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Posts Tagged ‘Harlem

“Disco is the best floor show in town. It’s very democratic, boys with boys, girls with girls, girls with boys, blacks and whites, capitalists and Marxists, Chinese and everything else, all in one big mix.”*…

 

Yolanda Baker has been making disco balls every week of her life for nearly 50 years and shows no signs of slowing down.

Baker, known as Yo Yo to her colleagues, works for Louisville’s Omega National Products – America’s leading disco ball manufacturer – and has over the years filed orders for Beyoncé, Madonna, Studio 54 and even the Saturday Night Fever film set.

During the height of disco fever, Omega had 25 workers crafting 25 balls a day – more than 160,000 disco balls annually – with Baker steering the ship. But as China began flooding the market with cheaper options, the team at Omega began to shrink – Baker has been the company’s only disco ball maker since 2008…

All that glitters at: “Meet Yolanda ‘Yo Yo’ Baker, America’s last disco ball maker.”

* Truman Capote

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As we boogey on down, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that the famous Apollo theatre in New York City’s Harlem district (re-)opened as a showcase for black artists.  Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1983, it had been built in 1913-14 as Hurtig & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater, and designed by George Keister in the neo-Classical style.  The Apollo fell on hard times in the 20s and limped along until, under new management, it became (starting on this date in 1934) a mecca of the Swing Era.  It featured musical acts including Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Chick Webb, and Count Basie, dance acts such as Bill Robinson and the Nicholas Brothers.  And though the theater concentrated on showcasing African-American acts, it also presented such white performers as Harry James, Woody Herman and Charlie Barnet during the swing era, and, later, Dave Brubeck, Stan Getz and Buddy Rich, who was a particular favorite of the Apollo crowd.

The Apollo’s “Amateur Night,” a Monday-night talent contest launched many storied careers, from Ella Fitzgerald and Thelma Carpenter to Jimi Hendrix (who won in 1964).  Others whose careers were hatched or given an early boost at the Apollo include Billie Holiday, Pearl Bailey, Sammy Davis Jr., James Brown & The Famous Flames, King Curtis, Diana Ross & The Supremes, Parliament-Funkadelic, Wilson Pickett, The Miracles, Gladys Knight & the Pips, Rush Brown, Stephanie Mills, Dionne Warwick, Bobby Short, The Jackson 5, Patti LaBelle, Marvin Gaye, Luther Vandross, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, Ben E. King, Mariah Carey, The Isley Brothers, Lauryn Hill, Sarah Vaughan, Jazmine Sullivan, Ne-Yo, and Machine Gun Kelly.

Restored 11 years ago, the venue draws an estimated 1.3 million visitors a year.

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Written by LW

January 26, 2017 at 1:01 am

“Take support and comfort from your own group as you can, but don’t hide within it”*…

 

Johnny Miller was just starting out as a photographer in Seattle in 2011 when he won a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholarship that took him to Cape Town, South Africa—a country that, like his own, has a long history of institutional racism and segregation.

After learning more and more about the history of apartheid in academic settings and encountering its legacy on Cape Town’s streets, Miller decided to engage with the topic in a fresh way: by using a drone to photograph birds-eye views of South African cities and suburbs. The resulting series, called “Unequal Scenes,” shows just how drastically different the urban experience is depending on what side of the color line you are on today, more than 20 years after the end of apartheid…

More photos, and an interview with Miller, at “Apartheid’s Urban Legacy, in Striking Aerial Photographs.”

* Sonia Sotomayor

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As we Cry, The Beloved Country, we might send beautifully-composed birthday greetings to James Van Der Zee; he was born on this date in 1886.  A leading figure in the Harlem Renaissance, he was a photographer whose subjects included the famous (Marcus Garvey, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Countee Cullen, and the artist below), but whose full body of work is probably the most comprehensive pictorial documentation of the full range of life in the period.

For a look at (some of) his work beyond the examples here, visit The Art Institute of Chicago and the Smithsonian.

“Escape Artist”

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Jean Michel Basquiat

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Van Der Zee in 1982 (the year before his death)

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Written by LW

June 29, 2016 at 1:01 am

“Ain’t you heard/ The boogie-woogie rumble/Of a dream deferred?”*…

 

Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library just acquired this original pen-and-brush version of E. Simms Campbell’s nightlife map of Harlem, from 1932. The map, drawn by an illustrator who frequented many of the establishments he depicted, exudes an insider’s pride in the robust music scene in full swing during the Harlem Renaissance.

When he made this map, cartoonist Elmer Simms Campbell was at the beginning of a decades-long career in illustration and commercial art. (Here’s some of his other work, for advertisers and magazines.) Campbell was “one of first commercially successful African-American cartoonists,” writes Rebecca Rego Barry. “He steadily produced artwork for Esquire upon its launch in 1933, and his work was also published in Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, and Playboy.” This map first appeared in Manhattan magazine, as a centerfold, and later showed up in Esquire.

Campbell was friends with Cab Calloway, whose band appears at the bottom left-hand corner of this map. Swann Auction Galleries’ Kir Jordan links to this clip from a 2012 PBS documentary, in which Calloway walks viewers through Campbell’s map, remembering how he “bombed” with his first band at the Savoy Ballroom, and how much he always liked to say the name of the club that called itself “The Yeah, Man.”

More– and a zoomable version of the map– at “An Affectionate 1932 Illustrated Map of Harlem Nightlife.”

* Langston Hughes

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As we tap our toes, we might recall that it was on this date in 1945 that Miles Davis made his first studio recording. Working with his then-boss Charlie Parker and the other members of his octet, Davis backed singer Rubberlegs Williams.  Two years later Davis led the same group of musicians in recording music released as from the “Miles Davis All-Stars.”

The young Miles Davis

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Written by LW

April 24, 2016 at 1:01 am

Poor, poor pitiful me…

Long-time readers will recall Jessica Hagy, and her wonderful site Indexed, from pre-blog days.  Your correspondent, who’s checked in regularly in the meantime, is happy to report that her index card diagrams are as sharp as ever:

As we count our blessings, we might recall that it was on this date in 1934 that the MC at Amateur Night at Harlem’s Apollo Theater drew the name of an aspiring 15-year-old dancer from his hat.  Shocked to be called on stage, Ella Fitzgerald chose to sing– and won…  The rest is blissfully harmonious history.

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