The Overtown section of Miami was the heart and soul of music during the early to mid-1960’s.
It developed as Southern and Bahamian blacks relocated to Miami area to work on Henry Flagler’s railroad.
As they prospered, so did the club and performing arts scene.
Other venues included the Rockland, Palace, the Harlem Square Club, the Cotton Club, the Ritz Theater, the Mary Elizabeth Hotel and the Sir John, to name a few.
These clubs and theaters featured the great artists such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Billie Holiday, and Cab Calloway.
The black entertainers who performed for the white community were not allowed to stay on Miami Beach or in traditional hotels, so they performed first for the white community and then in Overtown, where they stayed, often for free.
The Overtown Music Project is the dream of Amy Rosenberg, who was captivated by the history about four years ago and wanted to reconnect the splintered Overtown of the 21st century with its musical past.
The organization sponsors jazz nights and gospel brunches and has recently partnered with the University of Miami’s Phillip and Patricia Frost School of Music to bring in music lessons and furnish musical instruments to Frederick Douglass Elementary School students.
Rosenberg says it seems to be a perfect fit.
“We went to Frederick Douglass with a very famous musician, Terence Blanchard, and he performed for these second, third and fourth graders and I have to say I didn’t know what to expect at first. Are these kids going to embrace jazz?” Rosenberg says. “They loved it. They were playing invisible saxophones and really getting into it. I don’t know who loved it more – the musicians who were there from UM or the kids.”
The Overtown Music Project’s annual fundraiser is Saturday night, Jan. 26, at LIV in the Fontainebleau hotel.