Fall Muzik Fest: Classy Affair Remembering Karen Smith
Bunny Rose, Courtni Jackson, Jamie Wilmott and Dr. Kathy Brown performing in finale at Fall Muzik Fest. (Photo: Contributed)

Florida, United States: The inaugural staging of Fall Muzik Fest held in South Florida recently as a tribute to the late Jamaican songbird Karen Smith, was a classy affair, with not one, not two, but four Jamaican entertainers, including Karen’s daughter, Courtni Jackson.

From early in the morning to late in the night torrential rains poured, but that was not enough to stop scores of people from turning out to fill the pews of the more than 50-year-old Holy Family Episcopal Church in Miami Gardens.

With formalities and prayers out of the way by Father Horace Ward, the festival opened with three-time Grammy nominee and saxophonist Melton Mustafa setting the tone for what was to come with the Al Green classic ‘Let’s Stay Together’. His balanced and emotive delivery was well received by the crowd which swayed and sang along to his dulcet notes. This was followed by his rendition of John Legend’s ‘All of Me’ which was also warmly received by the audience.

But it was Courtni Jackson, the daughter of Karen Smith who thrilled the audience with her rendition of the Nancy Wilson hit, ‘How glad I am’, which was also a favourite in her mother’s repertoire. Her creditable performance resulted in the first standing ovation for the evening. That was followed by an up-tempo rendition of Chaka Khan’s ‘Ain’t Nobody’ which was equally well received and Katy Perry’s ‘You’re Gonna Hear Me Roar’, engaging the younger audience as they sang, danced and showed their appreciation with another standing ovation.

It was over to the multi-hyphenate Bunny Rose - no stranger to South Florida, who opened his set with ‘Autumn Leaves’ a fitting symbolism of the season. This was followed by ‘Beauty and the Beast’ delivered with precision and passion. With the audience now firmly in his grasp, Rose launched into ‘The Prayer’, a crowd favourite which he did in English and Italian, sending the audience into a frenzy.

There were also delightful performances from jazz pianist Dr. Kathy Brown and up and coming rising star Jamie Wilmot. The acclaimed pianist owned the ivories and had the audience lapping up every note, as she embellished ‘Sly Mongoose’ in her characteristic contemporary style. Wilmot possesses great energy, strong voice and excellent use of stage, and is one to watch for the future.

Just after intermission, a recording of the late Karen Smith was shown to the audience. Father Ward reflected on Smith’s contribution to the community and South Florida and appealed to the audience to support the festival next year.

The second half of the show was progressively better with duets from Rose and Courtni as they gave a fitting tribute to Karen, singing ‘Unforgettable’ and Eta James’ magnum opus ‘At Last’. During Rose’s second stint, a member of the audience loudly requested ‘Purple Rain’, and the performer gladly obliged and. Patrons waved their phones with lights on, creating a stadium-like effect during the performance.

Each performer did one Christmas song and for the finale they all sang O’Holy Night, and asked the audience to sing along which they did.

Master of ceremonies for the event was the affable Sophia Nicholson who marshalled the proceedings with energy and light comedy.

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