Bring your best church hat for lookin' fancy, a big fan because it's hot in Miami, and a loose dress, because there will be lots of chow. Brunching to the tune of gospel in historic Overtown will not only bring people closer to understanding this historical city, but it will also draw attention to a place that has long needed some TLC.
Food and music are the two best ways to bring people together, director of the Overtown Music Project, a nonprofit that's celebrating the music, history and spirit of this town in its heyday. Comments Amy Rosenberg, one of the organizers: "We want people to celebrate the music and break bread." Amen.
"People have either forgotten or they just don't know that Overtown used to be called the Harlem of the south and Little Broadway. It was a thriving black middle class area, with dozens of night clubs, restaurants, and commerce." Rosenberg reminds us. She recounted why she this organization to help preserve history, and create enriching new Overtown memories. "I'm a lawyer by trade, but a little more than two years ago, I was on a walking tour in Overtown. I had volunteered in the area for years, but I was there specifically to learn more about the music." As she was learning about Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Aretha Franklin playing right here in Miami, she also saw "nothing really but vacant lots. And something just kind of took over me." She sold her small business and committed herself to the area.
The organization offers multi-sensory events to bring Overtown residents and outsiders together to celebrate the music of the city from the '50s to the '70s. The proceeds from the brunch will fund a jazz and blues residency which is still being developed. The residency will be situated in the Lyric Theater (renovation is due to be complete in February 2012) in conjunction with living Overtown musicians and a university.
The event isn't a religious gospel brunch, so everyone will feel comfortable. It'll also be visited by iconic community leaders, including Irby McKnight, Dave Lawrence, Ruth Shack, our own Luther Campbell, Ali Codina, Carmel Ophir (of Vagabond), DJ Le Spam, and Daniella Levine.
Rosenberg said, "It basically is going to give the audience an idea of the history of Overtown and it'll be spliced with some quotes by Martin Luther King, Jr. We have his former driver participating in the service. And we also have a little bit of Langston Hughes poetry, because Langston Hughes actually wrote in Overtown."
What about the food? "The brunch is being done by Jackson Soul Food, and it's a brunch. Biscuits, eggs, grits, hash browns, sausage." Miss Vivian Dunn, who also cooks and sells food at her brother-in-law Marvin Dunn's Roots in the City farmer's market, will be doing sweets for the event. After an hour of a sonorous service in the church, everyone will head downstairs for a mean meal.
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Rosenberg told us honestly how she feels about the grub. "I love it. It's not good for my hips, but... I often go to breakfast at Jackson Soul Food, or I jones frequently for the macaroni and cheese at People's Barbecue."
What's next for the Overtown Music Project? A big band and hip hop mashup at the Fontainebleau and a funk and fish fry. Rosenberg said, "we have food at every event we do." Music and food. Can't beat it.
The event takes place on May 7 from 11:30 to 2 p.m. at Bethel AME Church (245 NW 8th Street, Miami). It's $25 to eat, but if you're from Overtown it's free.