On Friday February 22nd, 2013 I had the pleasure of attending “Apollo Club Harlem” at the historic Apollo Theater. ”Apollo Club Harlem” celebrated the theater’s rich jazz history from it’s opening in 1934 through the early 1950’s. All in attendance were encouraged, but not required to dress in clothing from the period when Harlem was the entertainment playground for the entire New York City metropolitan area. As a Harlem tour operator, I spend lots of time figuring out ways to recreate the days of Harlem yesteryears when the community was loaded with jazz/music venues featuring performers such as Duke Ellington (band leader), Earl “Snakehips” Tucker (dancer), Alice Whitman (tap dancer), Dinah Washington (singer), Machito (Latin jazz musician), the Nicholas Brothers (tap dance duo), Billie Holiday (singer), Josephine Baker (dancer) and many others.
“Apollo Club Harlem” directed and choreographed by Mr. Maurice Hines did a fabulous job of making it easy to imagine what it must have been like during Harlem’s jazz heyday. As I sat dressed in tuxedo, tails and top hat surrounded by others outfitted in period wear absorbing the entertainment, I truly felt I was taking a ride in a time machine to decades long ago to visit people and places that have made Harlem the cultural capital of the Black America.
The photo above features me and Ms. Mikki Shepard who conceived the idea for “Apollo Club Harlem.” Ms. Mikki Shepard is part of the executive staff at the Apollo Theater and oversees all programming, marketing and development at the theater. I first met Ms. Shepard during Summer 2012 at a celebration for Ms. Dianne Mcintyre (Founder of “Sounds in Motion” 1972) and I have been a huge fan of both Ms. Shepard and Ms. Mcintyre ever since.
Hopefully “Apollo Club Harlem” will become an annual event, if so make sure to be there next year, you will definitely enjoy it.
Congrats to Ms. Mikki Shepard and the entire programming department at the Apollo Theater for a job well done.
It was a pleasure once again to participate in the Annual Dr. Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at the King Towers Community Center within the King Towers Housing Development, this years theme: “Community Pride through Civic Engagement, 50 Years and the Dream Lives on” The celebration consisted of over 14 mini performances, mostly by local youth from New York City housing developments (NYCHA). Performances consisted of song, dance and poetry interspersed with multimedia effects provided by Harlem Heritage Tours. The room was filled to capacity with local residents basking in the glow of the legacy of Dr. King.
Much time was spent recognizing that this August 2013 marks the 50th year since Dr. King delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech. A few of the elders in the room were present at the “March On Washington” in 1963 and spoke passionately to the youth about that momentous day. Great way to start Black History Month 2013.
We at Harlem Heritage Tours have been participating in this event for the past three years and will continue to do so as long as people continue to DREAM.
Special thanks to Mrs. Ruby Kitchen & Leona Shoemaker and the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Towers Resident Council and the staff at the King Towers Community Center (NYCHA) for all your hard work.
On the Wednesday November 9th, 2011 I personally conducted the Harlem Heritage Wednesday Gospel Experience. Mr. Bill Binderman attended the tour with his daughter. We walked and talked and had a great time getting to know each other and then we were off to the church, and what a great church experience it was.
After the tour and leaving the church we ran into Harlem’s Assemblyman Mr. Keith Wright. Me and Mr. Binderman were happy to meet the Assemblyman, then out of no where Mr. Binderman mentioned that back in 1969 he became the Executive Producer of Public Relations at ABC and was assigned to produce “Like It Is”.
When he said that all stopped with dropped jaw and just starred at him and asked him to repeat what he had just said. I couldn’t believe that the entire night I was with a man that helped to bring to life one of my favorite shows of all time = “Like It Is”.
I then informed Mr. Binderman of the health of Mr. Gil Noble. Bill was visible shaken by the news and then proceeded to tell me at least 10 stories pertaining to Gil Noble – I never knew that Mr. Gil Noble was a terrific pianist. He talked about the class and grace of Mr. Gil Noble, i was so impressed.
I will never forget Mr. Binderman and his Daughter. All should join us one Wednesday evening for our Wednesday Gospel Experience:
On February 10th 2011, I attended an event at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture in celebration of the life and times of the late great Harlem Photographer Mr. Kwame Gervin. Additionally, the event recognized the latest exhibition at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture called: “Harlem Views / Diasporan Visions: The New Harlem Renaissance Photographers” sponsored by the office of Harlem State Senator Mr. Bill Perkins. The exhibition features the work of twenty five Harlem Photographers, many of whom knew and worked with Mr. Kwame Gervin – they loved him dearly.
After attending the funeral service for Mr. Gervin in 2009, State Sen. Bill Perkins committed himself to finding ways to recognize and celebrate Mr. Gervin and many Harlem Photographers like him who’ve dedicated their lives to telling the story of Harlem via their cameras.
Kwame Gervin was born in Harlem Hospital on July 15, 1932 and attended P.S. 5 in Harlem, later attending Frederick Douglass Junior High School, graduating from Metropolitan High School. He enlisted in the Air Force serving in North Africa, before attending Columbia University for two years. He found his true passion in photography and was ever present with camera in hand to capture the every day struggles and accomplishments happening within the Harlem community. Mr. Gervin and many of the great Photographers of his time are relatively unknown, but what they did helps us know what Harlem was like from the 1920’s through the 1980’s
State Sen. Perkins has formed a group known as NHRP: New Harlem Renaissance Photographers. Now the next generation of Photographers are here to carry on the duty of telling our story.
On March 10, 2011 at 12:00 noon join us at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture as we welcome the community to the Schomburg to view the current exhibition featuring the New Harlem Renaissance Photoghaphers – truely a great body of work.
Harlem Heritage Tours wishes Mr. Howard Dodson a great retirement after 26 years of faithful service to the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and the Harlem communmity. There would be no Harlem Heritage Tours without the Schomburg and Mr. Howard Dodson.
In the photo above my friends Mother holds her two Grand Daughters as we celebrate their 1st Birthday at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center. I’m extremely thankful to the industry of Cultural Tourism for giving us a platform from which to meet people from around the world + moments like the one captured in the image above with local residents.
With each passing day I realize another way in which Cultural Tourism can be used as a double-edged magic wand to expose visitors to the authentic lifestyle of local residents and improve the quality of life for he overall host community – Harlem.
When balanced properly the possibilities are endless – this is what excites the good folks at the Harlem Heritage Tourism and Cultural Center.
Love live Cultural Tourism – making the world better.
On January 15th, 2011 friends from Atlanta Ga. and the Boston Mass. area visited us in search of the legacy of Dr. King in Harlem.
The gentlemen with red scarf once worked as a postal worker in Atlanta and the Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta was on his route daily, now he stands at Harlem’s Ebenezer Baptist Church on Malcolm X Blvd.
The women to the far left once taught at Boston University where Dr. King earned his Doctor of Philosophy in 1955. It was great to teach them about Harlem, but it was even better to hear what they had to say and learn from them.
The gentlemen with red scarf and the lady immediately to his right are celebrating their 35th Wedding Anniversary in New York City this weekend and said Harlem was a must see. The lady to the far left and the gentlemen next to her will celebrate their 35th Wedding Anniversary in October – what coincidences on this tour.
I won’t forget these guys any time soon – it was an interesting Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Celebration.
I’m here providing moral support for these guys as they work hard to get this van free from the snow and ice on Malcolm X Blvd. and 118th Street. The gentlemen eventually freed the vehicle from the snow and ice on Malcolm X Blvd. at 118th St.
The following day I was in the area at 119th Street and the NYC Sanitation trucks started making there way toward me, so of course I whipped out the EVO and shot the vid. It’s very cold, I only get a few minutes to shot the vid. before frost bite sends a warning to the fingers.
Turns out my man “Butter” from Martin Luther King Jr. Towers was behind the wheel of one of the trucks.
Sympathies from Harlem to those people and families in the New York City area seriously affected by the storm.
I know many around the city are complaining about the cities response to the storm, I just call what I see on the Harlem Boulevards.
On Wednesday 12/08/2010 I attended Circle of Brothers Town Hall Meeting in Harlem sponsored by Circle of Brothers and Street Corner Resources. The meeting took place in the lunchroom cafeteria of P.S. 175 on West 134th Street. When I walked in I was a little hunger so I made my way to the refreshments and took a seat up front.
Over the next two hours a gentlemen named Abdul-Kareem Muhammad would invite several speakers to address an audience of approximately 60 African-American males about various economic and socio-political issues affecting the Harlem community.
Lamar Thornton Founder and Chairman of “New Breed Life Arts” spoke about many things including teaching young kids the importance of saving their money and providing financial literacy workshops for community youth. Mr. Thornton is a Master of the Martial Arts and uses his expertise to teach life skills to community youth.
Mr. Chet Whye Executive Director of “HARLEM4 Center for CHANGE” spoke about various topics including having a greater selection of affordable healthy food options in Harlem. He emphasized making healthy food choices and making adjustments to our cultural mind set as it pertains to how we view food consumption.
Dedric Hammond aka Beloved is a Youth Advocate and Violence Reduction Specialist, who once was known on the streets as “Bad News” Now he is known community wide as “Beloved”. He spoke about his past life of negative behavior, but now he works to mediate conflicts between community youth and bridge generational gaps between the young and the mature. He’s is only 32 years old but speaks words and expresses ideas beyond his years.
I asked the Brothers who remained after the meeting to gather for the below pic. The gentleman in red in the front row is my man “Beloved.” I enjoyed this meeting and look forward to the next one.
On 12/07/2010 I attended two Holiday celebrations starting with the annual Christmas Tree Lighting down by the water front on West 125th Street . This was a beautiful scene with caroling and the lights of Christmas bouncing off the waves of the Hudson River.
I stopped to get a quick bite to eat and then hurried over to the plaza of the Adam Clayton Powell Jr. State Office Building for “Light It Up” meeting friends, listening to great live performances and finally counting down with the crowd: 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 1 = 125 Street all lit up from East 1st. Ave. – West 12th Ave.
Love to my Fam at Community Boards 9, 10, 11, the state Office of General Services, and the 125th Street BID.
Many are writing about Harlem from an outside perspective, but now it’s time to talk to the people on the street. “Word From the Street Wednesday’s”. I got this idea while walking down 5th Ave and encountering this Harlem General working on the facade of this brownstone.
Every Wednesday Harlem Heritage Tours will talk to the man and women on the street about subjects and issues pertaining to the Harlem community.
I must find this guy and thank him for taking the time to talk with me and inspiring the idea. HHT wishes this Harlem General and others like him a wonderful Thanksgiving.
Mrs. Cora T. Walker was a dedicated Lawyer / Community Activist who constantly championed the rights of the little people as well as representing the concerns of top corporate entities. She helped many start businesses in Harlem including Harlem Coop Supermarket – what a great idea, that was extinguished by frightened competitors.
I once met Mrs. Cora T. Walker when working for the bank in Harlem, when she walked in I knew who she was immediately and rushed to assist her. This is around the same time that I established Harlem Heritage Tours. She was elderly at the time and had difficulty hearing, but was super encouraging of the idea. The others in the bank had no idea why I was so excited to talk with this elderly women – Happy Mother’s Day and much respect to the memory of the late great Attorney Cora T. Walker. I wish she was here to represent us now.
Mrs. Ruby Kitchen is a women who I have known all my life growing up in Harlem. For as long as I can remember she has been President of the Tenant Association in the Martin Luther King Jr. Housing Development and also has a ranking position within the overall tenant governing body of the New York City Housing Authority : NYCHA.
Mrs. Kitchen has fought for decades (over 35 years) on behalf of her tenantry to improve the quality of life and standard of living for low income families.
The voice of Mrs. Kitchen has sounded the need for the city (NYCHA) to explore ways for hard working low income families to buy the apartments they live in – she’s been shouting this battle cry for years. It’s about time someone listens.
This is the women who packed all the neighborhood kids into a charter bus and drove us to Disney World for a mere $150.00 dollars (4 nights 3 days) – I remember “Space Mountain” – the best ride ever – still to this day. So many memories – Wow.
In the above clip she is being introduced to gathering by fellow community advocate Professor Preston Wilcox – excuse the shabby camera work.
Lately Mrs. Kitchen has not been feeling well, but she is getting better. Heroines like Mrs. Kitchen put the history in “Women’s History Month” – true FRONTLINE – Warrior.
Morgan and Marvin Smith are twin brothers who came to Harlem in 1933 from Lexington Kentucky with dreams of captioning via their cameras the remaining days of the Harlem Renaissance. By 1933 the stock market crash of 1929 rocked the core of downtown Wall Street and the cultural scene of Uptown Harlem. Tough times caused many to become less interested in Black culture and thus the Harlem Renaissance was coming to end . Over the next 40 years the twins used cameras and paint brushes to record what remained and in the process created their own legacy.
The life and times of Morgan and Marvin Smith:
Born Lexington Kentucky 1910
Arrive in Harlem 1933
M. Smith Studios (1937 1970’s) opened 125th Street and became an instant sensation taking pictures of celebrities and community residents. Having a studio next to the Apollo Theater made it easy for all the stars to stop before and after shows to be recorded.
The Smith Brothers were “New Media” back then using technological advances + artistic talents: shooting video, sculpting, painting and doing it all at an extremely high level when resources were hard to acquire for African-Americans. Additionally, they made it a point to shine their lens on all shades of Blackness during a time when dark skin was considered by some to be a handicap in the entertainment industry.
The intent of their efforts were to capture the positive happenings in the lives of community people, focusing less on the negative.
Sadly with new technology (1960’s) such as the polaroid cameras, less people came to the studio to have pictures taken and therefore M. Smith Studios went out of business in the mid 1970’s. The saddest thing is that toward the end some of the original prints and negatives were trashed. Thankfully a lot of the collection has survived: “Harlem: the vision of Morgan and Marvin Smith”
The author of this blog just purchased 2 copies of above book on ebay.
In 1991 in preparation to build a federal office building in Lower Manhattan at 290 Broadway, mandatory analysis revealed the existence of a burial ground consisting of the remains of African slaves who lived in the city during the 17th and 18th centuries. Mr. Bill Miles, working at Channel 13 (10/1992) was able to get access to the excavation site and captured some tremendous footage. Bill Miles is one of the best Documentary Filmmakers at telling the story of African-Americans and the above clip proves it.
When thinking of slavery in the USA during the 17th and 18th centuries many think of the South, but the footage captured by Bill proves the existence of slavery right here on the Island of Manhattan during the same time period. So many questions:
When did slavery start and end in New York City ?
What was the lifestyle of the slaves ?
How many were there and what African countries did they come from ?
How rigorous were the slave duties ?
What was the average life span of a slave in New York City ?
To what degree could the slaves unite as a family ?
Were only African slaves buried on the site ?
What skills and trades did the African slaves excel in ?
Watching Bill’s uncut footage of the remains of the African slaves answers many of the above questions and actualized in my head the existence of the ancestors here on Manhattan Island and the need to remember them. It’s Black History Month and this is a great time to remember them, and pay homage for all they obviously endured.
The above footage is unedited, excuse the seldom shakiness.
The memorial is located at the corner of Duane Street and African Burial Ground Way (Elk Street). The memorial is open from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. seven days a week, except for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day. However, during the winter, the memorial closes at 4 p.m.
The memorial honors the memories of the estimated 15,000 enslaved and free Africans who were interred in the burial ground during the 17th and 18th centuries.
As you can see in the below video clip, Ya Boy had a cool time today in Morningside Park with the kiddies. Slipping down a snow covered hill, picking up speed and not knowing what’s going to happen at the bottom – then BOOM. Lots of laughter follows – cool to be a kid.
During Black History Month 2005 Harlem Heritage Tours had the pleasure of working with many within the arts community including one of my favorite poets “Harlem 125″. I experienced Harlem 125’s work for the first time at a poetry function in 1999 at a place called the Sugar Shack which is no longer operating. Harlem 125 lit up the spot with his signature poem: “I’m from Harlem”. I knew I had to work with this guy and hired him several times to be a part for my Harlem Renaissance shows presented at different historic locations in the community. Harlem 125 is not just a great Poet he is also an educator who broke down his poems (below clip) for Eastside High School and advocated against drugs, violence and dropping out of high School.
I loved the poem “I’m from Harlem” because it took me on a ride through the urban happenings of that time and mentioned many of my favorite places and things to do in Harlem. I still love the poem but many of the businesses and and some of the cultural phenomenon are gone. The concession is that we have some cool new places that I enjoy but I will never forget the following places mentioned in the poem by my man Harlem 125:
Nikki’s was a venue located on 124th and St. Nick Ave. I would go to this spot every weekend with tourists from around the world as part of my “Harlem Heritage Bar Hop”. The place held about 40 people comfortably with walls adorned with black and white 18 x18 photos of jazz greats such as Charlie Parker. If I remember correctly, Nikki was the Founder of the establishment running the place with her daughters until her passing. The daughters were drop dead gorgeous and throughly familiar with the urban scene. One night I had a conversation with one of them and remember her talking passionately about her Mom.
The Sugar Shack was located at 138th or 139th and Frederick Douglass Blvd. I remember one day during the summer of 1999 working at Citibank as a Lending Officer, leaving my desk for lunch and coming across this new place called the Sugar Shack. The place had a lounge atmosphere with a restaurant component. I attended many functions at this spot and liked the energy. Usually Ya Boy is in control, but one night I had to much to drink at this spot and my girl friend at the time had to take me home – I will never forget that night and she won’t either..LOL
The Roof Top was located on 155th and Frederick Douglass Blvd. and was the place where all the urban stars partied during the 1980’s – what a spot, what a time. I never went to the Roof Top, but many of my friends did and the stories they told were amazing. Lifestyles of the Harlem rich and famous – fast cars, the latest custom made fashions and of course beautiful women. I would love to see pics from the Roof Top days of the 1980’s.
Lucy’s was located on 124th and Frederick Douglass Blvd. Lucy was an African-American women married to an older Caucasian gentlemen who seemed to be known by all in Harlem. Really authentic place with regular live performances. Every Monday night the Harlem Renaissance Orchestra performed at Lucy’s. The Harlem Renaissance Orchestra consisted of approx. 20 members and played a lot of 1920’s jazz by greats such as Duke Ellington – good stuff. The exterior of place needed some work but I liked it and so did my guests.
Willies was on 145 Street and Frederick Douglass Blvd. and was owned by a local entrepeneur named Willie. Willie had a multifaceted business of which his burger stand was best known: Willie Burgers. Im from Lower Harlem, which had (1980’s) a different feel and complexion from the Northwest area where Willies once existed. Many of the big street names were from this area. Nowadays the neighborhood is in a state of transformation consisting of new Condo’s and internationally known brands.
Thats just a few places the poet mentions – click below and let me know what you think – Enjoy
On Feb. 17th 2005, I attended the unveiling of “Higher Ground”: statue designed by Sculptor, Branly Cadet in honor of famed Congressman and religious leader Dr. Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr. The location of statue is fitting (125th St. & Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.) considering the impact that Adam had on the area.
When I started Harlem Heritage Tours I took it for granted that because I was from Harlem that I must know everything about Harlem, and quickly I realized different when I searched my brain for info. about Adam Clayton Powell Jr. I then purchased a book by Will Haygood – “King of the Cats”. I was amazed by Adam’s accomplishments and became an instant FANATIC. Adam was born November 29th, 1908, 21 years before Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 17 years before Malcolm X. These two great men must have been influenced by Adam one way or another considering that Adam was there predecessor in efforts for blacks to gain their Civil Rights.
I was stunned to learn about his marching up and down 125th Street in Harlem demanding jobs for Blacks who lived in the community – and winning every fight. Employing tactics such as having Harlemites pay their electric bill with pennies instead of dollars. I think if you tried that tactic today it would be successful. In 1941 Adam took on the New York City Omnibus company demanding jobs for Blacks. A boycott of the bus company resulted leading to more than 200 blacks being provided employment – WOW.
Adam’s battle cry was “DON’T BUY WHERE YOU CAN’T WORK” – I never heard a word about this growing up in Harlem.
Adam was the man in Harlem, became 1st Black Councilmen in 1941, then Congressman representing Harlem in 1944. Imagine what it must have been like racially back then on Capital Hill. Adam immediately took on the system making his presence felt in facilities where Blacks were formerly excluded and also brought his Black staff along to make a statement that he would not tolerate such treatment for anyone of Color.
In 1961 Adam became Chairmen of the House Committee on Education and Labor. During the 1960’s those were two of the top reasons why people were marching – for the right to attend the school you wanted and for fair employment. Adam was Chairmen of the committee on Capital Hill – PERFECT FIT. People don’t realize that many of the laws written during his Chairmanship helped us go to college, gain fair employment, engage in cultural activities, EAT, attend to the disabled, control juvenile delinquency, fight poverty and so much more.
Some say that Adam was self indulging, I’ve heard many things and I realize that he had his ways, no one is perfect. More than that I think about the following:
I remember those stemming hot summer days going to the local school cafeteria and eating the free lunch, I never drank the milk but always found ways to get an extra juice with the thin aluminum seal. My friends liked the franks, but I liked the Hamburgers – if not for those meals what would we have done on those 90 degree plus days. Adam wrote the LAW for such meals to be available.
1983 I got my first job working with the Summer Youth Employment Program. I learned so much that summer working at the King Towers Basketball Tournament on the grounds of the housing project I lived in. I also got paid and purchased the ill Adidas with the sky blue stripes + lee jeans in mad flavors + mock necks galore. Yes I was fly going back to school that September. Adam passed laws via his “War On Poverty” programs that made my SYEP job possible.
1988 I arrived on the Campus of Buffalo University and parked by bags in room 368 Red Jackets Quad. I proceeded to meet my EOP (Equal Opportunity Program) representative and from there with vouchers galore off to get books and supplies. Next was meal plan, by the end of the day Ya Boy was straight with only $56.00 to my name – I had paid for nothing at this point. Because I was from an economically depressed household I received practically total aid the first two years of college – guess who wrote the legislation for such benefits: ADAM.
1992 I started working for Chase Manhattan Bank and then Citibank. Adam fought day and night to make it so that Blacks and women would have the right to gain fair employment through out the country. I learned so much at those jobs and therefore I was some what prepared to run my own business – thanks ADAM. Seriously, if not for Adam where would I be ?
Below is footage from the unveiling of the statue that exists on 125th Street in Harlem. The Sculptors name is Branly Cadet, not Brandon as shown in the below clip. The Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Memorial Committee was formed in the mid 1990’s for the purpose of erecting this statue and they deserve a ton of credit for the art being realized. When walking past this statue remember the hurdles that Adam had to overcome to get the very businesses in the area to hire Blacks “Don’t Buy Where You Can’t Work” is what he would say.
“Keep the Faith Baby” – Dr. Rev. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.