MIAMI – (CBS4) – When Phillip Wright Sr. reminisces about his start in the music businesses, he glows his smile widening and his mood becomes excited.
“Let me tell you, I used to walk down the street with Jackie Wilson, I played for Sam Cooke,” Wright said.
Wright and many others remember a time when Overtown was the epicenter for popular musicians. Many of those came together Saturday afternoon at the Greater Bethel AME church in Overtown to pay homage to the history of music in Overtown with a Gospel Brunch.
“Actually before I got up there I had already started to tear,” said Wright Senior describing his Saturday performance.
It was an emotional subject for so many there as Overtown today is far from what it once was — the Mecca for music. Now known for its crime and poverty, Overtown is usually making headlines for shootings instead of music.
But the organizers of the Overtown Music Project hope to revive the old Overtown. Saturday’s fundraiser is just the beginning. The group plans to create a jazz and blues residency in Overtown to develop opportunities for musicians — a new genre of musicians who will guard the old history and create their own.
African American greats such as Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole once wowed the crowds at bars and clubs in South Beach. But once the spotlight dimmed they had to return to the only hotels where they could rest at night in Overtown.
The city has changed since then, but so has Overtown. Now more organizers of Saturday’s event say more change is needed.
“It’s important because everybody who was anybody that raised a family in Overtown. It was like the culture of the black people, of the black community,” said Wright Sr. “If we could get that back we could possibly have the black community back together as a whole. That would also unite the rest of the community.”