Tampa, Fla. - My home town has it going on, and is also a happening place to visit year round. During the month of January, the city witnessed a tremendous surge in visitors. The city hosted the annual Outback Bowl at Raymond James Stadium. January 1st, 60,000 college football fans saw Tennessee defeat Wisconsin. January 5th, our beloved Tampa Bay Buccaneers was defeated by the New York Giants in a NFL Wild Card Game at Raymond James Stadium before a capacity crowd of 65,000 fans. The city will also welcome over 500,000 people who will line up along Bayshore Blvd. for the annual Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and Festival on January 26. It should come as no surprise that this is my fourth visit to the City of Tampa in the last five years.
My reason for visiting this time so that I could partake in the annual Tampa Black Heritage Festival "Celebrating Tampa's Heart and Soul." The Tampa Black Heritage Festival was held over nine days and featured various events at sixteen different venues throughout the Tampa Bay area. Attendance exceeded over 100,000 people from diverse communities.
A pre-festival event featured Dr. Maya Angelou speaking at the University of South Florida Sundome on January 14th. This event was possible thru a partnership between Tampa BlackHeritage Festival and the University of South Florida. The festival officially kicked off
January 18th, with an Opening Night Gala with entertainment provided by Ray Goodman and Brown.
Friday, January 18th, local radio station WJST-94.1 FM sponsored a concert at Channelside in Tampa featuring a gifted flute player named Jose Valentino. This remarkable musician has a CD out entitled Flute on Fire. This was a pleasant way to kick off the Tampa Black Heritage Festival as wells as the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Weekend celebration.
My niece and I attended the two day street festival on January 19th and 20th at Al Lopez Park. The day began with Dr. Ian Smith featuring the 50 Million Pound Challenge, along with free health screenings, literature and advice on how to reach your ultimate goals. There was a 2K walk promoting healthy lifestyles and plenty of give-aways in keeping with the theme of "Tampa Bay-A Healthy Community." The street festival provided something for the entire family and community with five villages-(Children's Village, Health Village, Artist Village, Author's Village and Corporate Village).
The community was thoroughly entertained on both days by local and national musicians. Melvin Coleman served as Master of Ceremony for the street festival. F.B.I-(Funky Beat Incorporated), Six, Ms. B, Enpower-MEN, and the P-Funk Re-Union band were the local artists performing on Saturday.
Saturday featured the always crowd pleasing performance of the Sugar Hill Gang and Rose Royce. This Old School soul, R&B and hip-hop celebration took the older members of the audience down memory lane with classic hits after another from these dynamic groups. I witnessed people demonstrating popular dances from back in the day throughout the park. I will not mention any of the dances because that would give away my age. The Sugar Hill Gang performed "Walk This Way", "Humpty Hump", "More Bounce To The Once", "Kick It Live From Nine to Five"-(don't try this on the job), "Livin' In The Fast Lane", "Girls", "Work, Work, The Body", "The Word Is Out", "The Lover In You", "Showdown", "8th Wonder", "Hot Hot Summer Day", "Apache", and of course "Rapper's Delight."
Rose Royce kept the momentum going and the dancers on the dance floor . The crowd were already in the groove when the group performed "Do Your Dance", "Ooh Boy", and "I'm In Love." Rain, coupled with thundering and lightning caused the show to end early. A cold chill hovered over Al Lopez Park for the final day of the Tampa Black Heritage Street Festival. Master of ceremonies Melvin Coleman led the crowd in an opening prayer. Rose Bilal, Florence Morrison, The Deacon and T.C Carter kicked off the entertainment for Sunday. Sunday also featured the soulful smooth jazz of Boston based saxophonist Walter Beasley. BK Jackson a sensational saxophonist from the Tampa Bay area opened the show with a wonderful set of jazz. BK Jackson is a rising star in the smooth jazz genre. He follows in the foot steps of Eric Darius of Lutz and Mindi Abair from Clearwater. I was very impressed with BK Jackson's show and I look forward to seeing this young man on the festival circuit in the near future. He had the wow factor working in his favor. People kept saying wow due to the fact that he is only sixteen years old, and wow that he is such an amazing and talented saxophonist. His engaging set featured the following tunes- "Feeling Saxy", "People Make the World Go Round", "What You Won't Do For Love", "Mr. Magic", "Rock With you", "Every Little Step" and "Ribbon In The Sky". BK concluded his set by leading the crowd in the Electric Slide and receiving a standing ovation Singer, saxophonist, educator and entrepreneur Walter Beasley is an icon and musical treasure in Boston. You can expect to hear some jazz, R&B, Latin, gospel and more during his concerts. He didn't disappoint me or the crowd as he closed out the street festival with another superb show of smooth jazz for a Sunday afternoon from his latest CD-Ready For Love as well as material from past recorded CD's.
My visit to Tampa concluded with the annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Drum Major for Justice Parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Monday,
Dr. Samuel Lamar Wright, Sr. (founder of Tampa Black Heritage Festival, Inc.) and the Tampa Bay Convention and Visitors Bureau, a major contributor, had a vision, to raise awareness of African and African-American heritage within the Tampa Bay Area Community.
The combined focus was to increase exposure to African and African- American culture through positive images and achievements. By promoting this awareness, the Tampa Black Heritage Festival touches lives and empowers people in a positive way.
The event surrounds the teachings and philosophy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. who advocated for a diverse community that is culturally sensitive to all who live there. Dr. Wright who is a supporter of Dr. King's guiding principles thought that positioning this event so close to Dr. King's birthday could be one way to honor the memory of this man and his legacy. The first Tampa Black Heritage Festival was scheduled to coincide with hosting the Superbowl in 2001. In that year, the Tampa Black Heritage Festival was only a dream. Thanks to the corporate community, small businesses, educational institutions, the private and public sector, the festival is now moving into its 8th year of reality.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, in the second of a three year commitment, is the Title Sponsor for this signature event. Other major sponsors include AAA Auto Club South, the city of Tampa, Hillsborough County-BOCC/TDC, the Tampa Tribune, Fox 13 News,
Washington Mutual Bank and State Farm Insurance. It is not too early to start planning your vacation to visit Tampa in January 2009.You
can literally knock out three birds with one stone: you can enjoy the marvelous activities planned for Tampa Black Heritage Celebration, you can also partake in the Gasparilla Parade of Pirates and Festival, lastly you will already be in town for the Super Bowl that will be held in Raymond James Stadium in 2009. Check out http://snap.tbo.com/pages/gallery.php?gallery=322357 to view a photo gallery for the Tampa Black Heritage Street Festival.