Friday, May 22, 2015
. . . is one that I was very close to.
A year before I graduated from Stonewall Jackson High School (seen here) in Charleston, West Virginia---a classmate received, from out of the blue, a December 12th long distance phone call from Frank Sinatra with whom she shared a birthday. (Remember "long distance"?)
In his phone call to her, Frank asked about how things were going in school?, what she wanted to do upon graduation?, and so on and so forth. He wished the her Happy Birthday and the best of luck and that was that. But not quite . . .
The phone call story was, at first, printed in one of our two (!) hometown newspapers, but then was picked up by the wire services and reported on a national TV and radio. The way Frank Sinatra, at first, found out about Nancy (her name!) was due to the story she had, at first, related to our high school newspaper, the Jackson Journal about this natal confluence and about how proud she was, etc. Somehow (Frank Sinatra must've had a really A #1 clipping service) this was brought to his attention.
This Sinatra-kindness-to-strangers tale writ large is one that he he could never have guessed would up making the news. He clearly just wanted to be nice to some high school student in Appalachia who'd had some kind words for him in a once-a-month HS newspaper. If still among the living, she probably continues to have precious memories about this happening on an almost daily basis. I know I would!
Posted by Bill Reed at 8:40 AM
Saturday, May 16, 2015
The Leonard Reed Story: Brains As Well As Feet
Legendary Leonard Reed and twentieth century Black show business come alive again through the eyes of the man who saw it all.
If you’ve ever viewed anyone tap dance the Shim Sham Shimmy, you’ve seen Reed’s remarkable signature dance. You've heard his famous songs, “Piano Man” and “It’s Over Because We’re Through.” Now, experience his harrowing and exhilarating adventures that span his intriguing birth on an Indian reservation, his rise from humble beginnings as a minstrel performer and a barker for tent shows, his performances in Al Capone’s outlawed speakeasies, Vaudeville, The Cotton Club, The Apollo Theater, and his nationwide exposure with the original Showtime at the Apollo TV series and producing many musical short films.
Meet the performers who broke through racial barriers along with him to become unforgettable stars, such as Ethel Waters, Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Edith Piaf, The Nicholas Brothers, Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Sammy Davis, Jr., Cyd Charisse, “Moms” Mabley, Marvin Gaye, Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, The Ink Spots, and Willie Bryant. Actors John Garfield and Laurence Olivier, producer David Merrick, journalist Walter Winchell, golfers Slammin’ Sammy Snead, Ted Rhodes, and and Tup Holmes were influenced by Leonard, and even Tiger Woods has gone on record with praise for him.
Leonard’s career took a surprising turn as he formed a lifelong professional partnership with boxing great Joe Louis. Leonard was one of the first Black men to break into Pro Am golf. He played a big part in the creative development of 1960s Motown artists. He became an important choreographer and producer at Chicago’s Grand Terrace, New York Cotton Club, and the Apollo Theater. His sometimes touching yet often comical challenge of being physically—as he describes it—“Too Black to be White, too White to be Black”—uniquely positioned him to experience the best and worst of behind-the-scenes struggles through the back stages and alleys of the theater world’s most celebrated haunts.
Thrill to the true Leonard Reed story, finally told through a no-holds-barred series of fascinating interviews, the author’s rich research through a treasure trove of historical documents, and more than fifty rare photos and illustrations that capture the glamour and excitement of the Golden Age of show business.
Appendices include Reed’s exhaustive rundown of almost every Black performer of his era; the theaters in which he and the others performed; synopses of Reed’s long-running nightclub act with boxing champ Joe Louis; and a typical Amateur Night at New York’s Apollo Theater. Indexed, and with a Foreword by author James Gavin.
About the author: Bill Reed is a journalist and writer, whose articles on show business, the Arts, and popular music have appeared in such publications as Rolling Stone, the San Francisco Examiner, and International Documentary. His published books include Rock on Film and Hot from Harlem. He is also a producer of Jazz recordings for SSJ Records (Japan).
Posted by Bill Reed at 2:17 PM