A historic Black-owned tourist court and dining room from the segregation-era South is getting new life as a musician rehearsal space and soul food kitchen. Nationally acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, songwriter, recording artist Claude Coleman Jr. (30-year drummer for the alternative rock band Ween) and lifelong musician and producer Brett Spivey are behind the effort to restore this landmark, honoring the Black community of Southside in Asheville and the history of the motel, including famous guests like Richard Pryor and R&B legend Jackie Wilson. Practice rooms in the venue are open and a soul food kitchen/cafe will open in late 2021, plus mixed-medium artist amenities, fully realizing this important Asheville landmark. Chef Clarence Robinson, an Asheville native and relative to Rabbit’s Motel’s original owner, will pay homage to the establishment’s original operators while informing a new vision for this addition to Asheville’s rich food scene.
Rabbit’s Motel and the Southside Community: Established in 1948 by Fred “Rabbit” Simpson, Rabbit’s Motel was considered a crown jewel of Black-owned tourist courts in the segregation-era South, providing lodging and dining for Black visitors. At the heart of Rabbit’s Motel was Lou Ella Byrd’s beloved soul food kitchen, a town favorite in operation for over 50 years and known for its “pork chops the size of bibles.” Rabbit’s Motel sat in the heart of Southside, a flourishing Black neighborhood with drive-in diners, clubs and hotels that supported a robust local music scene of Black artists and bands. Municipal neglect and Urban Renewal upended the community with entire neighborhoods dispossessed and roads redrawn. Today, with equity and collaboration at the forefront, SoundSpace will soon begin a series of workshops and events to foster arts in underserved communities. Coleman and Spivey will also produce a livestream series featuring Afro-centric performances and host a multi-artist mural project on the building’s exterior.