-Monday, June 28, 2021. Beautiful sunny summer weekend just gone by here in New York. Temps were from mid-70s to low-90s RealFeel in spots, but none of it uncomfortable. The weather is now forecasting a heat wave for this week we’re beginning.
Over the weekend I dined one night with Gigi and Harry Benson and Paige Peterson. Paige and the Bensons are fairly new acquaintances, and so she is always curious about Harry’s enormous career. And the first thing she asked was if he had a new book coming out. Well he does.
It’s a book on Paul McCartney. I haven’t seen it but it is obviously very special: there’s a limited edition of only 100 copies with a unique binding, etc., for $3500 which includes a signed photograph. It’s for the real collectors. It hasn’t been published yet but it’s already sold out. Then there’s a signed second special limited edition in a plexiglass case (which is almost sold out) for $750. The Trade Edition which will sell for $75 will be announced soon.
Harry’s (professional) relationship with the Beatles goes back to the beginning when they were brought before the world’s eyes by a canny young manager named Brian Epstein who put them on the map. And in a relatively short period of time they became world famous.
Harry was sent by his newspaper on Fleet Street to make that first voyage to America with them. It was a smash! And a TV triumph. The boys went home of course, but Harry stayed. A Glaswegian by birth and upbringing, Harry married a girl from deep in the heart of Texas, and lucky for both of them. When you’re having dinner with them, there isn’t a name in the world that you mention that Harry hasn’t photographed with his camera. It’s not that he talks about it, because he doesn’t. So I ask. It’s a journalist’s eye and an artist’s talent. Infinitely interesting. More later …
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Manhattan Bridge, an intimate and vaccinated crowd of approximately 150 gathered at BAM’s Howard Gilman Opera House at its 2021 Gala celebration to honor Sir Patrick Stewart, choreographer Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, and philanthropist Shelby White for the Leon Levy Foundation.
The Grammy-nominated Afrobeat sensation Antibalas headlined, marking the first live, in-person performance in the opera house in more than a year, for its 2021. Chanon Judson and Samantha Speis — co-Artistic Directors, Urban Bush Women — presented a mesmerizing excerpt from Walking With ‘Trane.
Among those attending: BAM Board Chair Nora Ann Wallace, BAM’s Vice Board Chairs William Campbell and Natasha Chefer, Board Member Mark Diker, BAM Board Chair Emeritus Alan Fishman, BAM Co-Interim Presidents Jennifer Anglade, Coco Killingsworth, and Elizabeth Moreau, BAM Artistic Director David Binder, BAM Artistic Director Emeritus Joseph V. Melillo, Keith Stubblefield, WNYC’s Helga Davis, Choreographer Abdel R. Salaam, William Josephson, Judy Fishman, and Christine Wachter Campbell.
The energy was so high that an impromptu dance party unfolded in the back of the opera house where guests and ushers boogied together in “post-pandemic jubilation.” Host Helga Davis stopped the evening at the top of the night when she popped up in the middle of a surprised audience to sing a stunning rendition of Lou Reed’s “Perfect Day” accompanied by experimental music darling Taylor Levine on solo guitar. There wasn’t a dry eyes in the house when she finished.
Sir Patrick Stewart, in accepting his award (via video), proclaimed, “Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Academy of Music has played a significant role in my life because on the penultimate performance day, my dear friend Joel Grey came to see me (in Macbeth) and insisted that he take me out to dinner. I said ‘where would we go?’ and he said ‘Oh, Franny’s.’ And I said, ‘Franny’s … oh, never heard of it.’ So we went to Franny’s and that night I met Sunny … who seven years later became my wife. So Brooklyn also became my home. It has played, and continues to play, a massively important role in my life.”
In accepting the award on behalf of the Leon Levy Foundation, Shelby White, who is a Brooklyn native and a Founding Trustee of the Leon Levy Foundation, said: “BAM is one of the most important cultural institutions in Brooklyn. And as a foundation that has decided we want to support all of the cultural institutions of our city, this was extremely gratifying when we were able to work with BAM and support it.”
Shelby White and the Leon Levy Foundation advocate for the preservation, understanding, and expansion of knowledge in the arts and humanities, ancient world, nature and gardens, neuroscience, human rights and Jewish culture.
Jawole Willa Jo Zollar, the choreographer, in accepting said: “I keep thinking about my memories of BAM and my early times at BAM and … being thrilled by the … activity on the stage. The range of artists that are available in this community, in this nation … in the world are part of the BAM family. I am happy to be a part of that family. Thank you for this honor.”
Zollar’s BAM legacy began in 1988 when UBW were featured in DanceAfrica. She has since returned to BAM numerous times with UBW to present dynamic works that focus on women and the African Diaspora experience.
As BAM finds creative ways to bring artists and audiences together during these times, ripples from the pandemic remain, and have deeply affected many facets of the organization. Funds generated by this event helped secure a future for BAM that is even more imaginative, expansive, and adventurous. Visit BAM, here.
Photographs by Bryan Bedder Getty Images for BAM.