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Beat Poet Rebecca "Butterfly" Vaughns Talks Spoken Word and Overtown's Revival

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Dial Rebecca "Butterfly" Vaughns, and on the other end of the receiver, the phone rings enough times to suggest the call is going to voicemail. Instead of the expected robotic answering service, a deep but delicate voice croons, "Somewhere there's a love just for me, and I'm going to find it...Keep your head up stay blessed, stay focused, stay true, and always be you. Peace, the butterfly."

In less than 20 seconds, the beat poet melts the disappointment that normally comes with having to leave a message. After playing phone tag and getting to hear Vaughns' uplifting, pre-recorded voice a few times (this reporter actually looked forward to getting calls rejected), she talked to New Times about Miami's poetry scene and a resurgence of culture in Overtown.

To kick off April, National Poetry Month, Vaughns will inaugurate "Expressions: An Evening of Spoken Word and Jazz" in conjunction with the Black Archives, a non-profit founded in 1977 by archivist and historian Dorothy Jenkins Fields. Taking place this weekend at the Historic Ward Rooming House Gallery (249 NW Ninth St., Miami), the event is the first of many to come and will take place each second Saturday of the month. ;As part of the Archives' mission to document the black experience in Miami-Dade, its aim is to reestablish Overtown as an arena for entertainment, like it used to be.

"Back in the day, that's were everyone came to...that's where you saw your Lena Horns, your Duke Ellingtons, your Ella Fitzgeralds, and they need it back," Vaughns said.

A member of the poetry circuit for 16 years, she's seen the scene change quite a bit. "There was more passion and love, now it's become more of a competition and I guess namely a situation of product," Vaughns said of the new age of poets who turn out CDs faster than they've had time to learn the scene of the beat in their own community. "The hard work and the grinding, we've branded ourselves, but we have these new age kids on open mic, they come and learn the ropes, then get one big gig and it goes to their head...they look at it and see the money side of it, and it's deeper than that," she said.

Vaughns fell in love with music at age 5, and then poetry by age 10. In August of 2002, she began to pursue her passions full time, performing as a poet, singer, voice-over artist, and any means by which she could express herself. From memorized pieces to a natural ability for freestyling, Vaughns has lent her talents to all types of audiences and venues.

"I'm out of the box, I perform at funerals, weddings, graduation parties, divorce parties; wherever words are desired, I'm there," Vaughns said. She's even been plucked from the crowd at high profile functions to step in and save the day with her impromptu, freestyle poetry when programming experienced setbacks.

"You have raw talent right here in your backyard...introduce untapped, unheard artists that are right here in the community, and trust me, they're here," she said.

Each month, "Expressions" will feature one male and one female artist who will perform a 20-minute set. A mini open mic will follow with a maximum of five artists, whether singers or poets, who have the opportunity to perform two pieces each. Each month will fluctuate between poets and singers, especially in genres of R&B, jazz, blues, and neo soul.

"The vision is to bring that culture and entertainment vibe back to Overtown like in the era of my mom and the '30s, '40s, and '50s, when the Hampton House was the place to go for good blues, good jazz, and all that kind of stuff," Vaughns said.

The program will eventually make its way from the Ward Gallery over to the landmark Lyric Theater. It is the oldest theater building in Miami and was one of the few places blacks could watch movies during segregation. Currently under renovation, it is set to reopen on its centennial this year.

This Saturday's featured performers are spoken word artists Amali and Germaine Coleman. Attendees can also look forward to music from Jody Hill's Deep Fried Funk Band and live a set by DJ SCO; fried chicken and waffles catered by Overtown's beloved Jackson's Soul Food Restaurant; and a cash bar.

Connect with the city's beatniks and the word weavers at "Expressions" this Saturday, April 13, from 7 to 11 p.m. at the Historic Ward Rooming House Gallery, 249 NW Ninth Street, Miami, 33136. Admission is $10 in advance and can be purchased here; $15 at the door. Call 305-636-2390.
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