Betty Wright's Clean Up Woman hit No. 2 on the R&B charts in 1971, but she never surpassed that burst of fame. By then, she was living in Liberty City, and Overtown's heyday was over.
Miami musicians like Sam Early, Dizzy Jones and John ''Root Man'' MacArthur were either too raw, too undisciplined or too far from the center of music industry action to make an impact on the national scene. It wasn't until the 1970s, when Henry Stone's TK Records exploded with disco hits by KC and the Sunshine Band, Gwen McCrae and others, that a Miami sound was heard nationally.
''The musicians in Overtown Miami was some of the best musicians in the country, but they was used to playing onstage, not doing recordings,'' says Willie Clarke, 72, who was born and raised in Overtown. In the early '60s, Clarke and partner Johnny Pearsall launched Deep City Records from Pearsall's Liberty City record shop, releasing a roster of local artists, including Betty Wright and Clarence Reid. Clarke went on to write and produce many of TK's biggest hits, including Clean Up Woman and Rockin' Chair for Gwen McCrae.
But Deep City's musicians were drawn largely from the famed marching band at Clarke's alma mater, Florida A&M, because they had the discipline that Overtown's musicians often lacked.
''They was like restless people,'' Clarke says. ``It's showtime, bring out the drinks, the MC, and they played.''
''You have to work it,'' Reid says. ``You put this record out, and it's good, you don't wait a bunch of time and party 'round two-three years before you put out another one.''
For many musicians, the Overtown music scene, though small, was enough. There was plenty of work and inspiration, the heady sense that this was the center of the action; there was the comforting, small-town neighborliness.
''Maybe because [musicians] felt so comfortable here they felt that this was enough,'' Pee Wee Ellis says. ``To get beyond here took a bit of a leap of faith.''
When Sam and Dave started, Moore was more interested in a good time than in his career: ``To get up my little money on Sunday night, go home with the next girl, and come back and start all over. I enjoyed that. I wasn't looking for stardom.''
And now there is no place in Overtown to play. The highways destroyed hundreds of properties and displaced most of the 40,000 people who once lived there, leaving only about 9,000 today.
The neighborhood's social fabric was decimated, leaving the familiar litany of urban ills: poverty, drugs, crime, riots. Overtown rapidly went from being the hottest part of town to a place that caused many people to shudder when they drove through it.
''Overtown will never be born again,'' Dunn says. ``What we knew is gone. We cannot re-create that. No matter how many millions of dollars you spend on this or that project to bring it back to life, Overtown as it was will never happen. All of the things that came together at just the right time, the right people, the right place -- you can't recapture that.''
Although a host of ambitious new development projects are still planned for the surrounding area, from the $1 billion Port of Miami tunnel to the multibillion-dollar Miami Worldcenter, a massive retail and entertainment complex in Park West, Overtown is not included in such schemes for growth. The restoration of the Lyric Theater and the establishment of a historic district in the neighborhood's center may have resuscitated a faint cultural heartbeat, but it doesn't come close to reviving the neighborhood's heyday.
Junkies and prostitutes still drift in the shadows of the expressway, and people still sleep on the sidewalks.
Some things have improved. For 15 years, Dunn has planted gardens in what used to be trash-filled vacant lots. A section of Northwest Third Avenue has been renovated, with new pavement and storefronts. There's a development of pretty single-family houses on the neighborhood's northern end.
But the heart of Overtown is still largely empty. Dorothy Jenkins Fields, Judge Johnson's niece and founder of the Black Archives History and Research Foundation of South Florida, got a two-block section along Northwest Second Avenue declared a historic district in 1982. Yet, almost all she has to show for her efforts is the still incomplete restoration of the Lyric Theater.
''The 1982 resolution . . . was to wipe out slum and blight in Overtown and Park West,'' Fields says. ``[The resolution] states that it recognizes the historical, cultural, business and entertainment significance of Overtown. . . . They have refused to honor it.''
Overtown residents and civic activists complain that nearby development, like the recently completed condo towers on Biscayne Boulevard or the elaborate Miami Worldcenter proposed last fall for the Park West area east of the railroad tracks, does nothing to revitalize their neighborhood.
''It's the same story we've been hearing for 30 years,'' Overtown activist Denise Perry said at a community meeting on the Worldcenter project last October.
But even if Overtown is redeveloped, all the condos and Starbucks-ready storefronts in the world won't restore the community and energy that flowered there naturally, or the musical potential wiped out along with the clubs on Second Avenue.
Black urban communities throughout the country were destroyed in the 1960s by highways, desegregation and development. But something special was lost in Overtown: its music and spirit, its sense of pride and excitement -- irreplaceable, evanescent things that made life joyful and worth living.
You can't go ''over town'' anymore.