Singer Sam Moore is one of the most famous African American figures to hail from Miami — and probably one of the least known in his home city.
Moore, 80, was one half of Sam and Dave, the soul duo whose hit Soul Man defined the gutsy Memphis R&B sound of the ‘60s. Moore grew up in Overtown, which in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s was home to a vital music scene that earned it the nickname Harlem of the South, where local talents mixed it up with visiting musical icons like Aretha Franklin, Jackie Wilson and Nat King Cole.
“I was in the ghetto, but I didn’t know it was the ghetto,” Moore told the Miami Herald in a 2008 interview. “It was all I knew.”
He started out singing gospel in Overtown’s many churches, and hung out with Sam Cooke, another legend who often visited, and the recently deceased Clarence “Blowfly” Reid, the songwriter who wrote hits for pioneering Miami labels Deep City Records and TK Records.
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“Sam [Cooke] was fresh, too, if you get my drift,” Moore said in 2008. “Sam and I became very close.”
Moore met future partner Dave Prater at a Liberty City club called King of Hearts in the early ‘60s, where Moore, who was hosting a talent show, helped out a frightened Prater on his first appearance. The duo began performing and recording locally, and in 1964 were signed by Atlantic Records, which was using Miami’s Criteria Studios as its Southern base. Recording at Stax Records’ famous Memphis studio, Sam and Dave had huge hits like Hold On, I’m Comin and When Something is Wrong With My Baby, while their electrifying live show earned them the nickname, “Double Dynamite.”
The pair eventually broke up, and Prater died in a car accident in 1988. Moore has continued to have a busy solo career, performing and recording with a host of artists, from Bruce Springsteen to Sting, and releasing his own albums. In recent years, Moore, who lives in Scottsdale, Arizona, with his wife and manager Joyce Moore, has been visiting Miami more often, prompted in part by renewed interest in the history of Overtown and Miami’s music scene — particularly as development is transforming the historic neighborhood. He’s slated to perform with the Miami Symphony Orchestra’s Miami Rocks concert at the Adrienne Arsht Center on March 20, where he’ll also be recognized for his soul singing career.
Despite his achievements, few young people, even in Moore’s hometown, are familiar with his legacy or era. Most think Soul Man originated with the 1980 film Blues Brothers, starring Dan Akroyd and John Belushi, who covered the song; and few in Miami know that Overtown produced one of soul music’s most famous acts.
Moore has begun to focus on keeping Miami’s black musical and cultural history alive with his The Soul, Arts & Music Foundation. (A concert to benefit the foundation last November was postponed after a Miami promoter was found to have created a copycat foundation; Joyce Moore now hopes the event will take place in September.) He’s working with Florida International University, which is developing a cultural program for inner city students in Miami, which is tentatively scheduled to start with Booker T. Washington High School, which Moore attended.
“A lot of these kids in Overtown and Liberty City, they don’t even know who Martin Luther King is,” Moore said earlier this week from Arizona. “You know how to rap but you don’t know nothing else. Well some of the old musicians who are still around can educate you about this. ... This is something that’s going to benefit everybody. That’s where I’m coming from about Overtown.”
Events celebrating Black History Month this week:
Miami-Dade County Celebrates Black History Month: The month-long celebration kicks off with “Women of a New Tribe” and the Kinad, Inc. African American Historical Timeline Exhibit; 11:30 a.m. Friday; Stephen P. Clark Government Center Lobby, 111 NW First St., downtown Miami. Free. 305-375-4606 or www.miamidade.gov/baab.
Black Heritage Festival: Features entertainment, food and vendors.noon-4 p.m. Saturday; Betty Ferguson Recreational Complex, 3000 NW 199th St., Miami Gardens. Free. 305-375-5694 or www.miamidade.gov.
Spirit - a Celebration of Music, Culture & Black History: Miami Oratorio Society presents a concert of Negro Spirituals, with Gospel vocalist Shanna-Lee, and the Aaron Lebos Reality Jazz Band; 4 p.m. Saturday; North Dade Regional Library, 2455 NW 183rd St., Miami. Free. 954-882-2242 or firstname.lastname@example.org or www.mdpls.org.
Ascent: Black Women's Art Exhibition: Features the work of black female artists; through March 4; Nova Southeastern University – Alvin Sherman Library, 3100 Ray Ferrero Jr. Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Free. 954-262-4637 or email: email@example.com.