Historic Hampton House launching live music, film series
From left, Ja’Nia Harden, Toddra Brunson, Sarah Gracel Anderson and Deana Butler-Rahming
will pay tribute to the late, great singer Nina Simone. (Photo courtesy of Ladies of Simone)
The Historic Hampton House is getting its soul back.
Not that the 1953 segregation-era motel and lounge ever lost its soul. But like most events venues, COVID-19 has kept Miami’s unique cultural gem mostly dimmed. Plans to turn Hampton House’s lights back on are underway this month, with mandatory mask wearing, social distancing and sanitizing protocols in place.
This former motel-turned-cultural-center is launching a live music series on Nov. 13 and a film series on Nov. 19 – both celebrating African-American culture and pride.
“This is a beautiful facility with an amazing history, and we see the chance to push it forward,” said Historic Hampton House interim CEO Imani Warren, talking about these and other plans. “We’re trying to let the community and Miami know that we’re open, that you can come enjoy yourself, and you can be safe.”
Warren said the cultural center will limit the amount of in-house tickets sold and is working on providing livestreaming for the concerts.
In its heyday, the Hampton House, located in the Brownsville neighborhood near Liberty City, was a place where Black visitors felt safe in the Jim Crow era. With its midcentury style, plus a jazz club, restaurant and swimming pool, the motel was a crown jewel of the “Green Book,” the guide for African-American travelers during segregation.
The Hampton House welcomed Black celebrities who performed at Miami Beach hotels but could not spend the night there. It was like a second home for many civil rights leaders. Martin Luther King Jr. is said to have tried out his famous “I Have A Dream” speech at the motel a few years before delivering it during the 1963 March on Washington. Malcolm X and then Cassius Clay ate ice cream together in the Hampton House cafeteria to celebrate the young boxer’s 1964 victory over heavyweight champion Sonny Liston. Shortly after winning the title fight in Miami, Clay changed his name to Muhammad Ali.
White performers like Frank Sinatra and Vic Damone trekked to the Hampton House to visit or perform at its jazz lounge. The motel was also a place for community weddings, anniversaries, beauty contests and other events.
“It’s always been a symbol of human dignity and inclusion,” said Keith Clarke, curator of Hampton House’s jazz and film series. “It was a place for people to build bridges, go out and seek equality.”
Clarke grew up in Brownsville and remembers attending a Hampton House music program for youngsters. Now, Clarke is trying to build his own bridges, hoping to attract people who have never heard about the historic venue.
The music series kicks off on Nov. 13 and 14 with Ladies of Simone and The Simone Band, a tribute to the high priestess of soul, Nina Simone. Local singers and actresses Sarah Gracel Anderson, Ja’Nia Harden, Toddra Brunson and Deana Butler-Rahming will perform from Simone’s rich catalog, which includes protest classics such as “Mississippi Goddam,” and “To Be Young, Gifted and Black.”
The Simone tribute, which was performed at the Hampton House and at downtown Miami’s Olympia Theater in 2019 brought the house down each time, said Clarke, who is president of the Miami Jazz and Film Society.
“People are really fulfilled by the truth that Nina speaks in her songs, but also by the performances, how the four singers synchronize and harmonize,” Clarke said. “It’s a great experience.”
Among plans for the new year, the Hampton House is working on guided audio tours, where visitors can see, among other things, the suite where King Jr. stayed and listen to one of his speeches. Warren also hopes to organize an event celebrating “One Night In Miami,” a new motion picture based on a fictionized encounter between Malcom X, Cassius Clay, Jim Brown and Sam Cooke that takes place at the famed Miami motel. The film, Regina King’s directorial debut, is scheduled for a limited theater release on Christmas Day and a Jan. 15 release on Amazon Prime.
For more information on the Historic Hampton House, or the music and film series, visit: Historichamptonhouse.org or the Miami Jazz and Film Society Facebook page, Facebook.com/miamijazzandfilmsociety.
The concerts are from 7 to 10 p.m., with doors opening at 6:30 p.m., and ticket intake starting at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 and can be purchased through Eventbrite or at Historichamptonhouse.org.
The lineup includes:
Nov. 13-14: Ladies of Simone and The Simone Band, a tribute to the high priestess of soul, Nina Simone
Dec. 11: Divas & Divo 1, featuring about 10 of South Florida’s leading jazz vocalists and musicians will coming together in two separate shows for an evening of jazz and pop music. The lineup includes jazz singers and musicians Carole Ann Taylor, Aniye Strachan, Leesa Richards, Brenda Alford, Nikki Kidd, Nicole Yarling and Wendy Pedersen, along with vocalist LeNard Rutledge and saxophonist and singer Jesse Jones Jr.
Jan. 9 – Divas & Divo 2. Details to be announced.
Jan. 18 – A Martin Luther King Jr. celebration will feature Junkanoo bands for a carnival atmosphere. If conditions allow, “there will be dancing, whistles, percussion, call and response – a joyful experience,” said Keith Clarke, curator of Hampton House’s jazz and film series.
An eclectic mix of documentaries and feature films on a wide range of topics and characters will run from Nov. 19 through Jan. 21. Two films will be shown per night, starting at 6:30 p.m., with doors opening at 6 p.m. Admission is $10, and tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite or at Historichamptonhouse.org.
The lineup includes:
“(In)Visible Portraits” by director Oge Egbuonu, who looks at the experience of Black women in America.
“Music is My Life, Politics My Mistress,” on the life of poet, singer, musician and activist Oscar Brown Jr.
“And Still I Rise,” which explores the life of poet and activist Maya Angelou.
“Moolaadé” by Senegalese writer and director Ousmane Sembène, who tackles the subject of female genital mutilation.
“Edge of the City,” a 1957 film-noir drama with John Cassavetes and Sidney Poitier.
“Nothing But A Man,” a 1964 film on the theme of racial discrimination, starring jazz singer-actress Abbey Lincoln.
“Muhammad Ali – Beyond the Ropes,” on the life of the legendary boxer. The program also includes a speech by Ali and a testimonial on why he became a Muslim.
“The Journey of the African-American Athlete,” on the history of Black athletes in U.S. sports.