Don’t tell Amy Rosenberg that Miami’s not a capital of culture. Rosenberg is the founder of the Overtown Music Project, a nonprofit that seeks to revive the musical traditions of Miami’s downtrodden Overtown neighborhood, once the artistic heart of the city’s African American population. Leaving behind her former life as a lawyer, Rosenberg now dedicates her time to curating major events that feature musicians from Overtown and beyond in an effort to rekindle the spirit of an area that was once considered the “Harlem of the South.”
According to your profile for Ocean Drive, you are both an attorney and an environmentalist; how do you feel they are connected?
Wow, what a great question! I’m going to have to think about that for a second…! Well, in truth, I don’t practice law anymore. I practiced for a little bit of time, but I found that my true calling was in the non-profit, and it’s been five years in doing so, so far. I just feel more capable, it’s more sustainable, no chair-people involved.
Do you feel you get more out of working with non-profit organizations?
Oh, absolutely. It’s definitely more fulfilling. And it’s like, everyday if I have an idea, I can just go for it. I mean, law school was certainly good for me in that I learned how to approach certain things and do those things the right way – it is great to have that sort of background. Personally though, [with non-profit] it’s so much more enriching.
And you are currently developing a think tank for the Overtown Music Project, could you expand more on that?
Well, yes and no; that’s for another non-profit project, but let me give you a little back story on each. I am the director of an organization called the Overtown Music Project in which we do all sorts of events that showcase the history of Overtown itself, a neighborhood that was once called the Harlem of the South. It was where big acts performed, such as Ella Fitzgerald. For a while after, time passed, the area became shuttered, and it was full of vacant loft areas and space. It kind of became a shadow of what it was, and so what we’re doing is trying to bring it back to its music residencies. Like this past fall, we had an event called EPIC at a place called LIV at the Fountainbleu Hotel, and we had all these big bands there and Talib Kweli performed with an 18 piece orchestra.
What are you looking to expand for OMP in 20212? What projects are on the horizon?
Definitely more music residencies, and right now we are working with the University of Miami to create a music program and hopefully more universities in the future. We definitely want other interesting inputs as well and we’re working on a lot of mixing and mashing with performances throughout this upcoming year, with the formats of contemporary music and hip-hop acts.
You seem to have a particular interest in the history of Miami and its music connections. Miami is often stereotyped as being a place with not a lot of culture, and seems like you are definitely trying to change that perception. Why is that?
Well, I do think that Miami does have a short memory span and we’re a city that’s really into the new, but we are still developing. For me personally, I’m drawn to Overtown for personal reasons. My grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and eventually he ended up moving his family [for better opportunities]. He had a business partner as well, and they soon worked for Diana Ross. And growing up, I was exposed to just amazing music. Motown, blues, jazz, funk, soul. My family would also host these Friday night dinners and they would have every person imaginable present at the table. And so, three years ago while I was in Overtown, I had this creepy moment I guess you can call it (laughs). I just had this epiphany that as a tribute to my grandfather I would make it back to this area.
You have this strong connection to Miami. At first glance, especially when visiting, it’s just such a different environment, which you notice quickly when you’re from the east coast for example. Is it more than its glossy appearance?
Yeah, I mean, there is depth here. You just have to seek it. I think that we as a city are coming into our own, becoming more of an established city. Another purpose of OMP is to bring people together. Our last event was the most racially age-diverse crowd that I’ve ever been to, and definitely for Miami. It was, like, from 21 to 81. Black, white, Latin, Asian, you name it, which I think was reflective of Miami and that’s really important to us.
You definitely do see a collage of people like that in Miami. It’s not just one "type" of person.
Yeah, when I was in Pennsylvania, there were no people of color in the area, and we were one of two Jewish families in the neighborhood. I don’t remember seeing a person of color until I was about eight years old. Diversity is good though. It’s good to have a mix. It’s just better that way.
Do you ever work outside of Miami for your non-profit projects?
No, but we are trying to figure out how to build a bridge between Harlem and Miami; that’s a goal for us, for sure. We just need a strategy. Like with Overtown, we would like to figure out how to connect the two because they are both so heavy with music history.
Photo Courtesy of Liam Crotty