Jazz in the Gardens Heads for Its Biggest Year Yet — Even Without Aretha Franklin

Every year in March, more than 70,000 fans, musical acts, 50-plus food vendors, and dozens of merchandise exhibitors converge on Sun Life Stadium in the City of Miami Gardens for Jazz in the Gardens. This year marks the 11th edition of the show and boasts a lineup including Usher, Charlie Wilson, Babyface, Janelle Monáe, Fred Hammond, Brian Culbertson, and Najee. Jazz in the Gardens is hosted by the City of Miami Gardens for the people of Miami Gardens, and after ten years, Miami-Dade County’s third-largest city now has a pretty impressive festival under its belt. 

“This is my fourth Jazz in the Gardens as mayor, but I’ve been to every Jazz in the Gardens," Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III tells us. "So many people put so much effort into this event... It started in a small parking lot in Sun Life Stadium for a few hundred local residents, and now people come from around the world."

Aretha Franklin was scheduled to close Saturday night, but this week it was announced she'd be canceling her JITG appearance as well as a show in Sarasota due to a “lack of band personnel.” Though Franklin's claim that she can't find any musicians to back her up feels slightly akin to a date canceling plans to wash her hair, the very qualified Charlie Wilson, AKA Uncle Charlie, will replace the 18-time Grammy Award winner as Saturday's headliner. And those who have seen Wilson live before know that's hardly a downgrade.

Saturday's lineup will also showcase locals CriStyle Renae and April Raquel Kouture Funk, as well as the Jazz in the Gardens All Stars featuring Najee, Alex Bugnon, and Regina Belle; Average White Band; Michael McDonald; Kool & the Gang; and Charlie Wilson.

Jazz legend Najee will be making his fourth appearance at Jazz in the Gardens. “It was a small show when I first came," he remembers. "It’s incredible how big it’s become. The show has grown beyond jazz."

Last time Najee was on the JITG lineup, Babyface reached out to him for a cameo. “I got a call from Babyface, and he asked me to come out and play 'For the Cool in You' with him, which I was happy to do. It was a lot of fun. I haven’t gotten a call from Usher yet — we’ll see. Things like that happen at festivals, which is one of the reasons why it’s so much fun to get so many musicians together,” Najee says.

Government officials, the Jazz in the Gardens production team, and festival food vendors gathered last week at the City of Miami Gardens City Hall for their annual JITG Foodie Preview. As the JITG Foodie Focus was winding down, Scott Gartner, the show’s producer for the fifth year, shared his prediction for this weekend's show. “We’ve been working on this show for almost seven months, and the lineup is as good or better than anything we’ve ever done. If you’ve never seen Brian Culbertson live, you’re missing out. And Michael McDonald will be doing a special Motown tribute. And my buddy Usher will be closing out on Sunday. This will be a great event.” 

Jazz in the Gardens with Usher, Janelle Monáe, Charlie Wilson, and more. Saturday, March 19, through Sunday, March 20, at Sun Life Stadium, 347 Don Shula Dr., Miami Gardens. Tickets cost $65 to $1,200 plus fees via ticketmaster.com.

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