River City Drumbeat (2019) reviewed by Jonathan Berk

River City Drumbeat (2019) documents the River City Drum Corps in Louisville, Kentucky. Co-founder  Edward “Nardie” White and his assistant, former member of the corps Albert Shumake, showcase the incredible music program that helps children find an outlet for art. The philosophies of the corp spawn from White and his wife Zambia Nkrumah, and many of their drummers have gone on to college and have “survived” the dangerous streets of their community. 

Directors Anne Flatte and Marlon Johnson capture the beauty of the music and art that White and Nkrumah have established. There are several sequences in the film – some stylized, and others more straightforward – that capture the level of musical talent the program builds in its students. What is even more impressive is the wide range of ages of the students in the program. Members of the organization start with pipe drums that they decorate and build themselves with the help of the teachers. These scenes emphasize the various levels of education embedded in what White has built, and its necessity to the community. 

It is revealed that Shumake will be taking the reigns from White, who is ready to retire – and his nervousness and excitement about carrying the tradition into future generations. Shumake emotionally reveals the significance of RCDC on his life, and how it helped shape him into the man he is proud to be. The candid nature of this film is what makes it such a moving documentary. Art has value. Art has value in the Black community. There are options outside of sports or gangs, and this film doesn’t shy away from those social problems embedded with the world. 

Of course, those themes are even more prevalent in our society that is in the middle of what hopefully will finally be the correct conclusion started well over a hundred years ago: equality for all American citizens, and the systems in place to marginalize a demographic finally deconstructed and rebuilt to serve the greater good of the citizens. This peek into a small community offers ideas that could easily be made universally. The current students of the program that get screen time all have compelling stories and hopeful futures mostly tied to the program. 

River City Drumbeat will click for any music lovers, art lovers, teachers, or people who believe in the power of education to better one’s situation. There are some great shots, and solid interviews, and the people at the center of the documentary are fantastic. River City Drumbeat earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.

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