Friday, January 25, 2008

William Jefferson Clinton Slept Here!
Historic Harlem Site?

Historic Site: Convent Avenue Baptist Church
420 West 145th Street at Convent Avenue New York, NY

New York City and Harlem in particular have numerous sites that boast, "George Washington slept here" and I'm certain that between him and our current president there have been many other commander and chief ZZZZs clocked in Manhattan. However, in this era of multi-tasking and multi-use, "live/work" scenario's one has to give the "nod" to former President Bill Clinton for his highly documented effort at "Sleep/Prayer" earlier this week at Harlem's Convent Avenue Baptist Church.

Look out NYC Landmarks Commission!... we'll soon be looking for an interior church designation, or at least protection for the cushioned chair. I can only imagine the historic documentation report.... "Site of Bill Clinton's famous, I have a dream seat."

Historic Film Doumentaition, Item #25886543-08

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Lenox Terrace: 50 Plus!

Since construction was completed on the first of Lenox Terrace's six residential buildings in 1958, Lenox Terrace has been home to a who's who of local and national politicians, entertainers, and businesspeople, who value the community's commitment to, as the Times put it, "respectability without sterility and security without conformity."

Today, the Lenox Terrace community is more vibrant than ever. The property's six square city blocks offer a landscaped oasis within the bustle of Harlem's fast changing landscape. Children can be found playing in the property's private playground, while neighbors stop to enjoy a chat along its numerous park benches or within its flower garden. In many ways, Lenox Terrace is a quiet oasis, in the heart of the metropolis.

Residents of "The Terrace" are legendary, ranging from gangster "Bumpy" Johnson to writer Albert Murray, from whose Lenox Avenue terrace his artist friend Romare Bearden was inspired to create the collage series, "The Block."

The Block II, 1972

Albert Murray (L) and
Romare Bearden (R)
on Murray's terrace, 1981.

The Block, 1971

Lenox Terrace @50

Lenox Terrace, 1957
Architect: S. J. Kessler & Sons

Source information from rememembrances of the Harlem community at its fiftieth anniversary...Harlem historical realestate LenoxTerrace Olnick

Monday, January 21, 2008

Howard Bennett Playground
Its Link to the Martin Luther King Holiday

Although not a "park", the Howard Bennett Playground, located in Harlem on 135th street between 5th Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard is part of the New York City Parks Department and is named for
Howard Bennett (1911 -1981), the man responsible for
getting January 15th designated as a national holiday in
honor of Dr. Martin Luther King's Birthday.

Following King's assassination in 1968, Howard Bennett was inspired to pursue a national holiday commemorating Dr. King's life and memory, an effort he would devoted the last 13 years of his life to. A community activist and former labor leader, Bennett established a “Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday” storefront office in Harlem and lobbied local residents and area politicos at the popular eatery "22 West" 135th Street, located in the Lenox Terrace complex across the street from the playground. The flier below supported the national holiday, and it lists Bayard Rustin as Executive Director: A. Philip Randolph Institute; and Howard Bennett, National Coordinator; of the "National Citizens Committee for a Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday" with the committee's address given as 339 Lenox Avenue.

Below is the text from the plaque at the 135th street entrance to the playground.

1.2 acres
Howard Bennett (1911-1981), a Harlem community leader, was the founder of the National Citizens Committee for a Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday. From the time of Dr. King's assassination on
April 4, 1968 until his own death thirteen years later, Bennett campaigned persistently to make January 15, the birthday of the civil rights leader, a national holiday.

The idea for the holiday was conceived while Bennett and several friends were returning from Dr. King's funeral in Atlanta. After renting a storefront in Harlem which he called "Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday," Bennett enlisted the help of a few dedicated grassroots activists and began gathering signatures.

In April 1970, along with William Byrd and other members of the 131st Street Block Association, Bennett presented six million signatures to Brooklyn Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm and Detroit Congressman John Conyers. Chisholm and Conyers introduced a bill into Congress, which was passed in 1983. On November 2, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed Public Law HR3706 making January 15th a National Holiday in honor of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Since 1986, the holiday has been observed on the third Monday in January.

Bennett, one of sixteen brothers and sisters, was born in Greenwich Village. After serving in the Pacific Theater during World War II, he became a leader of the 369th Veterans Association, a Harlem-based organization of war veterans. He served as Labor Chairman of the New York Branch of the N.A.A.C.P. and was a consultant and confidante of labor leader A. Phillip Randolph. In 1977, Southeastern University of Greenville, South Carolina, awarded him an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Humanities for his contribution to civil rights. His last public act was to participate in the Solidarity March on Washington for Jobs on September 19, 1981.

Note: The "National Citizens Committee for a Dr. Martin Luther King Holiday" flier is from the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center, Howard University.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Eartha Kitt
A Harlem Grrrrrreat!

"I am learning all the time.
The tombstone will be my diploma."

This is where you see the truth of entertainment, because it is not edited.

You see it on stage as it is happening.

Even if we fall down or forget our words,
it's a part of live entertainment."

"I was given away.

If your mother gives you away,
you think everybody who comes into your life is going to give you away."

"The public has become my fairy godmother."

Eartha Kitt sings "C'est Si Bon"
Television Broadcast


Eartha Kitt sings "Everything Changes"
NYC Theater Production "Mimi Le Duck" 2006

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Harlem Postcards

125th Street IRT Station, Broadway Viaduct
circa 1906

Graham Court, Seventh Avenue at 116th Street
circa 1909

Amsterdam Avenue and Hamilton Place, south of 144th Street
circa 1910

Riverside Park, south of Grant's Tomb
circa 1900

View Manhattanville, Riverside Drive Viaduct from the Hudson River
circa 1904

Riverside Drive Viaduct, Manhattanville
circa 1908

Riverside Drive Overlook, Riverside Park/152nd St
circa 1909

Riverside Drive & Hudson River, north of 136th Street
circa 1910

Postcard images made available as a courtesy to HarlemOneStop
Property private collection of John T. Reddick

Monday, January 07, 2008

Lafayette Theatre: Macbeth (1936)
2227 Adam C. Powell, Jr. Blvd.

Today, few would imagine as they walk past 2227 Adam C. Powell Boulevard, that the building, currently home to Williams Institute C.M.E. Baptist Church, once housed Harlem's famed Lafayette Theatre. In 1990 the church removed any discernible exterior clues by covering the theater's distinctively arched windows and terra-cotta ornament with an unimaginative "more church-like facade" designed by architect Percy Griffin.

As a theater, its productions showcased many performers of the Harlem Renaissance,
as did its popular and adjoining neighbor,
Connie's Inn
2225 Seventh Avenue
once home to musical cabaret productions by Fats Waller, Andy Razaf and others. The Lafayette's most legendary staging was to come in 1936 with the innovative "voodoo" production by the WPA Federal Theater Project's Negro Theater Unit
of William Shakespeare's Macbeth.

Excitement... fairly rocked the Lafayette Theatre"
The New York Times

"This West Indian MACBETH is the most colorful, certainly the most startling, of any performance that gory tragedy has ever been given on this continent." Daily News

Directed by Orson Welles,
the production was set in nineteenth-century Haiti and featured an all black cast, with the play's witches portrayed as voodoo priestesses. The colorful costumes and jungle sets were designed by Nat Karson, later art director and set designer at the Radio City Music Hall. The highly successful production became famous for its dazzlingly
original use of lighting and sound, particularly the authentic voodoo drumming and chants composed by Harlem musical lumineres James P. Johnson, Porter Grainger and conducted by Joe Jordan. Macbeth launched the meteoric career of its novice director Welles, who was not yet twenty-one when it opened.

Newsreel: Macbeth, WPA Negro Theater Unit

Title - Macbeth
Author - William Shakespeare
Location - New York, NY (New Lafayette Theatre)
Date - Apr 14 - Jun 20, 1936
Genre - Drama/Tragedy
Director - Orson Welles
Composer - James P. Johnson, Porter Grainger, Joe Jordan
Conductor - Joe Jordan
Costume Designer - Nat Karson
Set Designer - Nat Karson

Macbeth - Jack Carter
Banquo - Canada Lee
Lady Macbeth - Edna Thomas
Macduff - Maurice Ellis

Sunday, January 06, 2008

Harlem's Social Diary: Irene Reid 1930 - 2008
Popular Harlem Songstress

"I just love to sing,
it's a gift God gave me"
Irene Reid

Funeral Services:

The Greater Zion Hill Baptist Church
Frederick Douglass Blvd. (8th Avenue) at 127th Street

Date: Thursday, January 10th, 2008
Time: Viewing from 2-6:30
Services from 6:30 on at the church

Beginning her singing career in church choirs, Reid tried her luck, in her late teens, at Harlem's famed Apollo Theatre. This was in 1948 and she won the amateur talent contest there four weeks in a row. This resulted in a job with Dick Vance's band, then resident at the Savoy Ballroom. She stayed with the band for two years, then struck out as a single. For a brief period, starting in 1961 she joined Count Basie, touring Europe and appearing on some of the band's live concert albums. After Basie she continued her solo career, often working with an organ-guitar-drums trio billed as Irene Reid & Company. In the late 80s, Reid was still singing every opportunity she had and visited Europe again, where, among a number of high-profile engagements, she appeared at Ronnie Scott's club in London. It was in London, in 1989, that she recorded her first album under her own name, with organist Mike Carr, Dick Morrissey, Jim Mullen, and drummer Mark Taylor.

She also continued to perform at a variety of Harlem venues, including Small's Paradise, Lenox Lounge, West End Cafe, Showman's and in outdoor concerts with Jazzmobile. Her singing style was powerful, echoing the ethos of the gospel tradition that marked her formative years. There's a bittersweet element to her sound that particularly suits ballad interpretations, but when the mood was upon her she could belt the blues with enormous authority.

Irene Reid with Mike Carr: What a Wonderful World

Note: Assorted biographical information drawn from Encyclopedia of Popular MusicCopyright Muze UK Ltd. 1989 - 2004

Saturday, January 05, 2008

St Clair Bourne 1945 - 2007

“Most of mainstream and public television in the late ’60s, and even during the ’70s, was from the point of view of an outsider looking at a subculture — white people looking at black people. We said we identify with and are a part of the subjects we are filming.”

St Clair Bourne

It is with deep pain and regret that HarlemOneStop shares with you the news of the passing of our beloved Harlem brother, filmmaker St Clair Bourne. According to his sister Judy, St. Clair made it through surgery without complication only to be attacked in the aftermath by a blood clot in his lung.

Bourne served on the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) in the past and made numerous enlightening documentary films back when they were not sexy and there was no money for them. He produced the feature-length documentary Half Past Autumn: The Life and Works of Gordon Parks for HBO. With actor Wesley Snipes as narrator and executive producer, Bourne directed John Henrik Clarke: A Great and Mighty Walk

and also directed Paul Robeson: Here I Stand!, a two-hour documentary for the "American Masters" PBS series. He was also a co-producer on the HBO dramatic feature Rebound, the true story of playground basketball legend Earl "The Goat" Manigault as well as Woodie King's independent theatrical feature The Long Night. Bourne is the executive producer for Visitors, Melis Birder's documentary about the family and friends of the incarcerated and Filiberto: Dead or Alive about the Puerto Rican nationalist Filiberto Ojeda Rios.

CLICK: official website for Bourne's New York Times obituarty or link to his website.

Photo: Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times

Kathleen Cleaver at St Clair Bourne's Memorial