ILLUMINARTS AND HUED SONGS TAKES AUDIENCES ‘THROUGH THE STORM’ AT VIZCAYA
(left to right) Rosie Gordon Wallace, Elise Quagliata, Jasmine Williams, and Brittany Graham performing in “Through the Storm: Women Walking in Greatness (Photo courtesy of Passion Ward Photography)
Dr. Dorothy Jenkins Fields, Chief Sandrell Rivers, and Betty Mae Tiger Jumper are monumental women who have shaped South Florida, and as part of a collaboration between Miami-based nonprofits Illuminarts and Hued Songs, and Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, they each received a special tribute.
Hosted in March 2023, “Through the Storm: Women Walking in Greatness” was a three-night performance featuring a combination of narration and musical performances that highlighted landmark achievements and surprising intersections throughout the lives of each of the three women. Each influential figure had one night devoted to them.
The event series was a collaborative effort between Kunya Rowley, founder of Hued Songs – a nonprofit focused on elevating black and brown artists and providing affordable access to the arts – and Amanda Crider, founder of Illuminarts – a nonprofit that collaborates with local museums and galleries to curate musical performances and highlight social issues.
Crider recalls the teary-eyed ovation the audience gave Dr. Jenkins Fields – the last living subject of the performances – the evening of her tribute, as she stood and gave a heartfelt thanks.
“She’s just such a humble person, and she said to me ‘I’m just doing the work, I didn’t think anybody was taking notice,’ and she’s done so much,” said Crider.
The idea came to Crider and Rowley as Women’s History Month approached, and with an extensive list of influential women who have contributed to South Florida’s history, Crider admits the process of narrowing down three influential figures was challenging.
“We made a list and just started researching the history of Miami-Dade and south Florida and we started a running list of people we were interested in,” says Crider, “It was extremely hard to narrow down that list because so many women have been so instrumental to developing South Florida. It was a difficult choice.”
The first performance focused on Dorothy Jenkins Fields, the founder of Miami’s Black Archives, and a lifelong advocate for preserving Miami’s African-American heritage. The following week’s performance highlighted Betty Mae Tiger Jumper, the first chairwoman of the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and an advocate for the expansion of healthcare and education for the Seminole Tribe. The final performance took place the evening of April 5 and told the story of Sandrell Rivers, a Miami-born theater performer and Miami-Dade County employee who worked to grow accessibility of the arts across underserved communities in South Florida.
Narrators Rosie Gordon-Wallace, Natalia Martinez-Kalinina, and Miriam King were also hand-selected by Crider and Rowley. Reading from a script by Emmy-nominated poet and Miami native Christell Victoria Roach, the trio of narrators are each South Florida power players in their own right, reflective of the diversity found across Miami’s arts and arts cultural landscape.
“One of the things that I love about this group (the narrators) is that it’s intergenerational. We have a wide variety of ages,” says Rowley “I think it was really important that we had this representation from different facets of the community.”
The singing performances by Brittany Graham, The Jas Sound, also known as Jasmine Williams, and Elise Quagliata, accompany each night’s narration. For Carey Hart, director of the singers and a prolific South Florida theater performer and director, the performances were important because she has spiritual and personal connections to each of these women.
While working at her father’s insurance agency, Hart got to know one of their clients, Dr. Jenkins Fields, and – as a state and local coordinator for the youth program, the Afro-Academic, Cultural, Technological and Scientific Olympics (ACT-SO) – Hart’s mother worked closely with Chief Rivers to get students in the community involved in the program. Hart also shared that she has Seminole ancestry, so while she did not personally know Tiger Jumper, she feels a spiritual connection to her. Directing musical performances commemorating these three women – two of whom have been a part of her life – is something Hart never imagined herself doing, and its significance was not lost on her.
“I know that they are very, very deserving, and they are unsung heroes,” said Hart.