Overtown Music Project

 

Rebuilding Overtown one note at a time

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Rochelle Oliver | info@rochelleoliver.com

When Bobby Stringer steps up to the microphone, he sings with a gut-wrenching pain that turns everyday beats into the blues. Stringer, 65, was raised in Coconut Grove and is performing at LIV nightclub at Fontainebleau in Miami Beach (4441 Collins Ave.) on Saturday, Jan. 26, for EPIC II, an annual fundraiser put together by the Overtown Music Project. Committee members hope EPIC's second year will be more successful than its first, which while even though it was well attended, increased awareness and volunteerism, it only raised $2,500.

Some of Saturday's musical acts include Joie Gilmore, FranCina Jones, Mel Dancy, Tree Top, De La Sol, the Melton Mustafa Orchestra brings and 18 piece hip-hop and funk band and more.

Seemingly, Overtown and the Fontainebleau may come across as a clash of two cultures (and in fact from the 1930s and into the 1960s blacks were not allowed in Miami Beach after sundown) but it is also well known that when it was time for real entertainment, people left the shores for the seductive sounds in Overtown.

Stringer has played the Miami circuit for more than 40 years and vividly remembers the Overtown heyday.

“It had its own sound,” Stringer said. “Like New Orleans has its own sound and Memphis has its own sound. The music was a Miami sound.” Back then celebrities, tourists and locals would migrate from the beaches and wayward stretches to a strip along Northeast Second Avenue to hear black musicians jam into the early morning. Read more about Overtown's history and music)

“It was very encouraging to see different nationalities come to see us perform,” he said. “If anyone was looking for black entertainment, they had to go to Overtown. “It was an outlet for us. If you were good, you would go father.” As Stringer explains, the music scene was a ticket to a recording contract and a life beyond Miami.

Today, Overtown is a skeleton of closed shops and vacant lots. In the 1960s, Interstate-95 was built through the spine of the community. Once the financial epicenter was severed, poverty and drugs took over. But, the culture continued to pulse through the musicians.
The founder of the Overtown Music Project, Amy Rosenberg, who happened to be listening.

“I thought about the musicians of Overtown who were in their 60s, 70s and 80s, many of them passed away, and few outside of Overtown knew about it,” she said. Rosenberg, who is a grandchild of a Holocaust survivor, found inspiration in her family's history. Her mother would tell stories of the days when their family lived in Detroit and where Rosenberg's grandfather started an electrical business with a black business partner. In some ways, she feels as if she's carrying on with that childhood lesson, to do what is right.

“I thought about how Holocaust survivors who were dying out, and how these musicians were dying out,” she said. “Who is going to be there to tell their story?”

EPIC is one of six events hosted throughout the year that makes efforts to bring music back to Overtown. Ticket prices range from $60 for general admission (includes two complimentary cocktails); $125 VIP seating (express entry, private bar access, complimentary cocktail and Deliver Lean baked goods); $2,500 for a table that seats eight (includes two bottles of Grey Goose, mixers and Deliver Lean baked goods) and $5,000 for a table that seats 10 (includes four bottles of Grey Goose, mixers, shout outs from the stage, Deliver Lean baked goods and recognition on organization site and social networks. (Purchase Tickets Here)

Rosenberg, along with 11 board members who make up the OMP, hope that this event helps to breathe life back into the community.

“It would bring alive something everyone thought was dead,” Stringer said.

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