ST. PETERSBURG – Shawn Brown, nationally renowned jazz musician, is known to enthrall his audiences with his energetic vocals as his hands fly up and down the keyboard, adding their magic to a performance. A musical virtuoso, he can make his keyboard and his voice move through the emotions of love, sorrow and happiness while bringing the audience along for the joyous ride.
During his long career, he has been a producer and mentor to other musicians and now he’s embarking on the latest phase of his musical journey as entertainment director for the Historic Manhattan Casino. Brown will be responsible for securing and promoting the entertainment at the venue.
Granted a five-year lease by the City of St. Petersburg last Nov., the Callaloo Group has renovated the downstairs space to include Callaloo, a full-service restaurant, a to-go restaurant that features the Pipo’s Cuban Café menu, a full-service commissary and a bar and lounge.
The second-floor has live entertainment and is rented out for private events.
Brown said Callallo Group Director of Development, Mario Farias, had been a fan of his for years when he reached out to him for this new venture.
“Something possessed me when I came in here,” Brown said about entering the second floor hallowed dance hall. He reminisced about the dynasty of black musicians and singers that performed there including Duke Ellington, James Brown and Ike and Tina Turner.
“This place has a root and is rich with history. I feel a presence of their work.”
Brown is excited about this latest chapter in his life and is eager to bring the Manhattan Casino to the forefront of St. Petersburg entertainment. He has revamped the area bringing in his lighting, surround sound system and has had the stage rebuilt with a tiered effect and sparkling lights in the same spot as the original stage from many years ago.
He said that many musicians are anxious to appear at the historic venue such as Eric Darius, singer extraordinaire Siobhan Monique and The Henry Ashwood Jazz Project, who have performed during Sunday brunch in the main dining room.
There will be live music on Saturday evenings and jam sessions on Sundays. He also wants to expand the entertainment options to include a comedy night, spoken word, dance troupes and gospel music.
Although the opening of the Historic Manhattan Casino was met with great fanfare and celebration, there were some voices of opposition. Some have concerns that the establishment should have been leased and ran by a black-owned firm. Callaloo Group Vice President Vincent Jackson recently spoke at Mt. Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church about what he hopes they will bring to the community.
“This space is not ours, it is the community’s,” Jackson said, adding that the Callaloo Group is there for economic stimulation and to create jobs in the community.
He mentioned the installation of the full-service commissary that will produce food products for other Pipo Cuban Café restaurants and will, therefore, create job creation.
“We have a blessing and a duty to serve this community,” said Jackson.
“This is a God-given inheritance,” Brown stated. “I would like people to know my interest is nothing political. I just want to be a good representative in the African-American community in St. Pete. I hope this becomes a place that unites and builds our esteem, grows confidence in ourselves and to be proud. I really hope the people of St. Pete will embrace something of our heritage.”