Zen and the Art of Overtown

Story by: The Betsy - South Beach

The Betsy's 9th Annual Overture To Overtown Festival

Hosted and curated by Dr. Deborah Briggs, Carole Ann Taylor, and John Stuart, AIA

Regional Musicians, Poets, and Scholars Celebrate the History and Legacy of Overtown in a 4-part Series Via Zoom

Working Team

Curated by Artist/Activist Carole Ann Taylor and Deborah Briggs, VP, Arts, The Betsy Hotel. Hosted by John Stuart,  Associate Dean for Community and Cultural Engagement, FIU Miami Beach Urban Studios with Community Poet in Residence for the Overture to Overtown Series: Geoffrey Philp

Studio Musicians and Performers

Roxana Amed, Tom Lippincott, James Ousley, Carole Ann Taylor, Brenda Alford, Nicole Yarling, Jim Gasior, Melton Mustafa, Leonor Anthony, Allen Paul, Butterfly (Rebecca Vaughns), Octavia Yearwood, Langston Hughes, WEB Dubois, Muhammed Ali, and Geoffery Philp

Dr. Dorothy Fields

The Place “Over Town”

September 7, 2020

With special guest Dr. Dorothy Fields, Founder of The Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida. Born in Overtown, Dr. Fields has devoted her life to preserving the heritage of the African-American community and raising awareness of African-American history to a national level.

CLICK HERE to see participating musicians, poets, and visual artists.

Tim Barber

What happened in/to Overtown?

September 14, 2020

With special guest Tim Barber, Executive Director, The Black Archives Historic Lyric Theater. Born and raised in Miami, Mr. Barber has served in his position since 2009, has been adjunct professor at Florida Memorial University and is the visionary behind emerging community-building programs at the historic Lyric Theater in Overtown.

CLICK HERE to see participating musicians, poets, and visual artists.

Dr. Marvin Dunn

Lessons Learned

September 21, 2020

With Special guest Dr. Marvin Dunn, Faculty member at FIU, Department of Psychology, founder and director of Roots (an Overtown urban gardening program) is also founded the Academy for Community Education (later re-named Dr. Marvin Dunn Academy for Community Education), a Miami-Dade County high school for at-risk youth in the Miami Dade County Public Schools. Dr. Dunn is the author of Black Miami in the 20th Century (University Press of Florida, 2016).

CLICK HERE to see participating musicians, poets, and visual artists. 

Neil Shiver

Overtown Rising

September 28, 2020

With special guests Neil Shiver and Dr. Graylyn Swilley-Woods. Neil Shiver is the Executive Director of the Southeast Overtown / Park West Community Redevelopment Agency. South Florida native, Cornelius “Neil” Shiver has over 20 years of experience in law, business management, public policy and community development – and was appointed to his position in 2018.

CLICK HERE to see participating musicians, poets, and visual artists.


During its heyday, the City of Overtown was often referred to as ‘the Harlem of the South’, because its story is akin to that of NY’s Harlem – and on the National Jazz circuit, musicians often played in both Harlems, as they made their way from one club to another, playing for audiences around the country.  And in Overtown, stars like Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, and Josephine Baker not only performed, but also spent the night because of segregation laws in Miami and Miami Beach. Unable to stay the night after a gig, they went “over town” to their hotels and that’s how the neighborhood’s name came to be.

The talents of so many cultural ‘greats’ fostered such world-class entertainment venues in Overtown as the Lyric Theater, Knight Beat and other clubs. Over the years, distinguished African American intellectuals also stayed there, including W.E.B. Dubois, author Zora Neale Hurston and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.  Martin Luther King and Malcom X frequented the area and so did Muhammed Ali.

For the last eight years, The Betsy Hotel has been honoring Overtown’s history and its legacy through the Overture to Overtown Festival.  In 2020, due to COVID-19, the Festival will be virtually celebrated on four Monday nights in September with presentations @ 7 PM, in partnership with FIorida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studios (FIU-MBUS), the City of Miami Beach, WDNA, and many other community partners.   

The Betsy’s Overture to Overtown 2020 online festival program will feature ten performing jazz artists, three poets, and four scholars.  Events will be carried live into patron’s homes via Zoom and Facebook Live. To ensure audio excellence, musical performances will be pre-recorded @ thebetsyhotel. Poets and scholars will appear live.  Each event will allow time for audience q/a. The work of legacy Overtown poets will be celebrated through recitations of poems written by WEB Dubois, Langston Hughes, and Muhammed Ali – presented by Geoffrey Philp, the project’s Community Poet in Residence. Poets:  Octavia Yearwood and Butterfly will also appear. Participating jazz musicians include: Roxana Amed, Tom Lippincott, James Ousley, Carole Ann Taylor, Brenda Alford, Nicole Yarling, Jim Gasior, Melton Mustafa, and Allen Paul. During the closing moments of each event, historic photographs of Overtown Jazz Greats will be shared from the recent publication, Sounds of Freedom, selected by Miami-based artist-ivist Leonor Anthony.

betsy    fiu mbus     miami beach     gmcvb