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Celebrating Black History Month:
History Makers That Have Made A Mark On Southeast Queens

By Shams Tarek

In classrooms, libraries, community centers, museums and television studios from Atlanta to Seattle this February, millions of people will be observing African American History Month.

The heroes they’ll be celebrating are known around the world as prominent Americans.  But at the end of each of their busy, history-making days, what places in this vast nation did they call home?

A staggering number of the country’s African American jazz artists, like Count Basie, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, have lived in Southeast Queens . 

And leaders like Colin Powell and Ralph Bunche, and international hip-hop stars like Run-DMC and L.L. Cool J., have also lived in Queens ’ lower-right-hand corner.

The following are some of these heroes, and details about what they’ve contributed and where they lived.

FOR THE PUBLIC GOOD

Ralph Bunche:  The 1950 Nobel Peace Prize winner and former United Nations undersecretary once lived in Rosedale .  A park across from the U.N. headquarters in Manhattan is named after him.

Guy R. Brewer: The former State Assemblyman founded the United Democratic Club, one of the strongest political clubs in the borough, on the corner of 117th Ave. and New York Blvd. , which in 1982 was named after him.

Clarence Irving: The founder of the Black American Heritage Foundation and the U.S. Postal Service’s Black Heritage Stamp Series lived in St. Albans for half a century, and recently retired to a town in Long Island .  He was also the first black person to manage a baseball team in Cooperstown , home of the sport’s national hall of fame.

Colin Powell:  The country’s first black secretary of state, now under an international spotlight in the debate over whether or not the United States should invade Iraq , lived in Hollis for a short time.

JAZZING IT UP

There is an almost endless list of black jazz and funk musicians who came out of Southeast Queens .  Following is a list of some of them by neighborhood.

Addisleigh Park

Count Basie: The pianist, composer and band leader lived in Addisleigh Park .


Band Leader Count Basie lived in
St. Albans Addisleigh Park .

Brook Benton: The vocalist lived in Addisleigh Park .

Earl Bostic: The saxophonist and arranger lived in Addisleigh Park .

James Brown: The “Godfather of Soul” lived in Addisleigh Park .

“Wild Bill” Davis : The pianist and organist lived in Addisleigh Park .

Mercer Ellington: The trumpeter, composer and bandleader, as well as son of a Duke Ellington, in Addisleigh Park .

Milt Hinton: The bassist lived in Addisleigh Park , and recently had a street there named after him.


Guy R. Brewer Boulevard is named for the late State Senator who called Southeast Queens home.

Billie Holiday: The vocalist lived in Addisleigh Park .

Lena Horne: The vocalist lived in Addisleigh Park .

Russell Jaquet: The trumpeter lived in Addisleigh Park .

Rose Murphy: The vocalist lived in Addisleigh Park .

Oliver Nelson: The saxophonist lived in Addisleigh Park .

Slam Stewart: The swing bassist and vocalist known for his unique bow and hum technique lived in Addisleigh Park .

Thomas “Fats” Waller: The influential pianist, vocalist and composer lived in Addisleigh Park .

Charles “Cootie” Williams: The ‘30s trumpeter lived in Addisleigh Park .

HOLLIS

Irving Burgie: The Hollis songwriter wrote the lyrics and music for 35 Harry Belafonte hits.

Roy Eldridge: The trumpeter lived in Hollis.

Roy Hanes: The veteran drummer once lived in Hollis; regulars at the Wednesday night jazz jam at Carmichaels say that Hanes occasionally drops in.

Milt Jackson : The vibraphonist lived in Hollis.

Jamaica

Buck Clayton: The arranger lived in Jamaica .

Illinois Jaquet:  The 179th Street resident was the man behind the late vibraphonist Lionel Hampton’s biggest hit, “Flying Home.”  The two were jamming together when Jaquet, a prolific composer and band leader, made up the song’s signature solo riff.

James P. Johnson: The pianist who made the classic “stride” style popular lived in Jamaica .

Charlie Mingus: The infamously complex bassist and composer lived in Jamaica .

Al Sears: The saxophonist lived in Jamaica .  He missed a shot at fame when his one hit, “Castle Rock,” was recorded under Johnny Hodges’ name.

William Grant Still: The “Dean of American black composers,” who developed a black symphonic style with the Afro-American Symphony in 1930, lived in Jamaica .

Eva Taylor: The vocalist known in the ‘20s as the Dixie Nightingale lived in Jamaica .

Ben Webster: The sax player considered one of the “big three” of swing tenors, with Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young, lived in Jamaica .


Historian Clarence Irving, formerly of
St. Albans , was recently honored by Queens Borough President
Helen Marshall.

Clarence Williams: The pianist and composer who wrote popular songs like “Everbody Loves My Baby” and “West End Blues” lived in Jamaica .

Fess Williams: The clarinetist and uncle to avant-garde bassist Charles Mingus lived in Jamaica .

St. Albans

Joe Benjamin: The bass player lived in St. Albans .

John Coltrane:  The virtuoso bebop saxophonist known as one of the most influential jazzmen in history lived on St. Albans Mexico Street for much of his life.

Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis : The tenor saxophonist known for his tough tone lived in St. Albans .

James “Osie” Johnson: The drummer, once one of the most in-demand stickmen in the City, lived in St. Albans .

Wendell Marshall: The legendary bass player and last remaining member of Duke Ellington’s orchestra lived in St. Albans .

Mal Waldron: The pianist lived in St. Albans .

Frank Wess: The saxophonist and one of jazz’s first major flutists lived in St. Albans .

Lester Young: The legendary tenor saxophonist known for his light tone influenced countless sax players in the 1950s and lived in St. Albans .

Springfield Gardens

Albert Heath: The drummer lived in Springfield Gardens .

Percy Heath: The bass player lived in Springfield Gardens .

James “Jimmy” Jones: The pianist and arranger lived in Springfield Gardens .

HIP-HOP HOORAY

L.L. Cool J:  The hip hop statesman, known for atypically clean lyrics and living and his penchant for politicians (he endorsed Gov. George Pataki for his recent re-election campaign), grew up in St. Albans .


Hip Hop Artist L.L. Cool J.
grew up in St. Albans .
PRESS Photo By Ira Cohen

Run-DMC:  The trio of black music pioneers, credited with taking a fledgling form called hip-hop and turning it into what eventually evolved into a billion-dollar industry, grew up in Hollis.

Russell Simmons:  The hip hop mogul grew up with his brother Joseph (“Run” from Run-DMC and now an ordained minister) in Hollis before becoming a millionaire through his Def Jam recording label.  Simmons also founded the popular clothing label Phat Farm.

A Tribe Called Quest, Onyx, Young M.C.:  These hip hop stars, who became popular between the early ‘90s and more recent times, all came from Southeast Queens .

OTHER SEQ NOTABLES

Joe Louis: The world heavyweight boxing champion from 1937 to 1949 lived in Addisleigh Park .

Jackie Robinson: The first black baseball player in the country lived in Addisleigh Park .

Al Roker: The popular television weatherman grew up in St. Albans .

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