Miami Sound: A History

Miami Sound: A History, tells the story of how Miami acquired its unique musical sounds that enabled the city to become well known for its flourishing culturally diverse music. This historical journey highlights several major musical influences within Miami and how they have each contributed to the city’s musical framework.
This exhibit is dedicated to all audiences who wish to develop or increase their appreciation of the city’s unique musical blend. It is aimed to both educate and enhance cultural and city pride among Miami residents.

Early Miami

Miami in a musically primitive state, was a time where Miami didn’t have a sound of it’s own. At the start of Miami’s tourism boom, famous celebrities and musicians began to frequent Miami and perform for large audiences. The Olympia Theater was once Miami’s largest movie house, which happened to be the first air-conditioned theater in the south. It was also the second atmospheric theater in the country. This renowned theater and was and is still presently filled with replicas of orange trees, complete with oranges standing 6 feet tall in giant urns and figures of tropical birds perched in decorative minarets. Elvis Presley, Rosemary Clooney (George Clooney’s aunt), Bonnie Baker, and many other artists once graced the stage of the theater.

The Deauville Hotel, located on Miami Beach, “received its fair amount of attention from the world of the rich and the famous however, its most historical moment came in 1964, when Ed Sullivan brought his celebrated “Really Big Show” to the Napoleon Ballroom of the Deauville featuring in its opening night what was to become one of the biggest music groups in history. The headliners for that first broadcast read Great Britain’s cultural gift to America, The BeatlesAn overwhelming 4,500 close friends and neighbors came to the Deauville that afternoon for the Beatles’ dress rehearsal. That same evening due to the massive number of attendees, over 1,000 ticket holders of the 4,000 that were given away for the Beatles performance at The Deauville, could not get in. During their stay, The Beatles held one of their most famous photo shoot while swimming in The Deauville’s pool and beach and they loved the hotel so much that they stayed the entire week. However, despite the memorable 1964 presence of The Beatles, the Deauville’s history of glitz and glamour has been long in the making. The Deauville Beach Resort was a favorite of 1950’s and 60’s stars such as Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin, Joey Bishop and Tony Bennett to name a few.”-The Deauville Hotel

Although Miami Beach frequented many of the worlds famous musicians, there was a completely different music phenomenon happening simultaneously across the bridge in Overtown. Due to racial tension, many African American musicians that were invited to perform on Miami Beach weren’t allowed to book hotel rooms in the hotels in which they performed; therefore they had to lodge in hotels located in Overtown. Formerly known as Colored town,  it was a section within the city of Miami that was built for Henry Flagler’s railroad workers who were predominately African Americans. Due to the fact that segregation was still firmly enforced, African Americans made the most of their town and later created their own businesses and a music culture like no other.

The legendary Clyde Killens (photographed above), an Overtown resident and entertainment promoter, was primarily responsible for bringing black entertainers into the community. Among the artist who frequented Overtown are musicians such as Ike and Tina Turner, Aretha Franklin, Dionne Warwick, Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, and many other artists that performed year round at the Sir John Hotel, Mary Elizabeth Hotel, The Lyric Theater and other Overtown establishments.

Let’s Boogie

TK Records, founded by Henry Stone, is closely associated with the early rise of disco music and was the label on which the first disco song “Rock Your Baby” by George McCrae, became a #1 hit on the pop music charts. The label was home to KC & The Sunshine Band who scored five #1 songs including “Get Down Tonight”, “That’s the Way I Like It”, “Shake Your Booty”, “I’m Your Boogie Man” and “Please Don’t Go”. Also, Betty Wright, a Miami native and former TK Records artist, who released on the label her most widely known single titled, “The Clean Up Woman.” The record reached number two on the R&B charts, where it stayed for eight weeks. It crossed over to the pop charts, peaking at number six and staying on the Billboard Hot 100 for 14 weeks. It eventually sold over a million copies and was certified gold on December 30, 1971, nine days after the singer turned 18.

Do That Conga!

Miami’s Cuban-American culture played a significant role in contributing to the city’s sound. Cubans came to Miami with not only their families, but with treasured music traditions reminiscent of home. Three popular Miami Cuban American bands The Antiques, Coke, and Mantrap were largely responsible for the creation of the first Miami sound.  These bands fused bolero, R&B, funk, and rock music and created a sound that became most commonly associated with Miami. The multi-platinum Cuban American band, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine, was one of the most successful Latin crossover acts of the ’80s. The band was an international success and scored many #1’s on the Billboard charts and won numerous awards.

Miami Bass

Amos Larkins who produced “Bass Rock Express” by MC Ade, launched the creation of Miami Bass music. The record is credited as being the first Miami Bass record to gain underground popularity on an international scale. Miami Bass is described as booming low-based frequencies which features more stripped down beats and heavy bass focusing on sine waves and 808 audio kicks. “2 Live Crew” who released the single “Throw The D” (Produced by David “Treach DJ Mr. Mixx” Hobbs) in January 1986 is credited for creating a permanent blueprint to how future Miami Bass songs were written and produced. By the mid 1990s, the influence of Miami Bass had spread outside South and Central Florida to all areas of Florida and the Southern United States. Other Miami Bass influenced artists are 95 South, Tag Team, 69 Boyz, Quad City DJ’s, and Freak Nasty who all scored big Miami Bass hits.

Miami Bass birthed Car Audio Bass, which spread quickly from the streets of Miami around the nation, spurring hip-hop aficionados to adopt this sound in their cars, accounting for the deep boom you hear from tricked out cars driving down the street blasting the latest hip-hop music.


The Miami music scene is a huge part of the city’s core identity and millions of people flock to Miami in droves just to be inspired and influenced by the many different sounds found here. From Miami Bass rap to slow and lazy blues to the heat of Latin salsa, the sound of Miami is sizzling, making the city a breeding ground for the constant creation of new music.