In 1968, back when Greenwich Village was where all the “cool people” hung out, Leon Bibb was a popular folk singer and a frequent guest on the folk show I hosted at WVHC at Hofstra University (which was still a college) in Hempstead, New York. Bibb became a friend. He lived in Queens (as did I) near Forest Hills and one night, he invited me to join him for an evening at the Village Gate which was a popular folk and jazz club in the Village. He said he wanted me to meet some of his “friends.” So there we were at the Village Gate at the corner of Bleecker and Thompson. The heart of the village. Dark, smokey and noisy with a musical mix of folk and jazz. Great live music for the price of a few cups of coffee.

I followed Bibb, literally on his heels through the crowd. He said, “Garry, come over and meet some of my friends.” We went to a corner section of the bar. People were gathered, sipping drinks and laughing, That was when I saw Leon’s “friends.”  It was Harry Belafonte, Sidney Poitier, Diahann Carroll, James Earl Jones and others. All I could do was blink. I blinked several times.

Leon pushed me over and did his introduction: “Hi, guys and girl, meet Garry Armstrong. He’s a friend who’s been kind enough to give me time on his radio show.” I was wide-eyed.

“Sidney,” he said, smiling widely, offered me his hand, “Hey, man. Be careful of this Bibb dude. He’ll steal your show, your concepts and your money.” Grinning that broad wonderful smile, flashing dimples with laughter, Poitier shook my hand, winking at Bibb as everyone laughed loudly.

“Harry” stepped in front of Sidney and greeted me. “Hello, Garry — good to meet you. Yes, be careful of Bibb. Say, what kind of stuff do you play?” I mentioned some of the artists I frequently played like Odetta, Joan Baez, Ian and Sylvia, plus lots of Caribbean stuff because my folks were from the “Islands.” 

Which Islands?” Harry asked. 

I mentioned St. Thomas, Barbados, Antigua among others. “Harry” beamed. I told him I played some of his stuff like “Come back, Liza”, “Scarlet Ribbons”, and so on.  He blinked at me “What? No “Day-O?”

I added, “One of my favorites is “Fifteen.” Harry blinked harder.  It wasn’t one of his popular hits. It was the love theme from his movie The World, The Flesh and The Devil which co-starred Mel Ferrer and Inger Stevens. It was one of my favorite flicks but not well-known. I told Harry I’d seen the film several times and enjoyed its theme and purpose. He beamed and introduced me to Diahann Carroll who gave me a polite handshake and a wonderful smile which left my body doing strange things.

Next up was James Earl Jones whose greeting seemed to thunder through the music and chatter. The greetings segued into chatter between the celebrities as if I was a member of the group. I just listened, nodding occasionally and marveled at the notion I was in this gathering.

This went on for an hour or maybe more, with me actually sharing some stories about movies and music. I talked about Bright Road, an early 1950s MGM film that starred Harry Belafonte and Dorothy Dandridge. Also, Cry, the Beloved Country and noted my admiration of Canada Lee, the lead actor.  When I got into character parts done by little known actors of color, I had the spotlight.

I avoided the usual stuff and jabbered about the actor who was framed by Bette Davis in In This Our Lives. I noted that he played his part with subtlety and nuance. Harry was nodding vigorously, Diahann seemed impressed and James Earle smiled. Sidney? He had that Virgil Tibbs look on his face, years before In The Heat of the Night.

The rest of the conversation centered on Caribbean food. I had fond  memories of fish and rice dishes, including a favorite dish called, “Foon-JEE.”

The celebs laughed when I recalled my most recent visit to the Islands, St. Thomas and Antigua, my Dad’s birthplace. I was treated as a “mainlander” even though my family and relatives were well-known on the islands. I apparently was also “shopped” as marriage material for some of my “cousins.”

This brought gales of laughter with Harry actually crying with laughter. Sidney just smiled and shook his head in mirth. I tried to sneak looks at Diahann who just gave me sweet smiles. 

As we parted company, Sidney offered encouragement and a reminder to be myself and avoid stereotype work. I smiled and said, “That’s very white of you.”  Sidney stared at me for a long second and then burst into laughter. I was doing Sidney’s hand bits (twisting of palms) and he smiled, indicating my mimicry was okay. Hey, I did those hand bits before ever seeing Sidney. Maybe it’s an “island” thing. It was a memorable evening.

So I was thinking about Harry for much of the day and didn’t know until later that he had passed on. I must have somehow known.

Categories: Anecdote, Celebrities, In Memorium, Movies, Music, Remembering - Memories

Tags: , , , , ,

16 replies

  1. It is one of Garry’s favorite memories and one he repeats regularly. I don’t know how many times I’ve heard it, but I’m always ready to hear it again. Garry is away at a funeral today. Another friend he’s had for more than 50 years. I knew him casually but Garry was a true friend. He needs to mourn with others with whom he worked.

    Liked by 1 person

    • “He needs to mourn with others with whom he worked”.

      Yes, I needed to do that. It was a bittersweet day. Seeing old colleagues-friends was pleasant. We smiled — noting what time has done to our us — faces, bodies and souls. We laughed at our ‘old folks’ aches that used to be constant fodder for our parents and their generation. Now, WE are “the old folks” attending myriad funerals when we are not going to doctors for our various illnesses. Karma, as my Mom warned me during my know it all teen years, has come back to bite.

      We smiled, laughed and, yes, cried as we celebrated the life of our mutual friend. So many wonderful anecdotes about “Charlie”, the TV news photojournalist (Cameraman) who was a real life Damon Runyon character. Charlie was “old school” with a dim view of most reporters. Hell, he knew MORE about most of the stories we covered. Charlie gave those of us reporters – who listened — the extra layers to stories that would’ve been one dimensional with just enough video to please the suits.

      “Charlie” would’ve fit in nicely that evening I spent with Belafonte, Poitier, Carroll and J.E. Jones.
      They would’ve appreciated the kind of intelligence and wit that is rare in the TV news biz these days.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. That must have been some night! Thanks for sharing.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Garry, this is a great story. What a lot of fun you had hobnobbing with these celebrities.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Garry, what a terrific story. You came upon a veritable who’s who of great entertainers and humanitarians. It sounds like Belafonte appreciated your appreciation for his deeper cuts of music. Thanks for sharing. Keith

    Liked by 1 person

    • Keith, thank you. Golly, those were the days when this stuff could happen without fanfare or social media “likes”. Imagine what FB and others would do today.

      I think Mr. Belafonte (I’d love to say “Harry” but he was just being polite and kind) liked my appreciation of his music that was NOT hyped by DJ’s and “top ten” charts.


  5. Garry you have had the most extraordinary life. You have met so many interesting people and had a chance to have real conversations with them.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. wow, this is so very cool. what an amazing experience. harry was a classic, who will be missed by so many.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. so cool to be amongst all those celebs Garry! What a wonderful experience, and now you have the memories to cherish!

    Liked by 1 person

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