Music History: James Brown at the Apollo Theater

Summer is concert season, and as part of the National Trust’s own summer concert series, we’re putting the spotlight on places that have witnessed some of the most memorable musical performances in American history. Some are traditional 150728_blog-photo_apollo3venues, and others… well, not so much. But they all have two things in common: terrific music and fascinating history.

Liner Notes
Performer(s): James Brown and the Famous Flames (Bobby Byrd, Bobby Bennett and Lloyd Stallworth)
Venue: The Apollo Theater
Location: Harlem, New York City
Date: October 24, 1962
Memorable Moment: After nearly 11 minutes of practically torturing the crowd with “Lost Someone,” Brown slips into “Please Please Please.” The crowd responds like the building is collapsing. It’s incredible.
Show Vibe: Thirty-one minutes of desperate flirtation between entertainer and audience swelling with funk, anguish and lust.

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By David Weible | July 30, 2015


Jacob Lawrence’s 1941 Paintings Spark Talk About Racial Injustice Today

It’s begging for a comparison to Ferguson. But you’ll have to provide that yourself.

Art museums may seem like the guardians of the past, but they are also the provocateurs of the present, harnessing cultural artifacts to challenge — even incite — today’s visitors. Great exhibitions are organized not merely to rehash relics, but to reevaluate the artworks in new contexts. And, with those artworks’ aid, to reevaluate ourselves.

We have a tendency to forget that dynamic relationship between old art and new life until, by chance, a high-profile exhibit resonates with an even higher profile national conversation. Such is the case with the Museum of Modern Art’s current show “One-Way Ticket: Jacob Lawrence’s Migration Series and Other Visions of the Great Movement North” in New York.

Its centerpiece is New Jersey-born Lawrence’s iconic series: 60 paintings depicting the northward migration of African Americans from 1910-1930. During that period, black populations increased by almost forty percent in Northern states, gathering around urban centers like Chicago and New York. The so-called “Great Migration” radically shifted the social and political landscape of America, setting the stage for everything from the Harlem Renaissance to today’s racially-charged stop-and-frisk debates.

Lawrence’s work, completed in 1941, cycles between different aspects of the journey. Some paintings depict the process of transit, some the social and economic reasons for departure, and others the mixed responses on arrival. His geometric, pared down scenes are done in a striking color palette: bold blue and yellow popping from a background of browns and black. Each image is paired with an extended caption — all of which were pre-written with the assistance of Lawrence’s wife, Gwendolyn Knight, before he ever set brush to paint.

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By Colton Valentine | July 28, 2015

Marcus Samuelsson Wants Harlem to Talk About Art

adamsart-thumb-225x344Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster Harlem (310 Lenox Avenue, 212-792-9001) and Ginny’s Supper Club have been far more than restaurants since they opened — the spots function as a kind of neighborhood nexus where a variety of cultural lightning rods cross paths. Local jazz bands and variety shows fill the stage at Ginny’s, and area artists contribute work that hangs on the establishments’ walls. And Samuelsson wants these elements to be far more than ambiance: He wants them to be part of an ongoing conversation about Harlem.

“Art and culture sit so well with Harlem and the Rooster,” he explains. “I think about our music and storytellers — chefs and artists are part of that segment. When I was building the Rooster, I thought, I know today’s artists and today’s storytellers, and I want them to walk into this restaurant. I’m not looking at art — I’m solely looking at uptown as a narrative.”

That narrative, he maintains, is what’s important to the vitality of the neighborhood. “Part of the work we’re doing here is local investment in the community,” he explains. “We’re introducing local artists in a contemporary way that feels fun and exciting.” To wit, the Rooster displays the art of a number of artists with a Harlem connection — but the restaurant also invites patrons to partake in the conversation, hosting salons that bring together those interested in art with the artists themselves.

Tonight, for example, the Rooster will feature Derrick Adams, an artist who uses a variety of medias and specializes in urban scenes and the African-American experience, downstairs at Ginny’s. Samuelsson and his cooking team will put together a meal inspired by the work of the artist, and diners are invited to have a conversation with Adams about his canon, six works from which are currently on display at the restaurants.

Samuelsson hopes the meal removes some of the barriers that someone interested in art might find in a gallery. “It’s not a traditional space, so it opens up the conversation — you can ask straightforward questions,” he explains. “People have to have dinner anyway — how often to do you do that while you meet an artist who can share their vision and share that passion with other people?”

Samuelsson is also clear that the Rooster and Ginny’s are not intended to be galleries — the work is not for sale; rather, this is a way to introduce artists to the wider community. He does hope, though, that potential buyers seek out these artists in their own spaces.

While tonight’s salon is sold out, it’s one of a series: The Rooster has also featured artists like Gary Simmons, Brandon Cox, Sanford Biggers, and Lorna Simpson. Check the restaurant’s events page for upcoming conversations.

By Laura Shunk Wed., Jan. 15 2014 at 2:00 PM

New Harlem Cultural Center Ready to Open

Roland Laird, chief executive of My Image Studios, with Alexa Birdsong, director of programming, earlier this year.

Roland Laird, chief executive of My Image Studios, with Alexa Birdsong, director of programming, earlier this year.

MIST Harlem, a long-planned cultural center at 40 West 116th St., will open to the public on Wednesday, according to its owners.

The space, with a restaurant and three theaters showcasing film, theater, live music and other black and Latino-flavored arts and culture, will present film screenings, host fundraisers for the Harlem Dowling child welfare agency (Dec. 3), the Museum for African Art (Dec. 5) and a “Def Poetry” reunion on Dec. 12. A Samuel L. Jackson film retrospective is planned for Dec. 14-24. “Django Unchained,” the new Quentin Tarantino film, will have at least a one-week run beginning Dec. 25.

The theaters will also host musical artists on weekends, beginning Dec. 7 with Jarrad Anthony and Krissy Krissy. Other artists are Kym Hampton and Onaje Allan Gumbs on Dec. 8 and LIVRE on Dec. 9. The opening date for the restaurant has not yet been determined. The 20,000 square-foot, for-profit center, located on the ground-floor retail space of the Kalahari condominium, will eventually offer live entertainment at least five nights a week, including dance parties and spoken-word performances, said Taneshia Nash Laird, the chief marketing officer. More information on the events can be found at

‘It’s pretty incredible,” Ms. Laird said of the culmination of the two-decades-long effort to create the center. “The response we got from the creative community is overwhelming. People are interested in all the events. And we got over 1,000 job applications for 80 positions.”

Ms. Laird’s husband, Roland Laird, is the chief executive officer of MIST. Mr. Laird owned the independent comic book publishing company Posro Komics and has over 15 years of experience in software development and project management. Ms. Laird was a former media relations director of Afrika Bambaata’s record label. Their director of programming is Alexa Birdsong, a former executive producer of Central Park SummerStage and an associate director of Jazz at Lincoln Center.

Things were not always so rosy. When the Lairds and their partners sought investors for the $21 million project, it was not an easy sell. One bank suggested that they use the space for something a bit more sensible, like a drugstore.

Advancing Uptown Arts Renaissance, Pop-Up Gallery Spotlights African Beauty and Brutality

A bold new show at Art in FLUX Harlem illuminates the brutal practice of female circumcision and the horrors of homophobia in traditional African cultures, while also celebrating the continent’s gifts. Called “Echoes,” the exhibits join the effort by local artists and curators to breathe life into the uptown arts scene.

“We’re trying to highlight the differences, or the cultural richness, of the African continent,” said Ibou Ndoye, one of the exhibit’s two curators, referring to the 17 artists’ varying backgrounds. The exhibit continues through the month.

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Harlem resurrection

Rebirth of grand

They’ll be raising the roof in this Harlem holy house again.

A developer finalized a deal last week to buy the long-shuttered St. Thomas the Apostle Church, and he plans to save the historic façade while converting the interior into community space.

GLORIOUS PAST: Top left, St. Thomas Church in its heyday and, above, awaiting a $2 million rehab job.

GLORIOUS PAST: Top left, St. Thomas Church in its heyday and, above, awaiting a $2 million rehab job.

The West 118th Street parish was down to just 36 families when the Archdiocese of New York decided to close the hulking, deteriorating structure in 2003, stripping out the storied stained-glass windows, pipe organ and altar.

Efforts to landmark the Thomas Poole-designed building, constructed in 1907, failed, and the church, which has been covered by scaffolding for years, has sat in limbo ever since.

It stayed that way until Ken Haron of Artimus Construction was able to purchase the church, rectory and another plot for $6 million.

Haron says about $2 million is needed to outfit the church for community use that could include a 200-seat performance space.

Haron said he hopes to turn the space over to the Mama Foundation, which specializes in the arts and musical performance.

After years of neglect, only about half of the now-deconsecrated church can be saved. The rear half will be razed for an outdoor yard.

The adjacent rectory, with its cast-iron fireplaces and stained-glass windows, will be turned into a condominium, said Haron, who built one of Harlem’s first new condo buildings across from the church a decade ago.

Haron will also create a 70-unit, 12-story, mixed-income residential building at the rear of the St. Thomas property. It could take up to four years to complete the project.

“We’re trying to . . . restore the façades of [the church and rectory] so the streetscape looks like it used to 100 years ago, more or less,” he said.

It will take “many millions” to repair the damage done to the building, said Haron, who declined to specify the costs of the repairs but plans to reuse much of the intricately carved ornamentation in the reconfigured building.

“If you had seen it before and you walked in now, your heart breaks,” Haron said of the once-pristine house of worship. “But if you hadn’t seen it before, and you walked in now, it’s still a wow.”

Haron’s plans met with approval from the New York Landmarks Conservancy, which has been eyeing the site since its closure.

“The community has loved this building and held it in high regard for years,” said conservancy president Peg Breen. “It’s not everything that the community asked for, but it’s a lot. It’s time that everybody work together and make sure there’s a viable tenant.”

Open House New York & Lots of Art in Harlem

Harlem Art Walk Tour (HAWT) 2012:

A Neighborhood Walking Tour of Over 80 Artists, Studios,
Galleries and Art Related Spaces in the Mount Morris Historical District in Harlem

Walk with us in our beautiful Central Harlem neighborhood on Saturday & Sunday, October 6th and 7th, 2012 from 12PM to 6PM. The tour features the work of over 80 artists living and working in Harlem. Enjoy a relaxing weekend and discover new artwork, galleries and meet artists from Harlem’s vibrant art scene.

Casa Frela Gallery, located at 47 West 119th Street, is the starting point where maps will be distributed to tour participants. The maps highlight the various stops on the walking tour including open artist studios, museums, and cultural and historic venues. All forms of art will be featured including sculptures, ceramics, painting, photographs, etchings and prints and textiles.

Harlem artist mounts an exhibit in Morris-Jumel Mansion uptown, where George Washington slept

Artist Andrea Arroyo unveils ‘Women Unbound’ in the historic Washington Heights mansion, used as a headquarters by Washington during the Revolutionary War.

Andrea Arroyo was rummaging through the Morris-Jumel Mansion attic and came across a bit of brass bearing the following inscription: “A Madame EB Jumel, Paris, 1815, Napoleon.”

Artist Andrea Arroyo in a room at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, where an exhibition of her work, ‘Women Unbound,’ will be on display now through Jan. 7, 2013.

Artist Andrea Arroyo in a room at the Morris-Jumel Mansion in Washington Heights, where an exhibition of her work, ‘Women Unbound,’ will be on display now through Jan. 7, 2013.

“Napoleon” is, of course Napoleon Bonaparte, Emperor of France who, by that date, had been exiled to Elba. Madame Eliza Bowen Jumel, a Boston-born, rumored lady of the evening who nevertheless rose to be, among many things, a prominent Manhattan businesswoman and mistress of the palatial mansion that still overlooks the Harlem River between 160th and 162nd Sts. in Washington Heights.

Arroyo is a Mexican-born artist and Washington Heights resident whose work appears in the Smithsonian Institute, the Library of Congress and in public and private collections around the world.

She came across the brass in the Morris-Jumel attic earlier this year looking for “period” pieces — things people of that day used in ordinary life — stored there she could use in an exhibit, “Women Unbound,” on display at the Morris-Jumel Mansion museum now through Jan. 7.

Arroyo’s work appears with but independent of a collection of humorous drawings by her husband, illustrator Felipe Galindo Feggo, titled “George Washington Revisits Washington Heights,” which shows the father of our country trying to figure out the subway and crossing the bridge that bears his name.

Arroyo said 95% of her exhibit was created especially for the mansion show, which is intended to “create a conversation between the past and the present” and connect contemporary women with Eliza Jumel and Mary Morris, her predecessor as lady of the mansion.

“I was going to make a series of paintings and just put them in the rooms,” Arroyo said. “But the more I came to the house the more I fell in love with the tiny details of the objects.”

Much of Arroyo’s work focuses on women and how they relate to, cope with and make their place in the world. She found the Morris-Jumel Mansion women fascinating.

“I heard the story of the women of the mansion, and I wanted to integrate my work with it,” Arroyo said. “Instead of just bringing in my paintings, I wanted to pay homage to the history of the house. I wanted to use the history of the house to pay tribute to all women.

“I came back to the mansion, I don’t know, a hundred times,” Arroyo said. “I wanted to use the objects in the house, but I didn’t want to intrude. You know, like when you’re a guest in a place? You want to belong.”

A little abridged history: Built by Roger Morris in 1765, the Morris-Jumel Mansion museum is the oldest house in Manhattan. At different times during the Revolutionary War both Colonial General Washington and British General William Howe used the mansion as their headquarters.

Stephen and Eliza Jumel bought the mansion in 1810. When Stephen died Eliza married the former American Vice President (and duelist killer of Alexander Hamilton) Aaron Burr. Burr and Eliza separated after four months, he died on Sept. 14, 1836. Eliza lived in the house until her death in 1865.

Eliza Jumel’s, Burr’s and Washington’s bedrooms, each full of furniture they used, are on display at the museum. Arroyo, with the blessings of museum executive director Ken Moss and Carol Ward, director of education and public programs, set her pieces inside the rooms and hallways, often in surprising ways.

“Historic house museums in and of themselves can be a slightly static environment,” Moss said. “Exhibitions like this give a people a reason to come back to the museum, and they also advance our mission, which is to make people think about how people lived then and now. We want people to think about social issues, about the role of women in society.”

“Martha’s Dreams,” an ink-on-lace portrait of a reclining nude woman, lies coyly across Washington’s bed, the graceful, flowing lines of her sketched form at home among the period furniture surrounding it.

“Dreams and Aspirations” is a brilliant construction; yards of fabric flowing out of an open mahogany jewelry box next to Eliza Jumel’s bed — a dream set free.

“I was thinking of the bedroom as a sacred space where you can really be yourself,” Arroyo said. “I wondered who these women were when they were alone, when they were inside behind closed doors.”

I won’t say what Arroyo did with the Napoleonic gift, which is actually the base of a clock Napoleon gave Eliza Jumel while she was traveling in France with her daughters.

Arroyo’s piece, which sits in what was Burr’s bedroom, is called “Daphne,” a reference to the woman in Greek mythology who tranformed into a tree to escape the smitten god Apollo’s amorous intent.

“That story is about women’s capability for adaptation, surviving, doing whatever you need to do to survive,” Arroyo said. “I fell in love with that base.”

For more on the exhibit and the Morris-Jumel Mansion, see the website, Arroyo’s website is
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Harlem Hospital Unveils New $325 Million Pavilion and Historic Murals

HARLEM — Harlem Hospital opened its new $325 million wing to the public Thursday, unveiling a public art gallery that features historic murals commissioned by the Works Progress Administration Federal Arts Project.

The Mural Pavilion, located on Lenox Avenue between 135th and 136th streets, will also feature works curated by hip hop producer and artist Kasseem “Swizz Beatz” Dean in his role as the first global ambassador for the Health and Hospitals Corporation.

“Today’s ribbon-cutting demonstrates our deep respect for the Harlem community,” said Harlem Hospital Center Executive Director Denise Soares.

The six story, 195,000 square foot building connects the Martin Luther King, Jr. Pavilion and the Ronald H. Brown Ambulatory Care Pavilion. The new structure, designed by architectural firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum, Inc., houses surgical clinics and a new dialysis unit among other departments.

The adult and pediatric emergency department and level 1 trauma center will also be housed in the building and be finished by 2013.

Rep. Charles Rangel said the new pavilion signaled a new era for the hospital. Where once people said not to take them to Harlem Hospital if they became sick, “now people are saying can you get me into Harlem Hospital,” said Rangel.

The unveiling of the murals represents the first time they’ve been seen by the public since being restored. The murals were in the hospital for more than 70 years, with many being covered by plaster and some damaged by fire and water.

Eight murals were created at the hospital and five remain. Harlem Hospital was the first WPA commission for African-American artists.

The Manhattan delegation of the city council allocated $4.2 million to restore the murals.

Works such as “Pursuit of Happiness” by Vertis C. Hayes, “Magic in Medicine” and “Modern Medicine” by Charles H. Alston and “Modern Surgery and Anesthesia” by Alfred D. Crimi have been fully restored and are on display. The significant “Recreation in Harlem” by Georgette Seabrooke, is on display while it continues to be fully restored.

“At night time when you see the mural lit up it’s like, ‘wow they are doing big things in Harlem, wow they are rebuilding Harlem.’ I feel it gives people some type of inspiration to chase a goal that they have,” said Dean, who is married to singer Alicia Keys.

Dean said he thought the artwork could serve as an inspiration to young people.

“I know many people that came to this hospital for the wrong reasons. But now to be able to come to this hospital and see all this inspiration it can change the dynamic on Harlem Hospital and the opportunity that you can have to express yourself through arts,” added Dean who is also a mixed-media artist.

Dean said he hopes to partner with other up and coming artists to create work to display in the lobby’s pavilion.

Vertis Hayes Jr., 62, a retired aerospace engineer from Los Angeles visited the work created by his father.

“To me, it’s a miracle, it’s a gift,” he said while standing next to the restored “Pursuit of Happiness” which depicts the different phases of the lives of African-Americans both in Africa and in America.

“When people see this I want them to understand they are a part of the fabric of the history being depicted,” he said

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Harlem Renaissance Artist Elizabeth Catlett Dies at 96

Power exudes from the raised fists in the sculptures “Homage to My Young Black Sisters.” Endurance and dignity from the stark simplicity of the portrait, “Sharecropper.” In all her work, African-American sculptor and graphic artist Elizabeth Catlett celebrated the heroic strength and endurance of African-American and Mexican working-class women, elevating them in societies that often overlooked or ostracized them.

“You can really see life and history unfold in her work,” Isolde Brielmaier, who

Catlett's sculpture honoring acclaimed author Ralph Ellison was erected opposite his longtime home in West Harlem. The family of Catlett announced on Tuesday April 3, 2012 that she has died at her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico at age 96. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

curated an exhibition of Catlett’s work last year at the Bronx Museum of the Arts, told National Public Radio.

Catlett, a Washington, D.C.-born Harlem Renaissance artist whose politically charged expressionist sculptures and prints and her activism put her at odds with the U.S. government, died April 2 at her home in Cuernavaca, Mexico. She was 96.

“I am saddened by news that Elizabeth Catlett has passed away. Ms. Catlett was cultural pillar in America, and her artwork tackled complex issues like family dynamics, racial identity, and social and political struggle,” Washington D.C. Council Chairman Kwame Brown said in a statement. “Her artwork will continue to inspire Americans for years to come. May we all strive to live up to the standard of fortitude, creativity, and originality Ms. Catlett set with her life.”

Born in the District in 1919, Catlett attended Howard University, where she studied design, printmaking and drawing. She later became the first person to obtain a master’s degree in sculpting from the University of Iowa. According to a PBS profile, in 1946 she received a fellowship to travel to Mexico, where she furthered her studies in painting, sculpture and lithography.

Catlett’s work gained in popularity during the turbulent times of the 1960s and ‘70s. Her work, which often captured the Black experience or sought to advance social causes, spoke to a people in search of a racial identity, racial unity, social parity and justice.

“The art form makes you feel something,” Catlett’s oldest son, Franciso Mora Catlett, said in the NPR broadcast. “It alerts or awakens something in you, that’s the important thing about it.”

The African-American artist also agitated in the streets, picketing, protesting and even being arrested in her quest to advance the causes of her people. Eventually, according to her official website, the U.S. State Department identified her as an “undesirable alien,” barring her from visiting the United States for a decade.