Founded four years ago by Amy Rosenberg, the Overtown Music Project (OMP) has since been shining a light on the historic cultural contributions of the otherwise uncelebrated neighborhood of Overtown. OMP has introduced a free, after school music program into the area, in partnership with UM at Frederick Douglass Elementary School, and host seven events a year – six in throughout Overtown’s former entertainment district and one Miami Beach, showcasing and honoring some of the musicians who once made their living in Overtown.
“The Overtown Music Project celebrates the music, history and spirit of Overtown in its heyday. Once recognized as the epicenter of music in Miami, a place where Thurgood Marshall vacationed and Langston Hughes wrote poetry, Overtown is now considered by most of Miami as a dangerous and blighted area with more vacant lots than buildings.”
Few can remember “the Harlem of the South” when dozens of nightclubs dotted the streets and hosted marquee acts like Count Basie and Dizzy Gillespie. African Americans once thrived in Overtown, then came desegregation and highways. Here’s a look:
Despite Overtown’s proximity to Miami and hotspots like South Beach, it is but a shadow of its former self. The clubs, hotels and commercial centers that once lined Overtown have been demolished.
Conversation with Amy Rosenberg
How did you become involved with the Overtown Music Project?
It was purely by accident. I was on a walking tour in Overtown four years ago and fell in love with the area. I have a pretty vivid imagination and the stories just blew me away. It’s an area that looks kind of ravaged in parts but there is such rich, and largely forgotten history there. Six weeks after that tour, I sold my small business and started OMP. Crazy, right?
How can the community get involved with OMP?
We always need volunteers, interns, people to sit on committees for events and, of course, donations.
How has Overtown changed since you’ve been involved with the OMP?
I think there is an energy in Overtown that is more hopeful about real changes coming. It’s a cautious optimism. The people have heard empty promises for decades so it’s hard to open your heart fully when you’ve been disappointed for so long.
What projects does EPIC fund?
EPIC will help us fund our LunchBox Jazz series as well as the events we do in Overtown throughout the year.
Which is your favorite?
My favorite event is a tie between our Jazz (and a Little Bit of Blues) supper club at Jackson Soul Food and the Gospel Brunch we do at Bethel AME in April. Jazz at Jackson is an intimate event that brings out every walk of life, race, religion, etc. You have church ladies and socialites sitting elbow to elbow eating greens and pork chops. It caters to a nostalgia for a bygone era but it’s so contemporary at the same time. The next Jackson event is on March 15th.
What goals does the OMP have for 2013?
We believe culture is a catalyst for social and economic change in Overtown. Our programs and events are developed with this in mind. We will be launching a total of three programs this year. We’ve launched one program so far with UM’s Frost School of Music at Frederick Douglass Elementary in Overtown. It’s called Harmony Project- Overtown and it’s a free after school music program that teaches little ones how to appreciate and play jazz.
We need to raise more funds for our LunchBox Jazz series for kids as well as another program called Outside the Lines. Through the funding process, we’d like to secure enough money to hire two part-time workers from Overtown. At the end of the day, we’d like cultural opportunities to lead to jobs in Overtown.
Are there any upcoming OMP events?
March 15th is the Jazz (and a Little Blues) at Jackson Soul Food. April 20th is our annual non denominational Gospel Brunch at Bethel AME. Think red velvet waffles and joyful noises.Mel Dancy performing ‘Miami Miami’ at the Overtown Music Project’s 1st ever Jazz and a Little Blues event. Don’t miss this year’s on March 15th at Jackson Soul Food.