Private Project

River City Drumbeat

For three decades Ed “Nardie” White has led an African-American drum corps in Louisville, Kentucky, inspiring youth to thrive by connecting with the cultural traditions of their ancestors. Mr. White trains his successor Albert Shumake to take over, while high-schoolers Imani and Jailen, and preteen Emily navigate adolescence in this multigenerational story of music, love, and legacy set in the American South.

  • Marlon Johnson
    Singular (2019), Symphony in D (2017), Deep City: Birth of the Miami Sound (2014)
  • Anne Flatté
    Symphony for Nature (2018), Music Makes a City Now (2014-2017)
  • Owsley Brown
    Serenade for Haiti (Serenad pou Ayiti) (2016), Music Makes a City (2010), Night Waltz: The Music of Paul Bowles (1999)
  • Marlon Johnson
    Deep City: The Birth of the Miami Sound (2014), Symphony in D (2017), Sweet Dillard (2015)
  • Anne Flatté
    Serenade for Haiti (Serenad pou Ayiti) (2016), Music Makes A City (2010)
  • Ed "Nardie" White
    Key Cast
  • Albert Shumake
    Key Cast
  • Jailen Leavell
    Key Cast
  • Imani Keith
    Key Cast
  • Emily Carey
    Key Cast
  • Project Type:
    Documentary, Feature
  • Genres:
    Music, Arts, Education, African American, African American History, Black History, Black Arts
  • Runtime:
    1 hour 34 minutes
  • Country of Origin:
    United States
  • Country of Filming:
    United States
  • Shooting Format:
  • Aspect Ratio:
  • Film Color:
  • First-time Filmmaker:
  • Student Project:
    New York
    United States
    November 12, 2019
    World Premiere
    Official Selection
Distribution Information
  • Argot Pictures
    Rights: Theatrical
Director Biography - Marlon Johnson, Anne Flatté

Marlon Johnson is a nine-time Emmy award-winning producer and director. He has worked on award-winning documentary films exploring music and cultural issues like Singular (2019), Symphony in D (2017), Emmy- winning Sunday’s Best (2010) and Coconut Grove: A Sense of Place (2005). The Ford Foundation commissioned Marlon to direct the documentary Breaking the Silence (2006) which chronicled the rise of HIV infection in the Black-American South. Marlon served as Head of Production and Senior Producer/Editor for Plum TV and helped create TeleAmerica Broadcasting Network. His documentary Deep City: Birth of the Miami Sound (SXSW 2014) aired nation-wide on PBS. He has a B.S. in Communications from University of Miami.

Anne Flatté is an award-winning filmmaker whose work highlights stories about music and community. She is director and producer of Symphony for Nature (PBS, 2018), the web series Music Makes a City Now (YouTube,, and producer of Serenade for Haiti (World Premiere, DOC NYC 2016). She co-produced and edited Music Makes a City (2010), and the TV version for broadcast (PBS, 2014). Her editing credits include Monumental: David Brower's Fight for Wild America (2004), What Do You Believe? (2003), and Devil's Teeth (2005). Anne has an M.A. in Documentary Film from Stanford University, where she directed the shorts Interlove Story and Body of Tradition. She has a B.A. in Middle Eastern Studies from UC Berkeley.

Add Director Biography
Director Statement

We are honored to be entrusted with the stories of Edward White and the drum corps he began with his late wife Zambia Nkrumah in Louisville, Kentucky thirty years ago. Over the last twenty years of filmmaking, we have both been drawn to stories about people who shine through negativity by creating community and connection with music and the arts. The drum corps philosophy—that communities need to provide time, resources, and mentors so that every child has what they need to thrive—resonates deeply with our own values.

We came to this story through our producer Owsley Brown, a Louisville native with a dedication to independent documentaries that explore the power of art and music. Owsley introduced us to Mr. White, a local hero at the critical crossroads of his last year leading the drum corps. We felt compelled to begin filming this iconic person before he moved on, and wondered if and how the group would survive when he stepped down. Mr. White became our partner in telling his own life story and brought us into a welcoming drum corps community that included his successor Albert Shumake, graduating seniors Imani and Jailen, and preteen Emily, each navigating their life transitions. Together we created an impressionistic, character-driven journey, where the protagonists and their emotional lives formed the core of the film. At the same time, we explored the rich geography of Louisville, a city that reveals the systemic forces at the core of many of our country’s issues today.

We believe our directing team's diversity has been a great asset and helped us create a more truthful film. Marlon grew up in a southern low-income African-American neighborhood (Liberty City, Miami), and through the saving grace of art became an accomplished filmmaker and father of four. As a storyteller, Marlon wants to convey the life-saving importance of art to the people of the drum corps, whose experiences reflect his own life journey. Anne brings her filmmaking, musical, and parenting background to the project, and is dedicated to bringing the protagonists' internal dialogues and emotions into the film.

As filmmakers, we are committed to experiential and cinematic content over dispensing information. We had a minimal crew who were invested in the human relationships first. We find this kind of filmmaking leads to organic truths being revealed, authentic moments that bring the viewer into a meaningful relationship with the protagonists. In the edit, we favor the slow build and the process of discovery, trusting our audiences to meet the film with openness.

We believe there is a large audience for moving, immersive nonfiction films like River City Drumbeat featuring people of color, both onscreen and in creative leadership roles, and present the film in this spirit.