Bluesman extraordinaire Bobby Rush checks out the moves of Tennessee Hall of Fame radio personality Bev Johnson during the concert that kicked off the screening of “The Birth of Soul Music” by local filmmaker George Whitaker Tillman Jr. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

“The Birth of Soul Music” screened at the Orpheum Theatre last weekend, kicking off with a live concert on May 7. Local film writer, George Whitaker Tillman Jr., showcased his latest documentary.

For local filmmaker George Whitaker Tillman Jr., “The Birth of Soul Music” was another of his labors of love. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

Music lovers as well as history buffs came to check out the music and the film, which features Grammy Award-winning singer Bobby Rush talking about how Club Paradise was back in its heyday.

“I came to Club Paradise right after Muddy Waters and B.B. King,” said Rush in the film’s trailer. “Everybody who was anybody came to the Club Paradise. Gospel, blues, R&B – they all came through these doors.”

Rush was filmed in front of what he calls the “Wall of Soul.” Many performers and recording artists have their images on the wall. Rush remembers the ’50s and ’60s, when Club Paradise hosted soul and blues greats: Tyrone Davis, The Dells, The Temptations, Ike and Tina Turner, William Bell, Howling Wolf and Aretha Franklin.

Rush even recalled  Elvis Presley playing Club Paradise. From Detroit to Chicago, up from the cotton fields of Mississippi, blues greats and soul stirrers made Club Paradise the place to be.

Soul music lovers had plenty to tap their feet to at the live concert. (Photo: Tyrone P. Easley)

Vintage photos of patrons enjoying live shows, authentic recordings of groups and artists long deceased create a historical record of how soul music got its start.

A stellar football player at South Side High School, Tillman attended Fisk University on a track and field scholarship and played on a championship Fisk football team. He became a prolific player of the harmonica and developed a great love and interest in filmmaking and music. Tillman was deeply moved by the closing of Stax Records.

Tillman wrote and produced “The Lucky Eleven” about how 11 students played football together at South Side High School and how they all went to Fisk University in Nashville together in the early 1970s. Tillman was one of those 11. The documentary was screened on the campus of Fisk University in late 2017.

Documentaries are his artistic production of choice.

Additional screenings of “The Birth of Soul Music” will be announced.

The documentary was produced by Cinematic Arts, and edited by TRE Productions.