Alice Barker: Dancing the Harlem Renaissance

I came upon this piece on YouTube, and found it truly touching. From the description:

Alice Barker was a chorus line dancer during the Harlem Renaissance of the the 1930s and 40s. She danced at clubs such as The Apollo, Cotton Club, The Zanzibar Club, and on Broadway—with legends including Frank Sinatra, Gene Kelly, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Although she danced in numerous movies, commercials and TV shows, she had never seen any of them, and all of her photographs and memorabilia had been lost over the years. After years of searching we found three “Soundies” Alice appeared in and were finally able to show them to her—she had never seen herself in motion in her life!

You can learn more about Alice at the little website we’ve set up for her: All of Alice’s films from this video are collected here. For more info about the dancers of the Harlem Renaissance, we recommend the lovely documentary “Been Rich All My Life”—several of the women in the film danced with Alice back in the day! A little more about the who’s who here: “We” are friends of Alice who searched for the films and made this video. I’m David Shuff, a volunteer who visits the home with my therapy dog Katie, and have known Alice for 8 years. The woman in the video is Gail Campbell, a recreation therapist (and an amazing one at that!). She never gave up on finding Alice’s films, and uncovered the first piece of the puzzle that lead to us finding them—which was Alicia Thompson; a historian of black female performers who had been looking for Alice for years. … She told us that Alice was in films called ‘soundies’. Using that clue I found jazz historian Mark Cantor and he was able to send us three of Alice’s soundies from his collection. Shortly afterwards Alicia got us a few more films. This video was filmed on cellphones (and almost as an afterthought!) by my friends Darin Tatum and Tom Hunt.

Alice passed away peacefully on Wednesday, April 6th, 2016. She spent the last day of her life in good spirits, enjoying listening to music and having her mail read to her. Thank you to all the thousands of fans who sent in cards, flowers, and art. You truly gave her deep joy and meaning in the last years of her life!

Can’t Spell “Anarchy” Without N-Y-C !

I’ve made it a point of not stepping into the raging political debates that are going on as we near Apocalypse Day, uh, I mean “Election Day.” Folks on either side of the divide are warning of Armageddon if either of the two major-party candidates gets elected to the Oval Office. Sorry, I’m not getting dragged into this brawl. Have fun!

In the meanwhile, I just wanted to address one thing, not about the country or the world but specifically about my hometown: New York City. I was born in Brooklyn, I have lived here all my life. And I’ll be buried here, hopefully not for many, many years.

The Big Apple has gone through quite a bit in 2020 (Who hasn’t!?). Laura Nahmias tells us about “The City’s Grief, By the Numbers“:

Each year, New York City releases data in a Mayor’s Management Report, intended to detail how well city agencies are performing. This year, more than any in recent memory, that report helps make sense of what’s happened and still happening to New York. The statistics form a snapshot of our collective anguish — a sense of the extraordinary breadth and scope of what we’ve lost to coronavirus.

“The report shows that 65,712 New Yorkers died between July of 2019 and June 30, 2020 — 34,748 more deaths than the previous year. The death rate in New York City increased 112%. In a single year. The virus is the “largest mass fatality incident in modern NYC history,” the office of the chief medical examiner officially declared.

Cremation requests increased 62%. The medical examiner received 16,115 such requests between March and June this spring — a number nearly equal [to] the total number of cremation asks received in the prior year.

Only (only!) 23,767 of our fellow New Yorkers were officially killed by confirmed and presumed coronavirus cases, which leaves 10,981 additional deaths unaccounted for.

What killed nearly 11,000 extra New York City residents between July 2019 and June 2020?

The MMR shows the number of 911 calls for cardiac arrest or choking increased 25% in fiscal year 2020 — 32,831 calls. New Yorkers’ hearts were breaking.

And in the midst of this very human tragedy, the city, like many cities across America, saw an uptick in protests and riots in the wake of the killing of George Floyd. For a variety of reasons, over this past summer, there has also been an uptick in shootings and murders — nothing remotely like the 2000+ murders a year that were once an annual benchmark around these parts, but very troubling nonetheless.

Though my family personally suffered many tragedies over these many months living in this great city — the loss of loved ones, neighbors, colleagues, and even a beloved neighborhood proprietor — and though the future remains uncertain, I’d like to tell the naysayers: DON’T COUNT THIS CITY OUT! As Stefanos Chen writes in the New York Times: “Five months after Covid-19 crippled the city’s real estate market, sales across the city are down, but the boroughs beyond Manhattan are faring better, in some rare cases even exceeding pre-pandemic expectations.” And there are other hopeful signs that the city has turned a corner. The hospitalization, infection, and death rates from the pandemic have been crushed. Indeed, the infection rate remains below 1% at this stage (I’ll have more to say about that in the coming weeks), and only one New York state resident died from COVID-related causes yesterday. That’s quite a difference from the horrendous numbers we saw back during March, April, and May.

Still, put in perspective, despite some enormous uncertainty — and a mayor so universally disliked, he couldn’t win a campaign for dog-catcher — I’d just like to say to the U.S. Justice Department, which has recently declared my hometown an “anarchist city“: WTF?

This is so obviously tied to feuds over federal funding, so I think we can chalk up much of this debate to pure politics.

But puh-lease. I have lived in this city my whole life; even during these crazy times, I remain in a working-class / middle class neighborhood and can walk outside my home at any hour of the day or night without concern for getting hit by a stray bullet. I’ve been fortunate to have never been a victim of a single crime in my 60 years living here: not a mugging, not a robbery (unless you want to count getting tickets for that age-old insane practice of “alternate-side-of-the-street parking“, a crime if ever there was one!). Yes, key neighborhoods have been affected by this tragic uptick in violence, but “anarchy” (which is being used here as a synonym for “disorder”)? Not quite.

In truth, however, this city became the greatest city in the world — yeah, my arrogant, unreconstructed, unequivocal New York values are clearly on display here — precisely because it has always embraced a touch of “anarchy” as part of its tapestry. By that, I mean, it has drawn strength from the spontaneous, innovative, unplanned, entrepreneurial, and creative powers unleashed by all those individuals who have come here seeking a better life. It is a city of remarkably diverse neighborhoods, each of which brings authenticity to the fabric of its culture.

This city is not dead. It will survive. It survived the Great Depression. It survived the antiwar and civil rights unrest of the 1960s and the urban blight of the 1970s and 1980s. It survived 9/11. It survived Superstorm Sandy. And it will survive this pandemic, the lockdowns, and the systemic instability unleashed by the most recent series of tragedies.

One thing is for sure: New Yorkers have not lost their sense of humor. Reacting to this designation of the city as a haven of anarchy, residents responded with a Bronx cheer. Here’s a sampling of some of the sarcastic comments from folks across the city:

“I was able to document the ‘anarchy’ in NYC yesterday after my 5 mile bike ride with my son and wife yesterday. … Truly terrifying.”

“If NYC has anarchy, is alternate side parking still enforced?”

“NYC’s anarchy on full display,” another person tweeted, along with a picture of eight well-behaved dogs out for a walk. “Won’t somebody put an end to this violence? Law and order is desperately needed.”

But my favorite came from a New York native, who accompanied their tweet with a picture of a sun-dappled city park: “Can’t spell anarchy without NYC!”


Song of the Day #1815

Song of the Day: What the World Needs Now is Love, lyrics by Hal David, music by Burt Bacharach, first hit the charts in 1965, with a recording by Jackie DeShannon [YouTube link], who took the song into the Top Ten of the Billboard Hot 100. We started this Summer Music Festival (Jazz Edition) asking the question, “What is This Thing Called Love?“; we end it with the acknowledgment that whatever love is, and however you express it, the world needs it now. This song was recorded by many popular artists through the years, including Dionne Warwick, the Supremes, Barbra Streisand, and Tom Clay [YouTube links], whose Top Ten version (a medley with “Abraham, Martin, and John“), filled with social commentary, decried bigotry, racism, and division. Broadway for Orlando [YouTube link] recorded an all-star charity rendition of this classic, in the wake of the 2016 attack on the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando, Florida, in which 49 people were killed and 53 were injured. Jazz-inflected recordings of this song are plentiful, including renditions by Chicago, as well as by vocalists Sammy Davis, Jr. (with Buddy Rich), Jack Jones, Sarah Vaughan, Buddy Greco, Billy Eckstine (in a medley with “Just a Little Loving”)—and instrumentalists Stan Getz, Bud Shank, Wes Montgomery, Stanley Turrentine, Cal Tjader, Doc Severinsen, George Shearing, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, Bill Frisell, McCoy Tyner, and David Hazeltine [YouTube links]. As we hang onto the last few hours of summer before the Autumnal Equinox arrives in the Northern hemisphere at 9:31 am, let the love in. We’ll return next year with a new incarnation of our annual Summer Music Festival.

Song of the Day #1814

Song of the Day: Blood Count by Billy Strayhorn, was completed in 1967 while the composer was hospitalized, becoming his last finished composition before his death. There are wonderful renditions of this composition by the Duke Ellington Band, Joe Henderson, and Stan Getz [YouTube links]. Strayhorn remains one of the greatest contributors to the jazz repertoire and to the Great American Songbook.

Song of the Day #1813

Song of the Day: Super Chicken, words and music by Michael Renzi and Luis Santeiro, was the theme song to this cartoon, which was a segment of “George of the Jungle.” Check out the original theme and yet another jazz rendition [YouTube links] from pianist Randy Waldman, featuring clarinetist Eddie Daniels, trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, and trombonist Bob McChesney. And check out the Emmy Awards tonight!

Song of the Day #1812

Song of the Day: Mighty Mouse, words and music by Marshall Barer and Phillip Sheib, was the title song to the classic TV cartoon [YouTube link], which made its debut in 1942. This weekend is the 72nd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards, and I’ll be featuring two great jazz renditions of some classic TV cartoon themes, from pianist Randy Waldman‘s wonderful 2019 jazz tribute to superhero theme songs. Check out his swinging rendition [YouTube link], featuring saxophonist Joe Lovano, trumpeter Wayne Bergeron, and both Steve Gadd and Vinnie Colaiuta on drums.

Song of the Day #1811

Song of the Day: Leap Frog (pdf), composed by trumpeter Benny Harris and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, was first recorded by Parker and trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie for the 1952 album “Bird and Diz.” Check out the original recording by these two bop giants and then take a look at two remarkable comic routines that I once posted on Facebook, spotlighting the trade-off between these legendary musicians here and here [YouTube links].

Independent Institute Publications

I received a message from my friend, David J. Theroux, the Founder, President, and Chief Executive Officer of the Independent Institute. I have always found their publications to be thought-provoking, whether one agrees or disagrees with any opinion expressed. Folks should check out some of the following links:

The Crisis in Civil Rights: Best Books and Articles on Race, Police, and the Welfare State, compiled by their Senior Fellow Dr. Williamson M. Evers (someone I’ve known since my undergraduate days as a member of Students for a Libertarian Society):

These are among the most exhaustive, annotated reading lists ever assembled on the issues of civil rights, police reform, race relations, and the welfare state, created for educators and students, business and civic leaders, policymakers, journalists, and the general public. Check them out!



Song of the Day #1810

Song of the Day: Yes [YouTube link], composed by pianist Kait Dunton, is performed by trioKait on their 2015 eponymous album, with bassist Cooper Appelt and drummer Jake Reed. A sweet groove for a late summer’s day.

WTC Remembrance: Firefighter Gerard Gorman – Ultimate Survivor

Today marks the nineteenth anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 2001, which, nearly two decades later, continue to affect our lives as New Yorkers, as well as the lives of those whose loved ones were killed in Shanksville, Pennsylvania and in Washington, D.C. My annual series returns this year with a remarkable story of resilience in the face of unimaginable horror: Firefighter Gerard Gorman: Ultimate Survivor [link to the article]. Gerard was an FDNY first responder on that day. I can’t thank him enough for sharing his memories—salty language and all—as a testament to the indomitable spirit of a true native New Yorker, something as relevant to 2020 as it is to the spirit of September 11, 2001.

Those who read this year’s installment might recognize the name of John Perry, mentioned by Gerard; I had met John at a regular discussion group run by Victor Niederhoffer in Manhattan.

For those who have not read previous entries in the series, here is a convenient index:

2001: As It Happened . . .

2002: New York, New York

2003: Remembering the World Trade Center: A Tribute

2004: My Friend Ray

2005: Patrick Burke, Educator

2006: Cousin Scott

2007: Charlie: To Build and Rebuild

2008: Eddie Mecner, Firefighter

2009: Lenny: Losses and Loves

2010: Tim Drinan, Student

2011: Ten Years Later

2012: A Memorial for the Ages: A Pictorial

2013: My Friend Matthew: A 9/11 Baby of a Different Stripe

2014: A Museum for the Ages: A Pictorial

2015: A New One World Trade Center Rises From the Ashes: A Pictorial

2016: Fifteen Years Ago: Through the Looking Glass of a Video Time Machine

2017: Sue Mayham: Not Business as Usual

2018: Anthony Schirripa, Architect

2019: Zack Fletcher: Twin Towers, Twin Memories

2020: Firefighter Gerard Gorman: Ultimate Survivor

Never forget. ❤