I put on my best dress, daughter’s high heels and, aided by lipstick and eye shadow, headed for the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. It was the evening of June 13 – and the theatre’s induction of Stevie Wonder into their Hall of Fame.
Somehow or other I ended up on the red carpet which was most embarrassing as I heard someone say, `Who’s she?’ After that initial boo-boo, I headed straight into the glorious theatre.
Several artists performed Stevie’s songs before he came on stage where Tony Bennett presented him with something that looked a little like a small Oscar. Until that night I hadn’t known how much charity work Stevie did, not only for big organisations like the United Nations, but also in small local communities. After a few speeches, he headed to the keyboards and we had ourselves a fantastic concert.
Two nights later I was back at the Apollo for their Wednesday night Amateur Night - a talent quest, the audience being the judge. You could boo people off the stage if you thought they were no good, or you could clap, stamp and scream for your favourites.
I clapped and stomped for everyone as I have the utmost admiration for anyone who gets up in front of an audience (particularly an Apollo audience) to sing. These Amateur Nights have been going for decades and past winners include Ella Fitzgerald, James Brown, Stevie Wonder, and Lauren Hill. It was another great night of music.
The night before I left Harlem, and New York, I went to the Shrine Bar in Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard, Harlem. The Shrine is a funky bar, serves food, and has live jazz and world music. The music, the night I visited, was jazz and it was local and exuberant.
Before I left on this trip, several friends and acquaintances expressed some concern at my staying in Harlem. I had no such worries. Of course I kept an eye on who was around me and a firm grip on my handbag, but no more than when I visit European cities.
I always try not to look like a tourist when I travel. In other words, I never wear shorts and tee-shirts, never wear ugly sandals, nor carry a backpack. This time for the American summer, I retrieved my summer dresses from the wardrobe and they became my uniform for travelling.
I will say though, it took a little getting used to when men would say`Hey baby, you look gooood.’ At first I was so stunned, I just giggled, but after several days of this I started to stop and say`thank you’. Then the questions about the accent; and what was I doing in Harlem? This led to interesting and often very funny conversations which I always enjoyed. There were no expectations from these conversations, just some man appreciating the female form in all its shapes and forms and letting their appreciation be known.
I found this appreciation all over the States. Men would stop me and tell me how good I looked, or they liked my hat/dress and that would be it; we’d chat for a bit and then off they’d go. Fantastic for the ego. I began to seriously rethink the love/hate equation I had of America, and for a while I even entertained the thought of moving to the States just for the daily ego boosts!
After four days in Harlem and walking miles of streets, I was sad to leave. Just as shopkeepers and I were beginning to recognise one another, I left to fly to Chicago. There I was to stay with another airbnb host, and to check out architecture and music in `the windy city.’ But there were more surprises in store for me, just as there had been in Harlem.