Oakland woman's soundtrack makes a comeback

Carrie Cleveland is taken back to the 1970's when she listens to one of her songs, a time when soulful, disco music reigned supreme.

"When I hear it, it makes me feel good," Cleveland said. 

She and her late husband, Bill Cleveland, recorded love songs in a garage studio off E. 14th Street in Oakland. Bill wrote the songs she sang and played the instruments. In 1980, the couple released a little known gem of an album "Carrie Cleveland, Looking Up." They only cut a thousand copies. The 77-year-old remembers her music making it to a local AM radio station.

"Wow, they're playing my record! They're playing my record. Because the radio at that time, you couldn't hardly get them to play it," she said.

Carrie and Bill also performed around the Bay Area with their band "The Creative Set" at places like Disco City, Bancroft Street Lounge, Ruthie's Inn, and HS Lordships. But Carrie's music never took off and almost faded.

After Bill passed away in 1994, she eventually gave up singing with the band. Instead, she chose to focus on her job as a housekeeper at Children's Hospital in Oakland. She retired as an X-ray assistant.

Fast forward to 2017. Carrie's son, Heston Cleveland, was on the Internet.

"I'm like, wait a minute… my mom has a record that's 30 years old and it's still in the plastic. I wonder how much it's going for," he said.

The results shocked him.

"It said high end it goes for $450 and I'm like, mom it's $450," he said. "And she said, 'Shut up. I don't want to hear it.' But I'm like hold on, that's your name. We need to look into this, this is your money."

Heston quickly sold two original copies of the record to Record and Tapes in Oakland. The owner paid $200 for each album. It turned out Carrie's music was also popular overseas. A man named Chris Webb in London had been looking for Carrie. Webb's company, Kalita Records, specializes in unearthing soul, funk, and disco music.

"He called and asked for Heston," Carrie said of Webb's phone call.  "I said, 'Heston some guy wants to talk to you.' I couldn't understand him and after he got done talking he said, 'Mom that was a guy calling about the record!"

After months of communication, Kalita Records reissued Carrie's album in September 2018. It comes complete with notes on her life and love story with Bill.

"It's like [Bill] is here again. It's a good feeling," she said. "My son and I, we cried when we first got it and we started playing it, we cried."

Heston said he realizes now how good his father's music is and has come to appreciate it much more. People of all ages are now enjoying the music too. The album is in record stores. A CD can be bought from Amazon, EBay, and Juno Records. Her music can also be streamed or downloaded on Apple Music, Spotify, Deezer, and Google Play. 

Carrie knows Bill would have loved to see this resurgence. Their soundtrack made a comeback. 

"It's a beautiful feeling and it's even more beautiful because my husband did all of these songs and I think they are so beautiful," Carrie said. "I will always, as long as I live, I will always have a part of my husband with me."