Fiscal Sponsorship Project

Garland Jeffreys: The King of In Between


Hubris, anger, prejudice…doo-wop, reggae, rock…expectations, heartbreak, transformation…Garland Jeffreys: The King of In Between examines the fifty-year career of this genre-bending, biracial singer-songwriter and asks why, as a deejay says in the film, “the name Garland Jeffreys either means nothing to you or everything to you.” 



Garland Jeffreys has always been an autobiographical, intensely personal songwriter, with songs melding Dylanesque folk, the doo-wop sounds of his Brooklyn childhood, and reggae (well before its global popularity) with his personal observations and experience of race in America. The film takes us through a panorama of his beloved city: working as a “stock boy” in Coney Island, sneaking into Manhattan as a teen to see Nina Simone and Miles Davis, befriending Lou Reed at Syracuse University, and playing iconic Greenwich Village clubs like Max’s Kansas City and Reno Sweeney. There is a sense of inevitable breakthrough as Garland makes waves in America with his album, Ghost Writer, and in Europe with his mega-hit, Matador. Acceptance into the mainstream proves difficult, however, for a part-black, part-white, part Puerto Rican, former folk-artist writing songs over rock and reggae backings in the late 70s and early 80s. The result was unclassifiable, yet undeniably compelling and though he was recording for major labels, somehow wider, consistent success eluded him. The film asks why, including what role systemic racism within the music industry might have played in his “failure to thrive.”

Friends and admirers such as avant-garde artist Laurie Anderson, actors Harvey Keitel and Roger Guenveur Smith, and singer-songwriters Graham Parker and Vernon Reid provide commentary on the quixotic nature of success as well as personal experiences with the dark side of the music business. Critics Robert Christgau and David Hajdu offer contextualizing takes on Garland’s artistry while Garland and his wife, Claire Jeffreys, fill in the story with their uniquely honest takes. A wild and emotional journey, the film ends with a once-tormented man now fulfilled and satisfied despite never reaching, as his daughter puts it, “big fame.”

Project type: Feature Documentary

Project status: Post-production

Director: Claire Jeffreys

Producer / Editor: Evan M Johnson

Producers: Sam PollardBlair FosterEvan OppenheimerDavid Van Taylor


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