Robert Godwin, Sr. lived an ordinary life until he died at 74. Then he went viral.
Easter 2017 was sunny and bright, a celebratory event for Clevelanders fatigued by grey skies and winter worries. Godwin had just eaten Easter dinner at his son’s house. He was going about his regular routine of gathering discarded cans along the road when a stranger walked up to him. They barely had two words before Steve Stephens killed Godwin, video of which he posted to Facebook. The murder stunned the family and shocked the nation.
The nation has moved on, distracted by the relentless crush of news, but Godwin’s family is still caught in grief and disbelief, two years later, over the death of the man they all call “Daddy.”
“Everybody calls him ‘Daddy,’" says his grandson, rapper/producer Sam Dexter, who goes by his performing name Sam Poetry. “I don’t think I’ve ever called him granddad.”
Sam Poetry inherited his grandfather’s album collection - a boon because Sam is an avid collector himself. He works as a producer/engineer at Lava Room Recording. To honor his grandfather and help the family heal, he sampled cuts from the albums into a beat tape entitled “Robert.”
“This project is dedicated to my Godwin family, who are still grieving and trying to cope,” Poetry said while introducing the project on Instagram.
The album is laid-back, a musical reflection of his grandfather’s personality, Sam Poetry says. The opening cut starts out with a sample from The O’Jay’s “Forever Mine,” but even Sam Poetry doesn’t know all the artists he used.
“I definitely sampled Teddy Pendergrass’s “Turn Off the Lights.” But other than that, I was so in the zone, I can’t remember what each beat is from,” he says, adding he changed keys and tempos to make his cuts unique and distinctive.
Sam Poetry’s parents separated, and he grew up with his father in Niagara Falls. There he was always surrounded by music.
“(My dad) had this component set with really big speakers. It sounded like you were at a concert,” he says. “I’m talking about sun up to sun down, he was just playing records. I did my homework to music; I ate dinner to music; I slept to music.”
Sam Poetry, 36, started rapping when he was youngster. He began producing in his late teens. He left New York and moved to Los Angeles to launch a music career. Heds still be there, he says, but a close cousin was murdered. The airline botched a flight back to Niagara Falls for the funeral, and offered to fly him wherever he wanted.
“I wanted to go to Cleveland to see my mom. A lot of my siblings were here already. My aunt got me a job. (The move) was supposed to be temporary, “ he says. “But I met a young lady, she got pregnant and I did right. Here I am, Cleveland, Ohio, eight years later. That’s the good thing about life. It don’t care about none of your plans.”
The move to Cleveland brought him closer to his grandfather. Sam Poetry’s mother, Tammy Godwin, is his oldest daughter. She doesn't drive, so her father took her places. Because Robert Godwin didn’t get much education growing up in Alabama, Tammy Godwin often handled his affairs.
“That’s when I saw him the most,” Sam Poetry says. “He was always on the phone; they were really, really close.”
After Robert Godwin’s murder, his children took on the task of cleaning out his apartment. Tammy Godwin says it was a tall order. Her father loved to pick up discards and repair them.
“We got 12 vacuum cleaners out my dad’s house and gave them to people in his building,“ she says. “Talking about ‘Sanford & Son’ up in that house! It took us about four hours to clean it out. It was clean, but there was stuff everywhere. It was an accomplishment for him to get stuff and fix it. “
In fact, much of the album collection Poetry worked from was a retrieval. Tammy Godwin says her father rescued them from a dumpster near the Save-A-Lot grocery on East 276th and Euclid.
“Someone threw away a whole bunch of albums. And my dad pulled his car up and took them out of the garbage.”
The family didn’t hesitate when it came to giving Sam the records.
“Sam has always been the musical person in the family, out of all my children. He had a unique relationship with my father,” Tammy Godwin says.
The “bunch” was about 100 records. Sam Poetry let them sit for a year before he finally decided check them out. About a third of the albums were no good, so he tossed them. Still, he had a wide-ranging collection.
“The entire crate was a surprise,” he says. “Of course you’ve got your “Earth Wind and Fire”, Cameo, Parliament Funkadelic. He had everything. He had country, jazz records… gospel, movie stuff, I’ve never seen. I wasn’t expecting it.”
Sam put his project together in a week. He believes the beat tape came together because he was working to resolve the trauma of his grandfather’s murder. Robert Godwin, Sr. left 10 children behind. The family has not recovered.
“Now the news cameras are gone, the story has died down, but my family is extremely devastated by what happened,” Sam Poetry says. “I did (the project) for my family. It’s from his collection; it’s something we can all enjoy."
Check it out here.
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