March 8th marks International Women’s Day and celebrates the political, social, and cultural achievements of women in society. A formidable force in the Cincinnati music industry, Morrella Raleigh, the owner and operator of The Southgate House Revival, sat down with Inhailer to discuss what it’s like to run one of the most notorious music venues in the city and how being a woman informs the way she does business.
“We’re focused on doing as much of a variety as we can in the independent realm,” she begins when I ask about the state of things in 2019 at The Southgate House Revival. While so much has changed in our world since The Southgate House Revival first opened its doors in 2012, certain things have remained the same. The leadership, for one, has always been Morrella Raleigh.
Raleigh took to the helm of directing her family business after working for years under the guidance of her father Ross Raleigh. He began promoting shows in the mid 1970s at their former location, now the current site of The Thompson House. A family dispute forced the Raleigh family to close The Southgate House in 2011. But by October 2012, The Southgate House Revival opened for business in a somewhat unlikely new location, the former Grace Methodist Episcopal Church. While she was immediately drawn to the site, her father Ross had some reservations, “He was concerned people would be worried we were relocating a music venue in a church,” she recalled, but “especially when we closed the old place, we saw how much it meant to people. People told [us] stories of meeting their spouses there or seeing their first show there. It’s like if anything, churches are community and bring people together and that’s what we’re still doing.”
“He is very missed here.”
Morrella Raleigh lost her father this past June and has continued the legacy he had helped to create. “He was very much a presence here. He was here for all kinds of shows, not just the ones that he was fans of. He would watch all kinds of things. Every day, every night.” While that loss is one that is still deeply felt, continuing on the tradition of what she created with her father has been possible thanks to a supportive team. “I have an amazing staff. I have a right-hand woman, Christy McDaniel,” adding that McDaniel handles everything from serving cocktails to daily operations to maintaining payroll. “We’ve been very good friends, probably for 25 years and she’s worked for us for about 10.” Raleigh also noted the support from Sarah Davis, who maintains online ticketing sales and social media, “She’s a lot younger than me, but I see a lot of myself in her and her enthusiasm and she’s very capable.” Raleigh jokingly added, “I do have a few guys working here,” before reflecting more seriously, “I think going through what I went through with my dad, having that strong of a staff behind me, did allow me to take some time away and grieve and do the things I needed to do on a personal level.”
Beyond the personal challenges this year with the loss of the father, Raleigh notes the industry has somewhat prepared her for this, “The thing about the music industry is the dynamics of it change constantly.” That isn’t to dismiss the influence of her supportive upbringing, “My parents were both very encouraging of me. In fact, I did grow up thinking I could do anything I wanted.” Beginning in the industry, she noted, “I can remember those first few jobs out of college where it was like, okay this is a real thing that they’re treating me differently because I am a woman, you know? It was kind of harsh the first couple of times that you realize that.”
She flashes a big grin defiantly with a bit of a twinkle in her eye, “but I’m stubborn, so it just fired me up even more.”
Undoubtedly it is this stubbornness and undeterred approach that has gotten Raleigh this far and her reputation precedes her. “I feel fortunate that I have the experience under my belt and the years of working in the industry because obviously relationships, you know, [and] your reputation are key.”
“Given our current political climate and that kind of thing, it does make you step back,” Raleigh added describing the difficulties and worries of being a woman in a predominantly male industry. “The old guard, let’s say, is still very much….you know a lot of the agencies that represent the bands, that sort of thing, are very much run by men.”
Our conversation turns to the current discourse at large in the entertainment industry, ““I think Hollywood and Music, they’re both certainly entertainment, but Hollywood’s a different entity.” She continued, “I think that’s one thing the #MeToo Movement has kind of shined a light on… we still have a long way to go.” And as for artists such as Ryan Adams, “Those real consequences for people are important,” referring to the loss of distribution and of sponsors dropping him following accusations of sexual misconduct. “We have come a long way and we have a lot of artists now both male and female standing up and saying, “That’s not the world we want to work in as artists.’ And that’s an important step.”
The Southgate House Revival is owned and operated by Morrella Raleigh. It is located at 111 E 6th Street in Newport, Kentucky. You can find more information about their wide variety of live music here.