Music

Heritage Fest Kicks Off Black History Arts Events in Miami Dade County

Written By Jonel Juste
February 2, 2024 at 3:17 PM

Above, the 2020 edition of the Adrienne Arsht Center’s Heritage Fest. This year, the fest is on Sunday, Feb. 4, with a free day of activities and a ticketed evening concert. (Photo courtesy of Amanda Smith Photography)

This year, Miami-Dade County will mark Black History Month with an array of events. Highlights include the Arsht Center’s 5th annual Heritage Fest, the Dranoff 2 Piano’s annual West African Beats concert series, and the Hampton House’s Greatest Weekend.

The Arsht Center will kick off Black History Month with its 5th annual Heritage Fest on Sunday, Feb. 4. 

Lakeisha Frith, director of education at the Arsht Center, explains that Heritage Fest in South Florida was initiated by a team of Arsht Center staff members with the goal of honoring Black heritage and uplifting Black voices within the community.

The singing couple Chadwick and Britanny Watkins (The W’s) will perform at the Arsht Center’s Heritage Fest. (Photo courtesy of artist management)

 “That idea turned into what is now, an annual tradition of art, music, food, and cultural celebrations every February,” says Frith, noting that the festival initially began on a small scale but has steadily grown and expanded over the past four years.

 This season, she continues, it is anticipated to host nearly 30 Black-owned business vendors. The event will also feature live music from DJ Cardi, performances by the Miami street dance crew Live in Color, workshops, a reading nook provided by Books & Books, and showcases by the Miami Carol City Middle and Senior High School Marching Band. Additionally, there’s music from Chadwick and Britanny Watkins, the husband-and-wife duo known as “The W’s,” who perform a mix of soul, rock, R&B, dance and pop. Also on the bill is jazz saxophonist, flutist and vocalist, Johnny James Dr J.

“With all the noise and chaos in the world, our passion is connecting with people, through song and conversation, and finding ways to tell stories that entertain, suspend reality, giving them an escape through music and entertainment,” says Chadwick Watkins, explaining that the duo met performing in a band.  “(The band) only played together for a very short period. Fast forward thousands of shows together, 9 years of marriage and living through the experiences of some of the songs we sing whether they are covers or our originals,” says Watkins. 

Lakeisha Frith, the director of education at the Arsht Center (Photo courtesy of WorldRedEye)

He says that the upcoming show holds personal significance for him. It marks his return to performing after experiencing a health scare in 2022 after a cardiac arrest. “After 20 months of recovery, I am joining my wife and the team again. Feels good. Thankful to my Creator. We have something to celebrate.”

The festival is expanding across the Arsht Center’s campus this year, covering both indoor and outdoor spaces, including its Thompson Plaza, as shared by Frith. With Heritage Fest offering diverse cultural experiences such as hip-hop, musical theater, dance, painting, and yoga workshops, the Arsht Center’s Director of Education emphasizes the importance of storytelling and amplifying Black voices as part of the Arsht Center’s mission. The festival concludes with a concert featuring Talib Kweli and DJ LS One at the Arsht’s Knight Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m

From Miami to Miami Beach, the Black History Month celebrations continue with the Dranoff 2 Piano’s annual West African Beats concert series.

Returning to the Miami Beach Bandshell on Sunday, Feb. 11, the event has been a significant part of Miami Dade Public Schools’ programming for 20 years, according to Carlene Sawyer, the executive director of Dranoff 2 Piano.

She explains that the “West African Beats” series was launched in 2021 as part of the AWARE grant program and aims to promote diversity in the performing arts.

Dranoff’s West African Beats features Haitian-American trumpeter Jean Caze (Photo courtesy of GregoryReed/Lakayphotography)

“Working with performance artists of different heritages brought more and more artists and composers to Dranoff programming in 2021. The Funding Arts Network put out an anniversary grant program called AWARE: Artist Working Reimagine Equity. West African Beats was proposed as a successful project,” says Sawyer, one of the creators of the project with Artistic Director Martin Bejerano.

Sawyer says that West African Beats not only showcases performances by top artists but also educates audiences about the music, songs, and rhythms that were brought to the Americas aboard slave ships. She emphasizes the importance of understanding the history and culture of different diasporas, particularly highlighting the Haitian population in Miami and its contributions to the city’s cultural landscape.

This year, West African Beats features Haitian American trumpeter Jean Caze.

Caze says his joy is in being able to fully express himself through his compositions, incorporating rhythms from Haiti into his work. “I fuse them with my love for all genres, especially jazz. Being Haitian-American, I find it truly liberating to fully express myself this way.”

At the Hampton House, the walls are adorned with portraits of Black icons, including James Brown, Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, and Stevie Wonder. (Photo by Jonel Juste)

The trumpeter also reflects on his experiences performing alongside artists like Herbie Hancock, Aretha Franklin, and Michael Bublé. “Sharing the stage with Aretha Franklin influenced my approach because (she) had a way of centering herself . . .owning her space. Herbie Hancock is a master of being in the moment and accepting what is happening all around him. And Michael Bublé is a professional. Always brings his very best effort while making it look effortless.”

For the upcoming performance, Caze will be accompanied by Latin Grammy-nominee Martin Bejerano and the West African Percussion Jazz Ensemble.

The celebration of Black History Month extends from South Beach to Brownsville, culminating in the Greatest Weekend at Historic Hampton House taking place from Friday, Feb. 23, to Sunday, Feb. 25. The final day of the event commemorates Muhammad Ali’s victory over Sonny Liston on Feb. 25, 1964, in Miami Beach. Ali’s win solidified his status as the world heavyweight boxing champion.

Visitors to the Historic Hampton House can explore iconic photographs capturing moments like Malcolm X photographing Muhammad Ali, taken by Bob Gomel (Photo taken at Hampton House by Jonel Juste)

Historic Hampton House is gearing up to celebrate the legacy of the athlete, nicknamed “The Greatest.”  Jacqui Colyer, the executive director and former board chair of Historic Hampton House, explains that the event was initiated in 2020 to honor and commemorate the fighter, an iconic figure who frequented the Hampton House alongside luminaries like Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, and jazz singers and musicians such as Sammy Davis Jr., Nancy Sue Wilson, Delores LaVern Baker, and Julian Edwin “Cannonball” Adderley.

This year’s Greatest Weekend will feature a concert by jazzman Bill Bandfield, a soul brunch, a food and wine festival, and a play titled “The Last Sun of the Hampton House” by South Florida author, director and actor Keith C. Wade.

Reflecting on Ali’s presence at the Hampton House, Colyer recalls, “Cassius Clay was one of the people who lived and stayed here. He used to stand in the lobby, greeting people.” During the inaugural year of the Greatest Weekend, Colyer explains that an actual boxing ring was set up at the Hampton House, where simulated boxing matches took place with real boxers and referees.

(Above: ArtSpeak Introduction to the Hampton House)

Visitors to the Historic Hampton House will see iconic photographs capturing moments like Malcolm X photographing Muhammad Ali, taken by Bob Gomel. Additionally, they can visit the room where Ali once stayed, where memorabilia such as replica boxing gloves and a boxing ring bell are on display. The museum and cultural center’s walls are adorned with portraits of Black icons, including James Brown, Harry Belafonte, Aretha Franklin, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, and Stevie Wonder.

Colyer declares this will be the last year dedicated to celebrating Ali. “Every year, it’s really about Cassius Clay, what he did and how he became really ‘The Greatest.’ In the future, we’re looking to do more greats like the greatest football players, the greatest runners or the greatest tennis players like Serena Williams.”

WHAT: Arsht Center’s 5th annual Heritage Fest, Dranoff 2 Piano’s West African Beats concert series,  and  Historic Hampton House’s Greatest Weekend.

WHERE: Heritage Fest at the Thomson Plaza for the Arts and Talib Kweli and DJ LS at the Arsht’s Knight Concert Hall, 1300 Biscayne Blvd, Miami; Dranoff 2 Piano’s West African Beats, North Beach Bandshell, 7275 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, and The Greatest Weekend at the Historic Hampton House, 4240 NW 27th Ave, Miami. 

WHEN: Heritage Fest, 3 to 7 p.m.,  Talib Kweli, 7:30 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 4, West African Beats, doors open at 4 p.m., show at 5 pm., Sunday, Feb 11;  The Greatest Weekend: Historic Hampton House: 7 p.m., Friday through Sunday, Feb. 23 to 25.

COST: Heritage Fest and The Greatest Weekend, both free admission. Talib Kweli concert, $30, $50, $65, West African Beats, from $30.90 to $200.85.

INFORMATION: 305-949-6722 and arshtcenter.org; 305-572-9900 and dranoff2piano. org; 305-638-5800 and eventbrite.com.

ArtburstMiami.com is a nonprofit media source for the arts featuring fresh and original stories by writers dedicated to theater, dance, visual arts, film, music and more. Don’t miss a story at www.artburstmiami.com

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