Carol Ann Taylor performs at The Betsy Hotel Photo Credit: Jeff Briggs

For almost a decade,  The Betsy Hotel ( has been honoring Overtown’s history and its legacy through an annual interdisciplinary Festival of Jazz, poetry, and visual image. In 2020, due to COVID-19, the Festival will be virtually celebrated on four Monday nights in September with presentations at 7 PM, in partnership with Florida International University’s Miami Beach Urban Studios (FIU-MBUS), the City of Miami Beach, WDNA, Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau, Arts and Business Council Miami, South Florida Cares Mentoring Movement, Miami Jazz Cooperative, Diaspora Vibe Cultural Arts Incubator, Miami Jazz Cooperative, Harris Public Relations, and other partners. The Betsy’s Overture to Overtown 2020 online festival program will feature eleven performing jazz artists, four poets, and five scholars focused on keeping the Overtown aura alive through sharing its history, legacy, and future promise. Audiences are invited to prepare for a truly immersive experience.   RSVP to all events here

During its heyday, Overtown was often referred to as ‘the Harlem of theSouth’, 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. In Overtown, stars like Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Louis Armstrong, and Josephine Baker performed and 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 stayed in hotels owned and operated by Black proprietors. 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 Malcolm X frequented the area, and so did Muhammed Ali, as did so many other great African American voices.

“At The Betsy Hotel, we have a passion for building community through the arts in ways that I believe cannot be achieved through a standard approach and working with Carole Ann Taylor as a community curator and project strategist made this year’s program planning experience richer than ever before. Beyond that, we’ve had the support of pillar institutions, the civil sector, government, and small businesses, all working together in a very intentional way to tell this important story and to make real music, because to quote Duke Ellington, ‘there is no music without intention.’ Everyone has worked exceedingly hard to help put this together to be sure that Overtown’s legacy is appropriately remembered and honored.”, said Deborah Briggs, co-curator of Overtown to Overture and Vice President of the Arts Program at  The Betsy Hotel.

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, Marcus Blake, and Butterfly will also appear. Participating jazz musicians include Roxana Amed, Tom Lippincott, James Ousley, Carole Ann Taylor, LaVie, Brenda Alford, Nikki Kidd, Wendy Pedersen, Nicole Yarling, Jim Gasior, Melton Mustafa, Jr, LeNard Rutledge, 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 (2019), selected by Miami-based artist-ivist Leonor Anthony, alongside archival images provided to the project by The Black Archive, at the direction of Dr. Dorothy Fields.

Events will be carried live into patron’s homes via Zoom and Facebook Live. To ensure audio excellence, musical performances will be pre-recorded at @thebetsyhotel while poets and scholars will appear live. Each event will allow time for audience Q&A.

(Virtual) Events Overview

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)

Overtown Rising | September 28, 2020

With special guests –

Mr. Neil Shiver, Esq, 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

Dr. Graylyn Swilley-Woods is the Executive Director of the Overtown Children and Youth Coalition. She is also a Senior Consultant for Multicultural Tourism Initiatives and recent past Associate Vice President of Greater Miami Convention and Visitors Bureau Multicultural Tourism Department, Business and Education Division. Mrs. Woods spent more than a decade promoting the development and advancement of Multicultural Tourism in Greater Miami and Beaches.