Back in Palm Beach, with the election hanging in the balance, it feels like the calm before the storm. Everyone is just doing their best to try and enjoy the moment. These days, the restaurants continue to be at the center of social life. La Goulue Palm Beach has opened its French doors (for dinner only), The Colony Hotel re-opened last week after being closed for seven months due to the pandemic, with Swifty’s serving poolside (lunch and dinner), and Le Bilboquet is said to be opening soon!
We continue to have no choice but to look for the silver lining, and in doing so the pandemic has at least given us the chance reconnect with friends and acquaintances even if by phone, Zoom or social media. Before we left New York for the season in Palm Beach, I heard from Susan Sobocinski Puchert, who has recently moved out of NYC to Westport, CT. Now Head of Global Real Estate on the East Coast for Amazon, we have known each other since we were seven years old growing up together in Larchmont, NY.
Some of my fondest childhood memories include gathering around the Sobocinski’s piano to sing Christmas carols donning Lester Lanin hats! Back in those days, children never knew what their friends’ fathers did for a living, and little did I know that Susan’s grandfather, Fred Miller, was one of the top band leaders for the legendary Lester Lanin Band.
Susan’s mother, Judy Miller Sobocinski, and her two sisters, Nancy Miller Dolan and Bobbie Miller Gilhuly of Fairfiled, CT, grew up in Pelham, NY. It was a home filled with “great music,” a love for which they passed along to their combined 27 children and grandchildren.
As Mrs. Dolan told me, “There are a lot of people who don’t realize the difference live music makes. We were brought up on it, so we can’t live without it!”
She continued, “As one of Lester’s top bandleaders, dad had an amazing talent for getting a party going when it was dying down. He instinctively knew what it needed. His reputation preceded him. When people called Lanin to hire them for an affair, they frequently requested dad as the leader. He was talented, had class and was a lot of fun!”
In 1930, Lester Lanin was hired to play at a gala for Barbara Hutton, and the event garnered so much press that it made Lanin a star as well as the young heiress. Lanin would play for debutante balls at The Waldorf Astoria and other social events at the prestigious Union Club in NYC.
He was invited to play at White House inaugural balls from the Eisenhower administration to the Carter administration. And after playing at the Whitehall Hotel in Palm Beach in the late 1920s, he had a weekly gig at the Everglades Club until his death in 2004.
He and his band were also invited to play at some of the grandest private homes in the country including the Vanderbilts, Astors, Mellons, Henry Ford II; Chryslers, DuPonts,Whitneys, David Rockefeller, in France for Baroness Rothschild, and at Windsor Castle for the Queen of England — who once said to him, “You’re in good form tonight, Mr. Lanin.”
“Lester ‘s personal knowledge of the people and different ranges of music were equal to none — and those of his specially chosen musicians. They all had to be equally up on the latest music — and as I personally found out at a dance at the Union Club, the patriotic songs of a multitude of countries due to a United Nations entourage!” Dolan said.
Lanin was Inducted into the Big Band Hall of Fame in Palm Beach, Fla., in 1993. He built a legacy that The New York Times that year called “an elaborate construct built from scratch each night.” The Times also said Lanin claimed to invent the concept of playing continuous music at a party, and he is legendary for never leaving the bandstand during a dance. (President John F. Kennedy could not help asking Mr. Lanin when he went to the bathroom, according to many reports, all of which seem to neglect to give the answer.) Lanin was famous for giving away up to 50,000 multicolored cotton hats a year, with “Lester Lanin” emblazoned in script on the brim. He liked to say he was in “the happiness business.”
Lanin died in 2004 at the age of 97. Since his death, his orchestra continues to play biennially at the International Debutante Ball where they still hand out “Lanin Hats.”
From there it was off to Nashville, TN, for George’s check-up with Dr. Cathy Eng, MD, FACP, FASCO, at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center, a board certified medical oncologist, Professor of Medicine, she hold the endowed David H. Johnson Chair of Surgical and Medical Oncology at Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center.
For the past 17 years, while at MD Anderson Cancer Center, she became an internationally recognized clinical researcher in the treatment of colorectal, appendix and anal canal cancers. Along with George’s internist Dr. Gary Horbar at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York, we pretty much credit her with saving George’s life.
And when she was recruited from MD Anderson in Houston, TX, to Vanderbilt in 2019 to serve in her new leadership roles as the Co-Director of Gastrointestinal (GI) Oncology and the Director of the Young Adult Cancers Initiative, we followed! She is creating a research program focused on promising developments in the lab to take to the clinic for treatment options, as well as fulfilling the needs of young patients.
While awaiting the news, which can be quite unnerving, we took the time to visit Bruce Shelton of Nashville and Palm Beach to see his incredible collection of the 100-year-old self-taught female artist, Helen LaFrance. Bruce has made it his life mission to ensure that she receives her rightful place in American art history.
LaFrance, who turned 101 just yesterday(!) is an accomplished painter, quilter, wood carver, and Biblical interpreter. However, her real skill is her ability to connect with a viewer emotionally through the memories they both shared. She paints scenes of a time and place that many can respond to. These painting fall into a category of American folk art known as Memory Painting.
A versatile creator, her work may be studied from various perspectives — as a regional Southern artist, an African American artist, a female artist, a memory painter and a contemporary American artist. Her work is represented in many notable musepublic and private collections in this country and in Europe, including the collections of Oprah Winfrey, the artist Red Grooms, and collector Beth Rudin DeWoody. Here is a small selection of her work …
For more on artist Helen LaFrance, visit www.sheltongallery.com