Among the great American capitals of black culture, the Magic City has always been a beacon of music, art, and hope.
But you wouldn't necessarily know it by consulting most of the supposed scholars on the subject. They'll talk for hours about Chicago blues, New Orleans jazz, the Harlem Renaissance, and so-called "L.A. race music," but Miami has largely been left out of that national conversation.
Thankfully, the Overtown Music & Arts Festival will pay homage to that rich, too-often untold legacy.
Overtown Music Festival 2014 Lineup
-Deep Fried Funk Band
Our city has been a bastion of economic vitality and tremendous artistry since its incorporation in 1896, when 168 "colored" voters helped ensure Miami had its own dot on the map.
In 1942, the NAACP's The Crisis Magazine devoted an entire issue to Miami and Bahamian-American writer Stanley Irving Sweeting wrote of Overtown, then known as Colored Town: "Adjectives are unavailable to rightly describe the nightlife ... here in this thickly populated second avenue -- the Main Stem of Bronzed Miami -- a cosmopolitan thoroughfare which when at its peak in glamour and makeup, can best be judged by that strip which is bounded on the north by 11th Terrace, and on the south by Fifth Street."
A tribute to the neighborhood, our city, and the roots of Miami R&B, the Overtown fest harkens back to the days when little Aretha Franklin sang gospel in the auditorium of Northwestern High School, when Sam Cooke had drinks with Ray Charles in the lounge of the Mary Elizabeth Hotel, when Ike and Tina Turner argued on NW Second Avenue between sets, and when Little Willie John battled Dizzy Jones on the stage of the Knight Beat at the Sir John Hotel.
But the festival is also looking to the future. Michael Gardner, CEO of Headliner Market Group, famous for his LIV on Sundays party, is in charge of the entertainment. He says, "It's an incredible history. With God's blessing, this big annual event will expand like Calle Ocho."
Comedian, bandleader, and all-around entertainer Larry Dogg is one of many performers on the bill. And he remembers the neighborhood's glory days. "Overtown is a historic place," he says. "Artists from Ella Fitzgerald to Louie Armstrong, Marvin Gaye, Diana Ross, and James Brown used to come and perform at all these small little clubs.
"My uncle, and mother, and grandmother told me all about it. You don't understand the feeling of bringing something that used to be here back, for free, for the community. I can't wait to see all the great artists on this show. It's gonna be amazing."
Crossfade's Top Blogs
Overtown Music Festival. With Raheem DeVaughn, Keke Wyatt, Case, Larry Dogg, and others. Saturday, July 19. Overtown Business District, NW Third Avenue between Eighth and 11th streets, Miami. The fest runs from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and admission is free. All ages. Visit overtownmusicartsfestival.com.
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