing an order of 1,000 records -- about the maximum the Boddies could handle -- took several days' work. "It built up my arm muscles," Louise says with a laugh. "I didn't like standing on my feet that long, but I did it."

The Riots Signal the End

The Boddies had spread plenty of mom-and-pop goodwill in Cleveland, often hosting groups from local high schools to train on their equipment. But their business took a hit after the 1966 Hough race riots in the area, says Louise. Some of the couple's white clientele flat out told the Boddies that they feared visiting their neighborhood and would no longer be coming.

But Thomas made up the loss with increased organ business. After the riots, says Louise, the white organ servicemen were afraid to work in Glenville, which in the 1960s had become a predominantly African-American neighborhood. "One of them said to my husband, 'Will you take over the churches that I had over there? I don't feel so safe going over there.' So Tom made a joke out of it. He said, 'If I had known that, I'd have started a riot a long time ago.'"      

Louise says at first that it was a little odd to have these two hipsters from Numero Group in her backyard, going through all her husband's arcana. "We kept all of these things, but I didn't think nothing much of it. Then Dante came, and he would go, 'Oh, gee, Mrs. Boddie, you've got a whole history here.' He was just so excited, it made me excited.

"I hope that it will be something that people will get to know and really appreciate. Because our children -- when I say our children, I mean my race in particular -- they need to know that you can come from nothing and become something."

Laura Putre is a freelance journalist from Cleveland who has written for the Chicago Reader, The Advocate and O: The Oprah Magazine.

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