In 1990 Jennny Livingston released a documentary called Paris is Burning that revealed to theater goers the rich underground ballroom scene in Harlem during the 1980s.
The film focuses on one key venue for the ballroom scene – the Imperial Lodge of Elks at 160 West 129th Street – just east of Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd.
Where does voguing come from, and what, exactly, is throwing shade? This landmark documentary provides a vibrant snapshot of the 1980s through the eyes of New York City’s African American and Latinx Harlem drag-ball scene. Made over seven years, Paris Is Burning offers an intimate portrait of rival fashion “houses,” from fierce contests for trophies to house mothers offering sustenance in a world rampant with homophobia, transphobia, racism, AIDS, and poverty. Featuring legendary voguers, drag queens, and trans women—including Willi Ninja, Pepper LaBeija, Dorian Corey, and Venus Xtravaganza—Paris Is Burning brings it, celebrating the joy of movement, the force of eloquence, and the draw of community.
Today the space is no longer an Elks Lodge, but a church:
And, for a fantastic examination on how post-Civil War drag balls led to Harlem Renaissance era extravaganzas, and then to Voguing in the 1980’s, see this great article:
Harlem Lane was originally a trail that the Lenape people used to travel from what is now Central Park up to Inwood and The Bronx. This trail is one we travel today, but the name has changed (and the route somewhat modified) to St. Nicholas Avenue.
The Joyce Theater Foundation will reunite three tap superstars – Dormeshia, Derick K. Grant, and Jason Samuels Smith – to create the world premiere of The Mayor of Harlem, a celebration of and tribute to the trailblazing and iconic Black tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, performed by some of the world’s most breathtaking tap artists. The Mayor of Harlem will be available for streaming beginning at 8pm on Friday, May 21 through 11:49pm on Thursday, June 3. For more information and to purchase tickets ($25 per household), please visit www.Joyce.org.
Following their blockbuster 2019 engagement at The Joyce Theater, Dormeshia, Derick K. Grant, and Jason Samuels Smith, the spectacular artists of Tap Family Reunion, come together to direct and choreograph a glorious company of dancers in reimagining the life of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a groundbreaking tap icon and hero of his people, in the world premiere of The Mayor of Harlem. Robinson began dancing professionally as a young child, quickly establishing himself on the Black Vaudeville Circuit. It was not long before he became the first Black soloist to perform in white theaters across the country during segregation. Robinson faced plenty of stigma, even from his own community, because of Hollywood’s early casting barriers. Throughout his career and life, Robinson made the best of circumstances; an advocate who used his earnings to look out for and improve his community, which directly benefited from his generosity and his sacrifice. The Mayor of Harlem is created and directed with love, by Dormeshia, Derick K. Grant, and Jason Samuels Smith in celebration of National Tap Dance Day (May 25) and Bill Robinson’s Birthday. The entire production and performers embrace Bill Robinson as a symbol for equality and justice. The Mayor of Harlem features a collection of some of the world’s most outstanding tap artists performing today including Phillip Attmore, Christina Carminucci, Amanda Castro, Maurice Chestnut, Orlando Javier Hernandez, John Manzari, and Asha Yuille-Griffith accompanied by a live quartet of musicians led by Ryan Stanbury.
Walking along 5th Avenue a while ago (notice the bare branches) I wanted to photograph the plywood shroud over the Dr. Sims sculpture location.
You may recall that the sculpture celebrated a doctor who experimented on unanesthetized enslaved women, and after years of activism from many East Harlem women, the sculpture was removed and a plan developed to replace it.
Here is the new work – Victory Over Sims – that has been commissioned:
Vinnie Bagwell’s new work will replace the Sims sculpture.
Why I Took the Covid-19 Vaccine
By Geoffrey Canada
Six weeks ago, I received my second shot of the Covid-19 vaccine and I am now fully vaccinated. I cannot articulate the relief I feel knowing that I pose less of a threat to my wife, our children and grandchildren, and the community around me. I still wear my mask in public, but the fear that I might get sick and pass it on to my 91-year-old mother, who lives with me, is gone. I got vaccinated because I missed holidays with my family. There were funerals and graduations I couldn’t attend.
I did not decide to get vaccinated without reflecting deeply on the relationship between Black and Brown communities and the health-care system in the United States. However, I’m confident I made the right decision for myself and my family, and I’m sharing my thoughts with you with the hope that you will do the same.
The federal government has a history of exploiting Black and Brown people, and health care is no exception. In the 1930s, Black bodies were used as the equivalent of lab rats when the federal government decided to study Black people with syphilis in the Tuskegee Experiment, instead of treating them, and tracked them for 40 years without their consent. In 1951, Henrietta Lacks, a Black woman, unknowingly became the source of what is now known as the HeLa line. Her cells were, for many years, the only cell line that could reproduce indefinitely. They were used without her consent in a myriad of medical research projects worldwide, which still go on today.
But the Black community doesn’t have to look to the past to find reasons to view the medical profession with skepticism. Dismal mortality rates among birthing mothers still create a daunting childbearing experience for Black women and women of color. Breast, prostate, and colorectal cancer rates remain highest in our communities. You would be hard-pressed to find a person of color of a certain age who does not have a story of a medical encounter filled with micro-aggressions and substandard service and attentiveness.
Now we are being called to willingly inject a foreign substance into our arms — seemingly developed at lightning speed under an administration with a record of being dishonest and which was distrusted, with reason, by Black and Brown communities.
While acknowledging these reasons to feel cautious, I strongly encourage you to join me in receiving the vaccine and asking the community around you to do so as well.
We must look, just as critically, at what we have lost in the past year to the pandemic. Our community is under assault; we face the equivalent of war. I have lived through the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the war in Afghanistan. The number of Covid deaths in the United States is higher than the casualties of all these wars combined. As of March 2, 2021 the Latino community has suffered over 89,000 deaths. As of March 7, 2021 the Black community has lost 73,462 lives.
We know the heavy impact of Covid is attributed to several factors that cannot easily be changed. Our communities have high rates of chronic illnesses that make them susceptible to Covid’s worst complications. Many are employed as frontline workers and dwell in cramped living spaces, to name a few variables.
The post-traumatic stress we now have to combat from living through the pandemic will impact our communities for years to come. There is no way to normalize this amount of sickness, death, and loss. For too many of us, the suffering caused by Covid-19 is just beginning. Our children missed a crucial year of education, heads of households lost their jobs, and evictions still loom.
I think about how wealthy people, who had the lowest risk of illness and death because of their access to resources, have jumped at the chance to take the Covid vaccine. More than 109 million doses of vaccines have been administered nationwide as of March 15, and there is no evidence of vaccine-related deaths or serious injuries. People often report mild discomfort for a day or two after being inoculated, but I had no side effects. As more people get vaccinated, hospitalizations and the death toll are decreasing.
The government must make a concerted effort to make vaccines more accessible for communities of color. But it is also the responsibility of the people within our communities to advocate for the vaccine.
It would be a tragedy to see the virus recede among the wealthy and well-off yet still ravage our communities. To watch others going back to work, to school, and to family celebrations while Covid continues to devastate Black and Brown communities is my worst nightmare.
We will have to work hard to recover from the past year. First, we must stop this virus in its tracks. The safest, quickest, most effective way to do this is to get vaccinated as soon as you are eligible to do so, and encourage the people around you to join you.
Geoffrey Canada is the President and Founder of Harlem Children’s Zone.
YIMBY is reporting that 4 land trust developments are coming to East Harlem
This is one of those rare moments when affordable, seems to really be affordable.
And, On the Other Side of the Harlem Real Estate Spectrum…
A new condo at 145 Central Park North has 37 units, and all included a view of Central Park. “The unique shallow depth of the lot allows for floor-through apartments to optimize unobstructed views over the Park, as well as northern views toward upper Manhattan.” The facade on the building’s lower floors features a unique skin made of bronze segments which “relate to the height, rhythm, and texture of the neighboring residential buildings from the 1930s.” The top four floors of the building are wrapped in an all-glass skin.
Post pandemic theater is coming. Shakespeare in the Park will present the Merry Wives this summer.
The production will be a “fresh and joyous adaptation by Jocelyn Bioh… set in South Harlem amidst a vibrant and eclectic community of West African immigrants, Merry Wives will be a celebration of Black joy, laughter, and vitality. A New York story about the tricks of the heart, performed in the heart of the City.”
This version, according to the Times, will feature “Falstaff as an African-American seeking to woo two married women who are immigrants from West Africa.”
We only wish they’d come uptown and presented it at Marcus Garvey Park.
The financial crisis of the 1970s, the ongoing effects of redlining, and the systemic racism in city agencies that prioritized some communities over others, led to an incredible deterioration in Harlem’s infrastructure. The ‘before/after’ images below are powerful reminders of the era:
What the site doesn’t say is that one of her husbands – Arthur Miller – lived almost where the camera is, taking the photo. Miller was born in Manhattan and lived as a boy in Harlem in a spacious apartment overlooking Central Park. His father, Isidore, a Jewish émigré from Poland, owned a clothing business that allowed the family a certain level of luxury: three bathrooms, a chauffeur-driven car and a summer place in Far Rockaway. Before the stock market crash, the business began to fail, and so, in 1928, Isidore and his wife, Augusta — Izzie and Gussie — moved the family to the borough of churches and cheap rents – Brooklyn.
Arthur Miller wrote about the summer heat of New York, and how families near Central Park would cope in the New Yorker in 1998:
The city in summer floated in a daze that moved otherwise sensible people to repeat endlessly the brainless greeting “Hot enough for ya? Ha-ha!”
Exactly what year it was I can no longer recall—probably 1927 or ’28—there was an extraordinarily hot September, which hung on even after school had started and we were back from our Rockaway Beach bungalow. Every window in New York was open, and on the streets venders manning little carts chopped ice and sprinkled colored sugar over mounds of it for a couple of pennies. We kids would jump onto the back steps of the slow-moving, horse-drawn ice wagons and steal a chip or two; the ice smelled vaguely of manure but cooled palm and tongue.
People on West 110th Street, where I lived, were a little too bourgeois to sit out on their fire escapes, but around the corner on 111th and farther uptown mattresses were put out as night fell, and whole families lay on those iron balconies in their underwear.
Even through the nights, the pall of heat never broke. With a couple of other kids, I would go across 110th to the Park and walk among the hundreds of people, singles and families, who slept on the grass, next to their big alarm clocks, which set up a mild cacophony of the seconds passing, one clock’s ticks syncopating with another’s. Babies cried in the darkness, men’s deep voices murmured, and a woman let out an occasional high laugh beside the lake. I can recall only white people spread out on the grass; Harlem began above 116th Street then.
Later on, in the Depression thirties, the summers seemed even hotter. Out West, it was the time of the red sun and the dust storms, when whole desiccated farms blew away and sent the Okies, whom Steinbeck immortalized, out on their desperate treks toward the Pacific. My father had a small coat factory on Thirty-ninth Street then, with about a dozen men working sewing machines. Just to watch them handling thick woollen winter coats in that heat was, for me, a torture. The cutters were on piecework, paid by the number of seams they finished, so their lunch break was short—fifteen or twenty minutes. They brought their own food: bunches of radishes, a tomato perhaps, cucumbers, and a jar of thick sour cream, which went into a bowl they kept under the machines. A small loaf of pumpernickel also materialized, which they tore apart and used as a spoon to scoop up the cream and vegetables.
Read classic New Yorker stories, curated by our archivists and editors.
The men sweated a lot in those lofts, and I remember one worker who had a peculiar way of dripping. He was a tiny fellow, who disdained scissors, and, at the end of a seam, always bit off the thread instead of cutting it, so that inch-long strands stuck to his lower lip, and by the end of the day he had a multicolored beard His sweat poured onto those thread ends and dripped down onto the cloth, which he was constantly blotting with a rag.
You have likely heard (and perhaps seen) that rats have made a comeback in the COVID era. With so many restaurants closed, or open in a reduced presence, rats have had to head toward residential garbage for their food needs.
In New York City, property owners are required (PDF) to keep their properties rat-free and address conditions that can lead to rats. They may have to hire a pest management professional when appropriate. Tenants can do their part by following our prevention tips below and promptly reporting rats to property owners, building managers or co-op associations.
If property owners are not fulfilling their legal requirement to prevent and manage rats and repair conditions that can attract rats, tenants can report the issue online or by calling 311. The Health Department will send inspectors to investigate the situation.
Learn more about what you can do prevent rat infestation, or how you can drive them out if they have already settled in your home or property:
The best way to prevent rats from settling in your home and property is to carefully dispose of your garbage. Be sure to:
Provide enough garbage cans with tight fitting lids to hold all garbage between pickups.
Bring garbage to the curb as close to pick-up time as possible. Garbage left on the curb for too long attracts rats.
Follow your building’s policy for garbage disposal and recycling.
If your building has a garbage chute, bag and tie your garbage before putting it down the chute.
Destroy Potential Shelter
Make your home inhospitable to rats by attacking their favorite places to seek shelter and reproduce:
Clean up any clutter or litter in and around your building, including your basement and yard.
Remove piles of newspapers, paper bags, cardboard and bottles.
You can learn about safe and effective methods for rat prevention in your home and community at this 3 hour virtual training.
Giant Step Arts – Free Performances Celebrating John Lewis and the Civil Rights Struggle
Groundbreaking artist-focused non-profit Giant Step Arts continues Walk With The Wind, a free series of performances in Central Park honoring the legacy of U.S. Representative and civil rights leader John Lewis
Finding new ways to support musicians during the pandemicWhen the pandemic hit, Jimmy and Dena Katz, creators of Giant Step Arts, the groundbreaking, artist-focused non-profit dedicated to supporting visionary jazz musicians as they create adventurous new music, realized that it would be a while before they could continue their work commissioning, showcasing and recording music by some of modern jazz’s most innovative artists.
They’ve created Walk with the Wind, a series of free performances in Central Park honoring the memory of John Lewis. Performances, which are acoustic and feature small groups, take place at 1 p.m. on The Mall in Central Park. In the event of bad weather, they will be rescheduled. They will continue as long as the weather allows. Upcoming performances include:• Saturday, October 10 – The Nicole Glover Trio: saxophonist Nicole Glover, bassist Daniel Duke, drummer Nic Cacioppo
• Sunday, October 11 – The Chris Potter Trio: saxophonist Chris Potter, bassist Joe Martin, drummer Nasheet Waits
“The pandemic has been disastrous for musicians, many of whom normally earn a living through live performances and tours,” says Katz. “We’ve presented and recorded music in various venues, including partnering with the non-profit Jazz Gallery, but the current circumstances have forced us to improvise. We wanted to find a way to continue supporting musicians, bring them together with audiences, safely, and enable them to have a payday! Walk with the Wind, honoring the legacy of the great American John Lewis, is one way we are accomplishing this, and the response has been tremendous. Our goal is to raise enough money from foundations and donors so that we can have performances each spring and fall.”
The series began with the Wayne Escoffery Trio on August 28th and has included the Eric Mcpherson Trio, Marquis Hill Quartet, Michael Thomas Trio, Marcus/E.J Strickland Trio, Leap Of Faith Trio, Joel Ross Quartet, Immanuel Wilkins Trio, Nasheet Waits Trio, Melissa Aldana Trio and the Darius Jones Trio. From 11-1 p.m. the pre-show festivities have included Arco Yoga specialist Josie Say and the Robert Lotreck Trio.
Giant Step Arts
Founded by renowned photographers Jimmy and Dena Katz in January 2018, Giant Step Arts is an innovative, artist-focused non-profit organization dedicated to commissioning and showcasing the work of some of modern jazz’s most innovative artists. In an era where it is increasingly difficult for musicians to earn a living, Giant Step Arts offers the artistic and financial resources to create bold, adventurous new music free of commercial pressure. Musicians have total control of their artistic projects and Giant Step Arts is committed to fostering their careers by providing promotional material and publicity services.
For the musicians it chooses to work with, by invitation only, Giant Step Arts:
• presents premiere performances and compensates the artists well • records these performances for independent release • provides the artists with 700 CDs and digital downloads to sell directly; artists retain complete ownership of their masters • provides the artists with photos and videos for promotional use • provides PR support for the recordings
“Giant Step Arts does not sell any music,” Katz says. “Our goals are to help musicians make bold artistic statements and to advance their careers. We are also trying to increase our funding so we can help more musicians.”
Through his award-winning photography with wife Dena Katz, and his esteemed work as a recording engineer, Katz has spent nearly 30 years helping to shape the way that audiences see and hear jazz musicians. Katz has photographed more than 550 recording sessions, many historic, and 200 magazine covers. Whether taken in the studio, in the clubs, on the streets or in the musicians’ homes, his photographs offer intimate portraits of the artists at work and in repose and capture the collaborative and improvisatory process of jazz itself. Recipient of the Jazz Journalists Association award for jazz photography in both 2006 and 2011, Katz’s work has been exhibited in Germany, Italy and Japan. Among the world-renowned artists he’s photographed are Sonny Rollins, Keith Jarrett, Ornette Coleman, Freddie Hubbard, Roy Haynes, Cassandra Wilson, Ray Charles, Dave Brubeck, Quincy Jones, Herbie Hancock, Wynton Marsalis, John Zorn, Pat Metheny, and Dizzy Gillespie. In addition to his well-known visual art, Katz is an esteemed recording engineer who has worked with artists including David S. Ware, Joe Lovano, Harold Mabern, William Parker, Benny Golson, and Chris Potter, among others.
Untapped New York has a great piece on the captured German U-boat from WW1 that was brought to Central Park for display as a War Bonds promotion. Proof of the purchase of War Bonds allowed entry into the U-boat:
When reading the article I was struck by the fact that it was brought to Central Park via Harlem.
The U-boat had been cut in 3 section for transport to the park. The pieces were unloaded at the Manhattanville docks (by the now defunct Fairway store) to begin travel through the city:
On arrival to New York, it “was hauled from the North river at 132nd street via Manhattan street, 125 street, 7th avenue, 110th street, and Central Park West to the 66th street entrance to the park and ‘docked’ on the Sheep Meadow.”
While I know it was in 3 pieces, but still, the image of a submarine going down 125th Street and then turning south on Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Blvd. is arresting.
For the whole story and more images, see:
Manhattan Community Board 11 is Seeking Your Input
Help determine East Harlem’s greatest needs and budget priorities for the upcoming fiscal year. You can participate in the annual budget process in the following ways: