Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Bring on the Spring

The Arthur Ross Pinetum in Central Park, a small arboretum that is home to the largest collection of pine trees in the Park. 2:00 PM. Photo: JH.
Wednesday, February 4, 2015. Very cold and grey in New York yesterday. Roads covered with slush and leftover storm, cars in the nabe still buried in snow. Supposedly there is more headed this way in the next day or two (or maybe even today). So, the kid wanted snow and he got snow. Now he’d like it to melt and go away. Bring on the Spring. I heard that Punxsutawney Phil’s actions indicated that we’re in for six more weeks of hard harsh weather. Although: a loyal NYSD reader in Boston alerted me to another forecast. That’s Ms. G, the woodchuck who lives in the Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln, Massachusetts. I got the following message from one of her supporters:

Ms G agrees w. Staten Island Chuck ... Punx Phil is bogus ... they say he saw his shadow. I have checked Accu Weather and radar from 3 AM and it's been snow, rain and clouds!  Putting on spotlights just is fraud!
Ms. G, the resident groundhog who resides at the Massachusetts Audubon's Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln. Her response to the day was not the same as Punxsutawney Phil's.
Ms. G is the Official State Groundhog of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. She braved the snowstorm Monday morning to make her official forecast. After a healthy breakfast of kale, Ms. G’s verdict was “no shadow,” meaning spring will come early this year.

Just so you know: Ms. G is a female groundhog who resides at Massachusetts Audubon’s Drumlin Farm Wildlife Sanctuary in Lincoln and since 2008, she has been delivering an annual forecast on Groundhog Day with her prediction for the rest of the season. Wellesley elementary school students joined Mass Audubon in submitting a bill to the Massachusetts state legislature to declare Ms. G the Official State Groundhog. The bill was successfully enacted into law and signed by Governor Deval Patrick on July 31, 2014.

Ms. G nibbling on her kale. Even groundhogs are into kale these days.
FYI: Drumlin Farm, Mass Audubon’s working educational farm, practices sustainable farming that supports native habitat. As a leader in environmental education, the sanctuary strives to build awareness of the interdependence among people, land, and wildlife. Drumlin Farm is located at 208 South Great Road (Rt. 117) in Lincoln. To learn more about our programs, call 781.259.2200 or click here.

Just so you know more.
Mass Audubon works to protect the nature of Massachusetts for people and wildlife. Together with more than 100,000 members, they care for 35,000 acres of conservation land, provide school, camp, and other educational programs for 225,000 children and adults annually, and advocate for sound environmental policies at local, state, and federal levels.

Founded in 1896 by two inspirational women who were committed to the protection of birds, Mass Audubon has grown to become a powerful force for conservation in New England. Today they are respected for their sound science, successful advocacy, and innovative approaches to connecting people and nature.

Each year, their statewide network of wildlife sanctuaries welcomes nearly half a million visitors of all ages, abilities, and backgrounds and serves as the base for our work.

To support these important efforts, call 800-AUDUBON (800-283-8266) or visit
A Central Park scene. Photo: JH.
Yesterday I was thinking about Ms. G. as I rode down the snowy icy streets of Mannahatta to Michael’s. I was having lunch with Nina Flowers, Director of Public Relations and Communications for the Apollo, that legendary birthplace of iconic careers on 125th Street between Frederick Douglass Boulevard and Adam Clayton Powell Boulevard (7th and 8th Avenues north of the Park).

Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater.
The Apollo Theater opened on Jan. 26, 1934, a year after the original venue at 253 West 125th Street, Hurtig and Seamon's New Burlesque Theater, closed down.
Nina and I got together to talk about what’s going on at the Apollo which is now in its 21st century Renaissance. The physical theater itself has been there since 1914. It began as Hurtig and Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater – a very popular kind of theater all over America and especially in New York in the first half of the American 20th century.

In 1933, Fiorello LaGuardia – who would one day become Mayor – began a campaign to close burlesque houses. You know, immoral and all that; imagine how he’d feel about the internet. In 1934, Sidney Cohen, the man who owned the theater from the beginning decided to re-open it with a partner/manager Morris Sussman changing the format from burlesque to variety revues, and produced to appeal to the growing African-American community in Harlem.

And so it began. It’s had an illustrious career as New York theaters go, giving birth to meteoric careers of some of the most famous talents of the 20th century in music and entertainment.

In 1983 it received state and city landmark status. In 1991 the Apollo Theater Foundation was established as a private, not-for-profit. And back in business with a Board of Directors, presenting concerts, performing arts, education and community outreach programs.

Nina’s and my conversation veered off the business side and into the history and performer side. For example, she’s worked with Aretha. And what was Aretha like? A total pro from first phone call to final bows. A lady who knows exactly what she needs to make it all work and please her fans.

Demanding in that everything is done by her book, the book of experience. In her last show she performed for two hours, sang all her hits as well as new material. Dressed for the occasion, Aretha is in the Business of Show. The voice is as powerful as ever and the audience is at her feet in awe.
This weekend that renowned musician D’Angelo and the Vanguard will give a one-night-only concert on Saturday at 8 PM. This is D’Angelo’s first studio album in 14 years – Black Messiah. Sold out; his own US engagement before he embarks on his “Second Coming European Tour.” D’Angelo started at the Apollo, winning Amateur Night, the fabled stepping stone of many a great talent including: James Brown, the Chantels, The Coasters, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, The Ink Spots, the Isley Brothers, the Jackson 5, Ben E. King, Gladys Knight & the Pips, the Shirelles, Leslie Uggams, Luther Vandross, Sarah Vaughan, Jackie Wilson.
James Brown.
Ella Fitzgerald.
The Jackson 5.
Gladys Knight & The Pips.
Luther Vandross.
Meanwhile, like all good foundations, Nina was telling me, the Apollo is having its 5th Annual Dining with the Divas luncheon next Thursday (February 12th) on the theater’s legendary stage. The event celebrates “exceptional achievements of women in the arts." The luncheon offers its participants an opportunity to connect with some of the country’s most influential women.

Invite for the 5th Annual Dining with the Divas luncheon next Thursday (February 12th).
Then there’s the 10th annual Spring Gala on Monday, June 18th. This is the Apollo Theater’s biggest fundraising event which includes special tribute performances by leading artists as well as guest appearances.

But two weeks from today, on Wednesday, February 18th, they are holding their first Amateur Night of the season. I’ve never been but as you can see from the above list of just some of the famous winners, I’m fascinated.

Nina told me it still has the basics of “Amateur Night” in the the vaudeville theater where the audience shows its feelings immediately. “The even ‘boo’ people,” she told me. “Except booing children is not allowed.” There’s even a guy who comes out with the “hook” when the performers not going over.

Although Lauryn Hill’s Amateur Night performance  when she was a very young girl started out with her being booed. The girl stayed with it, however, finishing her song and triumphant: the audience gave her a standing ovation. So you can see there are the thrills of living theater coupled with the thrills of the drama of the game. I’m going to make a point of seeing one of those nights.
Last night at “21” Herb and Jeanne Siegel hosted a booksigning party for Joe Califano and his book “The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson.” This book has an interesting history, just like the man himself.

It was first published in 1991 – a “personal memoir by President Johnson’s Top Domestic Advisor.” I don’t know how the re-publication came about (Touchstone is the publisher) but Joe told me the other day that much to his own amazement, it’s really taken off. And probably with no small help from the film “Selma” and the Oscars. When it was originally published it languished on the shelves. Now it’s flying off.
Guests lining up for Joe Califano's signed book.
I can see why. It’s a very good read, and you can kinda feel the resurgence of interest in Lyndon Johnson in the Zeitgeist --  a powerful mind and man, and maybe the apotheosis of an American politician and potential statesman of the 20th century when everything seemed to be working in this country. I know that’s a big statement especially considering what he left behind in terms of foreign policy. He nevertheless proved himself a leader of The People, that being all the American people.
Click to order "The Triumph & Tragedy of Lyndon Johnson: The White House Year."
Joe Califano was a young guy, in his late 20s when he landed a job, a role really, in the history of LBJ’s administration. He’s also a natural story-teller with a lawyer’s attention to the little details that direct the case. His own memoir “Inside, a Public and Private Life” published nine years ago is one of the most gemutlich representations of 20th century Italian American family life in Brooklyn that I have ever read. In it the author tells you everything about the world of the boy growing up in working class/ethnic New York.

“Selma” comes into the story, or vice versa, because of Lyndon Johnson’s passing of the Civil Rights Bill as well as the presence of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in the political drama. Joe Califano takes you there with a naturally intimate writing style.
The author and two time Olympic gold medalist for men's figure skating. Joe and Dick were college roommates.
Joe signs one over to me.
When I arrived at “21” there were about 70 people in the upstairs dining room with two beautiful buffets spread out for the guests. The room was silent except for Joe who was speaking at the podium. He introduced Luci Baines Johnson, LBJ’s second daughter. Many of us remember Luci Baines. She married her first husband Patrick Nugent in the White House. Someone pointed that out to me, also noting that another guest in the room was Ed Cox who married Tricia Nixon in the White House just a few years later.
Among the guests: Sydney Shuman, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Mrs. Bratton (Rikki Klieman), and Ellen Futter. That's Ed Cox, the Nixon son-in-law in the glasses behind Rikki and Ellen.
Lauren Veronis and Hilary Califano. Jennifer Raab.
Ms. Johnson, who is a businesswoman, is an excellent speaker. I vaguely recall writing about this before although I can’t remember the occasion. She has the natural talent for delivering a political speech. That is not to say she couldn’t deliver a speech as well that was not political. But she has the quality that old time politicians had where they could get up on a tree stump and deliver a message that might wander and warm you, coddle and annoy you, and delight and amuse you all in one gathering of their words. It is a special charm, and hearing it delivered by the daughter of one of the greatest examples of that in the American 20th century, was a ripe delight. She takes after the old man.
Luci Baines Johnson (Mrs. Ian Turpin) chatting with a guest.
In finishing her (brief) words, Ms. Johnson also thanked Joe Califano for his service to her father and for his wonderful book which she loved – although she wouldn’t say what she “disagreed with ....” Provoking a laugh in the room to finish the speech.
The cab stops for the light on the southeast corner of Park Avenue and 73rd Street under the Full Moon. 8:15 p.m.

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