Historic poet: Dowagiac artist using music to teach local history

Published 2:28 pm Tuesday, September 20, 2022

DOWAGIAC — A Dowagiac resident is using music and media to educate listeners on local history.

Ellis “LILEL” Bethea, a local music producer and hip-hop artist, has been using the history of local communities to create music. His content can be found on YouTube, Facebook, TikTok and Instagram.

A recent graduate of Benton Harbor High School, Bethea moved to Dowagiac where he has spent the past year and a half pouring over page after page of local history books and newspaper articles for research on local communities for future projects. A professed lover of antique and thrift stores, Bethea estimates he has purchased approximately $12,000-worth of vintage vinyl records to use for archiving and sampling.

“A lot of people are throwing away older books,” he said. “(A book) still has information, it still has a soul. Reading allows me to time travel, learn and study it. I’m showing gratitude to the people who came before me and I’m using that knowledge to educate and make it interesting for the younger generation.”

His most recent song, “Twin Cities,” delves into the history of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph. The music video, shot with a VHS recorder camera, has more than 8,000 views on YouTube.

Bethea said that his process begins with reading newspaper archives and history books. After studying and asking questions, he breaks down the knowledge into sound form by producing an instrumental and writing lyrics. After shooting the video at relevant locations, he then uploads them to social media.

According to Bethea, the feedback he has received has been positive.

“A lot of people say ‘I never knew that,’” he said. “Exploring and finding new creative ways to present information has always been a passion of mine. You can make a song or a creative entity out of anything.”

Bethea has spent countless hours at the Dowagiac District Library researching local history for a future project. Keeping history alive using music is something that he does not plan on stopping any time soon.

“I feel I’m going deeper than high school and college history books,” he said. “I feel like the older generation is passing the baton to me. When they see me and what I’m doing, I want them to know that the information will be in good hands.”