Dollar Bill and a Dream
In the bad old days of segregation, wasn't nobody black and famous come to sing in the white-only nightclubs of Miami Beach who didn't make a late-night stop for a show in Colored Town: Ella, Basie, Nina Simone. Then the interstate sliced through and drained the blood out of a thriving nightlife. Free to live wherever they could afford, rich black folk moved into prosperous newly integrated neighborhoods. But most folks got left behind in the area now known as Overtown (as in, it's all over now), or managed to move just north to the ironically named desolation that is Liberty City. And up in Liberty City, well, the nightlife hasn't been the same.
Sure, your Jay-Z, your Wyclef might drop in a strip club like Black Gold or Club Rolexx, but don't expect to see too many Escalades cruising NW Seventh Avenue. Nobody's lining up to shoot music videos against the backdrop of the MLK Jr. Business Center. Even Trick Daddy, Liberty City born and raised, held his latest album-release party on Ocean Drive.
One man is out to change all that. Though he lives in Coconut Grove and works by day for a pharmaceutical company in Broward, "Dollar" Bill Ferguson has found his musical calling at the corner of 54th Street and 7th Avenue. Through the elaborate filigree of his oversized eyeglasses Dollar Bill can see the future bright with rising stars. Where others see dark streets and dilapidated buildings, he sees untapped talent just waiting for the right promoter and the right venue. Right here in Liberty City.
Two years ago, Dollar Bill saw an advertisement for the Shantel Lounge in a community newspaper. Intrigued by the promise of good food and good music, he stopped by the modest establishment run by Nassau native Edward Cole ("Coley") Brook and his partner, a matron from Georgia known as Miss Betty. He sampled the combination Deep South and Caribbean cooking the pair call Gawsaw cuisine. He noticed the small stage at the back of the club where local talent of the caliber of celebrated soul singer Bobby Stringer sometimes put on a show. He offered his services as bouncer, doorman, DJ, and promoter. And like so many promoters, he saw in the little club a big opportunity for artists so eager to make themselves known that they will play for cheap or nothing -- all in the name of gaining exposure.
"It's not the showcase at the Apollo," Dollar Bill admits. "But there is so much talent from Florida City to Liberty City and beyond, and no one is giving people the opportunity to show it off."
On a slow Sunday night, no artists appear to be taking advantage of the opportunity. Dollar Bill blames the rain and the passing of his mother last summer for slowing down his efforts to promote the night. Still he is undaunted, proudly flipping through photographs of early showcase participants. There's a young female rapper, he points out, a righteous balladeer, a host of singers who claim to have brushed with greatness on other showcases or as background singers. Outside Coley, Miss Betty, and the evening's host wait at an umbrella table, but after an hour or so the whole crew closes up and goes home.
It's a different story on Saturday nights, when the gray-haired Mr. Stubbs keeps an eye on a full parking lot at three dollars a car. Dollar Bill stands at the door, adding to a growing wad of singles. A large Haitian ensemble (six to twelve pieces, depending on how the band predicts the take) called the Yoga Band spill off the stage. They play for full-bodied men and women tending toward middle age who grind gently but expertly whether the rhythm be kompa, soca, reggae, or soul. In between sets, DJ Dollar Bill spins novelty dance tunes ("Now hop three times/Cha cha cha") that threaten to transform the room into an aerobic dance class. A far cry from the glamour of South Beach, but Dollar Bill doesn't let that dampen his dream.
Out front, one of his colleagues from the pharmaceutical company barbecues chicken. "Every door I open seems to open up another door for somebody else," beams Dollar Bill. "A lot of people, they just come for the chicken alone. They don't even know what's going on inside."
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