After growing up with a grandfather who was an electrical engineer for Diana Ross, Amy Rosenberg believes in the power of music. Now, she wants to use that power to highlight the spirit of Overtown, one of Miami’s pioneer black communities.
On Saturday, July 17, at 8 p.m., Rosenberg will present “A Celebration of the Music, Spirit and Food of Overtown” in an effort to reproduce the magic that once earned Overtown the nickname, “Harlem of the South.”
The festival will be presented through the Overtown Music Project, a non-profit Rosenberg founded in early 2009 after participating in a walking tour of the now impoverished community.
During that tour, Rosenberg said she was hit by the neighborhood’s legacy in a way that she has rarely experienced before.
“I really felt the ghosts of these buildings and these people and it just resonated with me. I knew as I was walking around the area, I just had to do something,” Rosenberg said of the area that fell into decline following the construction of Interstate 95 in the 1960s, slicing through the community’s main artery.
Through her non-profit, Rosenberg is on a mission to highlight the music, history and spirit of Overtown; a place that has hosted the likes of James Brown, Billie Holiday, Aretha Franklin and many other legendary performers.
Saturday’s event will serve as the organization’s launch, and will be the first in a series of musical tributes. Her overall goal: to use music to unite people of all races, backgrounds and religions and get them to buy into revitalizing Miami’s former entertainment epicenter.
The idea earned Rosenberg a spot among 45 finalists for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation Arts Challenge, an experimental contest that provides grant funding for ideas that bring South Florida’s diverse community together through the arts.
Though she didn’t win, and has experienced immense obstacles, (including a nearly fatal bout with a ruptured appendix last summer,) Rosenberg insists that the work she’s doing for Overtown is too important to abandon.
“It’s been difficult. I didn’t win and it was a little crushing. It’s been quite the journey, but for me a promise is a promise. I said I was going to do this and I meant it. Nothing worth having is easy,” Rosenberg said.
Since the Lyric Theater is closed for renovations, the festival will be held in Miami’s Design District. The festivities will include a live jazz performance by the legendary saxophonist Charles Austin; and Carmel Ophir, owner of The Vagabond club in Overtown, will spin the “turntable” with Motown classics.
Cocktails will be provided courtesy of Ciroc Ultra Premium Vodka and Vivian Dunn, a caterer and sister-in-law of noted professor and Miami historian Marvin Dunn will prepare soul food.
Rosenberg — a white, Jewish woman — recognizes the irony of her spearheading a project about cultural history in Overtown. She wants to be as transparent as possible about her motives.
“I recognize I’m not the person that people would naturally point out to spearhead an event like this, but I want people to know that I’m doing this with the purest intention and purest heart possible. Many have come in and seduced the residents of Overtown, but I’m not making a cent off this. I’m not here to take anything away from the community, I’m only here to give to it,” Rosenberg stressed.
She also said she hopes to use the music festival to embody the legacy of her grandparents, who taught her to honor people despite their differences. She has fond memories of being surrounded by music and people from a variety of backgrounds at their dinner table.
“My agenda with this event is to honor the memory of my grandparents and invite the community to my dinner table,” Rosenberg said.
For more information about the Overtown Music Project, visit www.overtownmusicproject.org.
IF YOU GO
WHAT: A Celebration of the Music, Spirit and Food of Overtown
WHEN: Friday, June 18 at 7 p.m.
WHERE: AE District, 3852 North Miami Ave., Miami
COST: $25 donation (cash or check, accepted at the door)