If you’re thinking of Duke Ellington, Billie Holiday, Black Swan Records, the Cotton Club, Gospel music, Che Guevara at Hotel Theresa, Malcom X, the Apollo Theatre and Mohammad Ali then you’re thinking of central Harlem!
They all lived here and we passed some of their homes and hang-outs on a walking tour. The Dutch style houses are elegant and well-kept in this area, with gardens at the front steps or balconies. Hamilton Heights nearby is also known as Sugar Hill – sugar referring to money.
Our guide pointed out that there’s a new renaissance going on now.”In Harlem, where bebop was born and the birthplace of hip-hop is just a stone’s throw away, Scott believes a musical transformation that has been simmering for more than a decade is finally reaching a boil. And its touchstones go well beyond jazz. “There’s something brewing up here,” he says. “It’s always been a reservoir for artists, but when you look at things now, these are, for lack of a better term, A-list young jazz musicians. You have the same thing happening with visual artists here, you have the same thing happening with young, black film directors. It’s almost like a second coming of the Harlem Renaissance.” From A new day in harlem
Harlem is also known for it’s churches. Getting into the Abyssinian Baptist Church was tough! Their security guy or whatever he is had us waiting in a line while they scrutinised us, yelling for either not being dressed properly or having backpacks. There are strict religious rules, I understand that, but is there a need to be that aggressive about it! Looking over Mike and I, he said “this is good.” Phew! Finally we sat for an hour of amazing infectious gospel singing service with parishioners waving their arms and shaking their heads. We waved and clapped too even though we’re not religious! The African-American Heritage Hymnal book in front of us had all the “Hallejuiah” songs. Apparently the queues for the Sunday service go on forever so good that we managed this one. Alleluia! Amen!
Next we rushed to 125th St, crossing Malcolm X Avenue, to get tickets for the Apollo Theatre. We got there 15 mins after the box office closed! Damn!
So then we ate at the famous Sylvia’s Soul Food restaurant in Harlem What is soul food I hear you ask? Compare my grilled salmon salad with Mike ‘s order of fried chicken with waffles. Yes waffles and maple syrup. Which one is soul food? If you picked Mike’s dish then you’re right! It’s comfort food with Southern roots where sweet and savoury is mixed. In the terrible past, they had to make do with whatever food they could get at the plantations.
We were seated alongside African-Americans, a brightly dressed, trendy young couple and a lady with the big shiny words “Sexy” for earrings. She expressed her annoyance at a rude, young waiter. Thereafter, she was served with the utmost attentiveness and politeness, sprinkling her dialogue with “baby” and “honey” for the new waiters who served her.We smiled at each other and she farewelled us with “have a safe night.”
Uptown is cool. We had even seen a young hip-hop couple filming a song in front of the Yankee Stadium in the Bronx where many stars like Jennifer Lopez and Whoopi Goldberg are from.