Overtown fighting to bring music back to life

Non-profit organization promoting music, nightlife in Overtown

By Christina Vazquez - Reporter

OVERTOWN, Fla. - At the famous, family-run Jackson Soul Food in Overtown local music legend Bobby Stringer belted out a blues number that had the packed room swaying to his beat.

"It means so much to me to come back on the same streets that I performed when I was 19, 20 years old," Stringer said.

Stringer was born in Coconut Grove before making a name for himself in the nightclubs of Overtown. He eventually traveled the world, opening for big acts like The Temptations, and jamming with The Platters.

He told Local 10 that back in Overtown's heydey they would jump from nightclub to nightclub playing and listening to music he described as inspiring.

"It's life, inspiring, the music we made was a reason for love or inspiration. If you had a hard day you could listen to this and it would lift you up."

However, there were also hard times back then. In a segregated Miami Overtown, was the heart of the black community.

Bobby Allen grew up steps away from Jackson Soul Food and used to be a popular radio DJ playing records to include Stringer's.

"The music was the livelihood, it sort of brought everybody together," he said.

"White and it was a safe environment," Stringer added.

When famous artists like Billy Holiday, Nat King Cole and Cab Colloway came to Miami, they stayed in Overtown. While hotels in Miami Beach would book them for gigs, Minister Job Israel told us they were not allowed to stay there due to segregation.

"They were playing the music on the beach that everyone wanted them to play but when they come back over here they were jamming until 9 o'clock in the morning. Just jamming, playing what they wanted to play, it was something else."

"It was like little New York," Stringer said.

Dubbed the "Harlem of the South," time would silence the vibrant sound.

Stringer told us, "You know the reason why overtown collapsed was because I-95. When they brought I-95 in, that destroyed it, so all the nightlife and the New York City atmosphere was gone."

Enter in the Overtown Music Project, a non-profit working to bring back the music and share this neighborhood's rich history.

"This means the world to me because it brings back the old school atmosphere," Stringer said.

"Trying to revive that feeling that we had in the heydey of this Little Harlem, Black Miami, it was just so fun!" Allen added.

Friday night's event was so successful, the Overtown Music Project is looking to do it again soon. You can learn more about their volunteer-run organization at: http://overtownmusicproject.org/

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