Tag Archives: Harlem Renaissance

Happy birthday Langston Hughes! A few stops in Harlem to celebrate

Since I was a teenager, I’ve had an affinity for writer Langston Hughes, the revolutionary jazz poet who was born 115 years ago today in 1902. I grew up in Springfield, Mo., about an hour away from Langston’s birthplace in Joplin. One of the brightest lights of the Harlem Renaissance grew up here?, I frequently pondered in English class.  In fact, Hughes is considered Joplin’s most famous son.*

But you don’t need to follow Langston’s footprints back to the Ozarks. Celebrate his birthday with a mini-walking tour, four Manhattan addresses that were pivotal to Hughes’ development as an iconic African-American voice and a star of the Harlem literary scene–

 Young Langston in college, 1928

Yale Collection of American Literature, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

181 W. 135th Street  — Langston’s first exposure to Harlem’s creative energy was as a Columbia University student in 1921, wandering the street, hoping to see “Duke Ellington on the corner of 135th Street, or Bessie Smith passing by, or Bojangles Bill Robinson in front of the Lincoln Theatre, or maybe Paul Robeson or Bert Williams walking down the avenue.” [source]

Before moving into Columbia’s Hartley Hall (1124 Amsterdam Avenue), however, Langston took a room here at the YMCA, known for its live drama productions and art shows. He didn’t need to stroll around to find Robeson; he got his start acting in productions at the YMCA.



Dapper gentlemen: At a 1924 celebration in Langston’s honor, at the home of Regina Andrews on 580 St. Nicholas Avenue. The author is to the far left, followed by future sociologists Charles S. Johnson and E. Franklin Frazier; novelist and future doctor Rudolph Fisher; and Hubert T. Delany, who would become a New York justice in 1942, appointed by Fiorello La Guardia.

634 St. Nicholas Avenue — Although Langston would rent out a studio in 1938 down the street at 66 St. Nicholas Avenue, he frequently stayed at this address in the Sugar Hill area of Harlem, the home of his friends Toy and Emerson Harper. (He referred to them as ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.) Hughes later moved with the couple to another address…

20 East 127th Street  For 20 years, Hughes worked out of the top floor, by now an international phenomenon. He was residing here (his own ivory tower) when he died in 1967. The house was up for sale for awhile, but was finally sold in 2011 in a Sotheby’s auction.

 515 Malcolm X Boulevard (at W. 135th Street) — The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a branch of the New York Public Library, is Hughes’ final resting place. His ashes are contained underneath the foyer floor, beneath an inscription: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” But the library always had a long association with Hughes. His ‘poetry-play’ ‘Don’t You Want To Be Free‘ played to sold-out crowds in the basement of the library in 1938. The play co-starred Robert Earl Jones, the father of James Earl Jones.

You can find a far more in-depth walking tour of 1920s Harlem here.

*Another African-American cultural icon, George Washington Carver, was born in the town of Diamond, Mo., fifteen minutes southeast of Joplin. If you’re ever swinging through that area of the world, the George Washington Carver National Monument, where his home was located, is worth a stop.

 

Billie Holiday’s New York: Here’s to Swing Street, Harlem’s 133rd Street and other landmarks of jazz

Courtesy Columbia Records

 

PODCAST Grab your fedora and take a trip with the Bowery Boys into the heart of New York City’s jazz scene — late nights, smoky bars, neon signs — through the eyes of one of the greatest American vocalists who ever lived here — Billie Holiday.

Eleanora Fagan walked out of Pennsylvania Station in 1929 and into the city that would help make her a superstar. Her early years were bleak, arrested for prostitution and thrown into the Welfare Island workhouse. But music would be her savior, breaking out in Harlem first in the nightclubs on 133rd Street, then in the basement clubs of ‘Swing Street’ on 52nd Street.

Her recordings make her an international star, but the venues of New York helped solidify her talents — from the Apollo Theater to Carnegie Hall. But one particular club in the West Village would provide her with a signature song, one that reflected the horrible realities of racism in the mid 20th century.

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #176: Billie Holiday’s New York

Billie Holiday at Club Downbeat, 1947

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Locations featured in this episode:

1) Pennsylvania Station (circa 1930s-40s)

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

2) Jefferson Market Courthouse, pictured here in 1935

1
Photographed by Berenice Abbott, courtesy New York Public Library

 

3) Welfare Island, pictured here in 1931

Photographed by Samuel H Gottscho, courtesy Museum of City of New York

 

4) 133rd Street — “Jungle Alley” or The Street — outside Connie’s Inn

Courtesy Museum of the City of New York
Courtesy Museum of the City of New York

 

5) Apollo Theater, pictured here in the mid 1940s

Courtesy Library of Congress, photographer William Gottlieb
Courtesy Library of Congress, photographer William Gottlieb

 

6) Lincoln Hotel

Hotel Lincoln, 44th to 45th Street at 8th Avenue New York City
Hotel Lincoln, 44th to 45th Street at 8th Avenue New York City

7) Billie Holiday at Cafe Society 1939

Photo by Charles B. Nadell
Photo by Charles B. Nadell

8) 52nd Street aka Swing Street

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Billie at Club Downbeat (with her dog Mister) — June 1946

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

9) Town Hall, sometime in the 1940s

Exterior view of The Town Hall, courtesy New York Public Library
Exterior view of The Town Hall, courtesy New York Public Library

10) Billie Holiday at Carnegie Hall for her rave 1948 concert

Courtesy Library of Congress
Courtesy Library of Congress

 

An extraordinary performance of ‘Strange Fruit’, performed in February 1959, months before she died. This was recorded for a British television show called ‘Chelsea At Nine’.

 

Billie Holiday — playing a maid — in the 1947 film New Orleans

 

And a live performance of one of her greatest songs — well, really, one of the greatest songs — “God Bless The Child”

The Hotel Theresa: An historic treasure of Harlem

The Hotel Theresa, as it looks today, White Castle and all.

PODCAST The Hotel Theresa is considered a genuine (if under-appreciated) Harlem gem, both for its unique architecture and its special place in history as the hub for African-American life in the 1940s and 50s.

The luxurious apartment hotel was built by a German lace manufacturer to cater to a wealthy white clientele. But almost as soon as the final brick was laid, Harlem itself changed, thanks to the arrival of thousands of new black residents from the South.

Harlem, renown the world over for the artists and writers of the Harlem Renaissance and its burgeoning music scene, was soon home to New York’s most thriving black community.  But many of the businesses here refused to serve black patrons, or at least certainly made them unwelcome.

The Theresa changed its policy in 1940 and soon its lobby was filled with famous athletes, actresses and politicians, many choosing to live at the Hotel Theresa over other hotels in Manhattan.  The hotel’s relative small size made it an interesting concentration of America’s most renown black celebrities.

In this podcast, I give you a tour of this glamorous scene, from the corner bar to the penthouse, from the breakfast table of Joe Louis to the crazy parties of Dinah Washington.

ALSO: Who is this mysterious Theresa? What current Congressman was a former desk clerk? And what was Joe Louis’ favorite breakfast food?

To get this week’s episode, simply download it for FREE from iTunes or other podcasting services, subscribe to our RSS feed or get it straight from our satellite site.

You can also listen to the show on Stitcher streaming radio and Player FM from your mobile devices.

Or listen to it straight from here:
The Bowery Boys #158 The Hotel Theresa: The Waldorf of Harlem

The Hotel Winthrop which sat on the spot of the Theresa before it was torn down in the early 1910s, deemed a bit inadequete for the growing neighborhood. (Courtesy Museum of the City of New York)

From the February 4, 1917, issue of the New York Tribune, making note of its “large spacious dining room overlooking the Palisades.”

The Hotel Theresa, circa 1915.  Courtesy the Museum of the City of New York

Hotel Theresa, Seventh Ave. & 125th Street.

Boxer Joe Louis was one of America’s most famous athletes in the 1940s and a frequent guest at the Teresa.  Joe fought the German boxer Max Schmeling twice, both times at Yankee Stadium.  Max bested Joe in the first match, but on the second go-around in 1938, Louis knocked out Schmeling in the first round.  He enjoyed his win that evening at the Theresa, as thousands of fans gathered in front of the hotel and throughout the city in celebration.


Malcolm X speaking to crowds in front of the Hotel Theresa — back when there was a Chock Full O Nuts on street level! The former Malcolm Little would be very associated with the hotel, headquartering here after his split with the Nation of Islam.  Photo by Larry Fink c/o WNYC

Jet Magazine and Ebony Magazine founder John J Johnson conceived the ideas for both magazine at the Hotel Theresa and frequently published articles about the Theresa.

 A notice in a 1954 issue of Jet announcing the opening of the Hotel Theresa ballroom, called the Skyline.

In its final years, the Hotel Theresa was even featured in an Alfred Hitchcock film ‘Topaz’. The film fictionalized and played around with an actual event that took place at the Theresa — the arrival of Fidel Castro here in 1960.

You can see the Hotel Theresa briefly in the film’s trailer (at 1:19):

And finally, I featured the music of Una Mae Carlisle in the show.  She was frequently hired to play the Theresa’s club room in the late1940s.  Tragically, Ms. Carlisle died of an illness in 1956, or else she’s certainly be better known today:

Langston Hughes: A few Harlem stops on his birthday



Dapper gentlemen: At a 1924 celebration in Langston’s honor, at the home of Regina Andrews on 580 St. Nicholas Avenue. The author is to the far left, followed by future sociologists Charles S. Johnson and E. Franklin Frazier; novelist and future doctor Rudolph Fisher; and Hubert T. Delany, who would become a New York justice in 1942, appointed by Fiorello LaGuardia.

Since I was a teenager, I’ve had an affinity for writer Langston Hughes, the revolutionary jazz poet who was born 110 years ago today in 1902. I grew up about an hour away from Langston’s birthplace in Joplin, Mo. One of the brightest lights of the Harlem Renaissance grew up here?, I frequently pondered in English class.  In fact, Hughes is considered Joplin’s most famous son.*

But you don’t need to follow Langston’s footprints back to the Ozarks. Celebrate his birthday with a mini-walking tour, four Manhattan addresses that were pivotal to Hughes’ development as an iconic African-American voice and a star of the Harlem literary scene:

181 W. 135th Street (corrected, see note) — Langston’s first exposure to Harlem’s creative energy was as a Columbia University student in 1921, wandering the street, hoping to see “Duke Ellington on the corner of 135th Street, or Bessie Smith passing by, or Bojangles Bill Robinson in front of the Lincoln Theatre, or maybe Paul Robeson or Bert Williams walking down the avenue.” [source] Before moving into Columbia’s Hartley Hall, however, Langston took a room here at the YMCA, known for its live drama productions and art shows. He didn’t need to stroll around to find Robeson; he got his start acting in productions at the YMCA.

NOTE: Thanks to Stephen Robinson for the following correction to the information above: “I’m afraid you’ve got the wrong address for the YMCA at which Langston Hughes would have stayed. From 1919-1933, the YMCA was located across the street from the current building, at 181 West 135th Street. You can see the footprint of this building on the 1930 map we use on our site Digital Harlem: Everyday Life, 1915-1930 , and find more information about it by doing a search for Places, location type=YMCA.

634 St. Nicholas Avenue — Although Langston would rent out a studio in 1938 down the street at 66 St. Nicholas Avenue, he frequently stayed at this address in the Sugar Hill area of Harlem, the home of his friends Toy and Emerson Harper. (He referred to them as ‘aunt’ and ‘uncle’.) Hughes later moved with the couple to another address…

20 East 127th Street For 20 years, Hughes worked out of the top floor, by now an international phenomenon. He was residing here (his own ‘ivory tower’) when he died in 1967. The house was up for sale for most of the year, but was finally sold in December in a Sotheby’s auction.

 515 Malcolm X Boulevard (at W. 135th Street) — The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, a branch of the New York Public Library, is Hughes’ final resting place. His ashes are contained underneath the foyer floor, beneath an inscription: “My soul has grown deep like the rivers.” But the library always had a long association with Hughes. His ‘poetry-play’ ‘Don’t You Want To Be Free‘ played to sold-out crowds in the basement of the library in 1938. The play co-starred Robert Earl Jones, the father of James Earl Jones.

You can find a far more in-depth walking tour of 1920s Harlem here.

 *Another African-American cultural icon, George Washington Carver, was born in the town of Diamond, Mo., fifteen minutes southeast of Joplin. If you’re ever swinging through that area of the world, the George Washington Carver National Monument, where his home was located, is worth a stop.