Then, one weekend in January, for some reason the black community discovered me. Geoffrey Holder, the dancer/choreographer came in, took a seat at the piano-bar. “I’ve been hearing good things about you,” he said, in his resonant baritone. I couldn’t imagine from where, but I launched into the score from House of Flowers, in which he’d appeared. This delighted him. I played the title tune, I Never Has Seen Snow, Don’t Like Goodbyes, and finished with Sleepin’ Bee –lingering over Harold Arlen’s rich harmonies, the blue notes, the flatted fifths. Geoffrey sang along, joining in, seemed to have a good time, left with a smile on his face. Couple nights later, in came Luther Henderson, who’d arranged and conducted one of my very fav’rit albums, Anita Ellis’s I Wonder What Became of Me?
Note:see if you can answer the trivia questions posed herein.
The Painted Pony was a modest little gay bar on Third Avenue and 84th street. I began working there as a piano-bar entertainer in the late 1960’s, singing Gershwin, Cole Porter -and especially the great Warner Bros. team of Harry Warren and Al Dubin, who wrote Lullaby of Broadway.
Though my piano skills were minimal and I had merely a songwriter’s voice, I soon attracted a following of other dedicated showtune enthusiasts, guys who knew the history and the provenance: Who introduced the song? In what film or show? In which year? All the way down to Who designed the gown? Where else could you hear the names Travis Banton (Designer, 20th-Century-Fox) or Conrad Salinger (Orchestrator, M-G-M) being flung about with such abandon? And there I sat, playing musical trivia (What’s the song from Marjorie Morningstar? Who played her? What year?) Donald, one of my coterie, liked to test me: “Do a Columbia medley–” he’d shout, naming the studio. Well, I was up to that: Rita Hayworth had worked at Columbia, so I could sing Long Ago and Far Away (can you name the picture?) and Put the Blame on Mame (pic here)and Fire Down Below (name the pictures) and Let’s Stay Young Forever (name the picture) and then there was You Can’t Run Away From It (what was this picture? Based on what previous picture?) and finally, as a topper, I’d sing The Re-enlistment Blues and the title tune (not used in the film, but recorded by Frank Sinatra) from From Here to Eternity. “Do Betty Grable!” “Do Ginger Rogers!” Well, I could meet all these challenges. I’d been watching these films on Million Dollar Movie (can you name the TV channel that broadcast this show?), taping the sound tracks to learn the songs. In fact, my ambition was to write songs like these, with all their wit and harmonic invention, and meanwhile, to share this glorious output with my audiences. I never thought of myself as a performer: I was a songwriter who was merely demonstrating the material…and it was this modesty, coupled with my intense devotion, that made me an appealing entertainer. In addition, because I was so entranced with Broadway and Hollywood lore, I could annotate almost every selection with a story about the composer, the lyricist, the producer, whatever.