Gracie Mansion Gala: A Harlem Week 2011 prelude (38329)

At the recent gala reception for Harlem Week 2011 at Gracie Mansion, it was easy to detect a “New York State of Mind,” the theme for this year’s gift bag of events. It resounded from the speakers under the tent with Frank Sinatra and Alicia Keys; it could be seen in such Harlem standouts as radio legend Hal Jackson, Sylvia Alston, Rubi Gonzalez; and with Elinor Tatum and her beautiful daughter, Willa.

The gala had a diverse global reach as well, with the illustrious presence of Tuskegee Airman Dr. Roscoe Brown; a quartet of singers from the Broadway production of “Baby it’s You,” which is based on the life of Florence Greenberg of New Jersey, who discovered the Shirelles; versatile actor-comedian David Alan Grier; and Shigeyuki Hiroki, ambassador and consul-general of Japan in New York.

Regardless, it was definitely a New York moment, made emphatically so when Lloyd Williams, president and CEO of the Greater Harlem Chamber of Commerce (GHCC), commanded the microphone and began singling out a few of the celebrities in the crowd, including Council Member Inez Dickens; former Mayor David Dinkins, who was celebrating his birthday; former Gov. David Paterson and his wife, Michelle; District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.; Arthur Barnes, chairman of the National Jazz Museum in Harlem; Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott; Police Commissioner Ray Kelly; and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

“Well, David Dinkins turns 37 today,” Bloomberg quipped. He then more seriously noted the importance of Harlem Week, “which is a salute to the many successful businesses in Harlem.” He also began citing Harlem Week’s long list of sponsors with such restaurants as Dinosaur BBQ, Melba’s and Sylvia’s rolling off his palate.

Mention was also made of AT&T’s commitment to provide free Wi-Fi throughout the entire month of Harlem Week. This was just another example of AT&T’s support of the Harlem community, said Williams. “For the first time ever, hundreds of thousands of people who attend Harlem Week and use Wi-Fi-enabled devices will have their experiences at the events richly enhanced.”

Along with Dinkins’ birthday, KISS-FM (WRKS 98.7) was celebrating its 30th anniversary and was the Harlem Week honoree. One of the station’s most popular on-air hosts, Bob Slade was on hand to pick up the award. “We are proud to get this honor,” he said in that distinct voice.

There was a parade of Harlem Week scholarship winners too, including Reggie Idlet and Jessie Walker, who is bound for Cornel University. Another notable teenager under the tent, and on her way to an even bigger tent in show business, was Assata Alston. Voza Rivers, first vice president of GHCC, gave her a glorious introduction that she more than lived up to, fully displaying a talent groomed at the Manhattan School of Music.

As usual, the fanfare at Gracie was just a harbinger, a prelude to a month of marvelous encounters during Harlem Week 2011, events strung together like a precious necklace of memorable social and cultural activities. Get your calendar out and your sneakers ready for another exciting “state of mind” in the city that never sleeps.