It was a happy Thanksgiving celebrated with family, friends and comrades. There were dinners everywhere, and they were open to everyone—all in the true spirit of giving thanks for all that we have and even for what we don’t.
Happy birthday celebrations were as plentiful as the pumpkin pie, with the birthdays of Naomi Diane Brown, Krishna Tarter, Lanny McCallister, Bertha McGhee, Jerry Lord, Cornelius “Corny” Taylor, Burnell Hendricks, Kevin Miles, Tarrah Manley Smallwood, Jemel Manley Crumes and Sandra Matthison.
Congratulations to Judge Debra A. James, who was officially inducted as a justice of the New York State Supreme Court. The swearing in ceremony, hosted at the House of the New York City Bar Association felt more like old home week, as James is a well-known and very well-liked member of the Harlem community. The mistress of ceremonies was Sheila Abdus-Salaam, the first Black woman to be appointed to a seat on New York state’s highest court.
Speakers at the event were Supreme Court Judge Fern A. Fisher, who serves as deputy chief administrative judge of New York City courts and director of the New York State Courts Access to Justice Program; Councilwoman Inez Dickens; Councilwoman Gale A. Brewer; Jay Waks, Esq., partner in the litigation department of Kaye Scholer LLP; David Rubin, Esq.; and Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright. Included as part of the program was the speech “Bangs and Whimpers,” given by the late Judge Bruce M. Wright (Dec. 19, 1917–March 24, 2005), when James was inducted as a judge of the Civil Court of the City of New York on Dec. 20, 1994.
Admired, respected and never forgotten, Wright served in New York City’s civil and criminal courts and was elected to the New York State Supreme Court. More than a jurist, he was also a lover of poetry and literary pursuits and was friends with Langston Hughes.
An author himself, Wright wrote about the role of race in the judicial system in his book “Black Robes, White Justice,” which won a 1991 American Book Award. A graduate of Lincoln University, he attended Fordham Law School and received his law degree from New York Law School. As one of the first Black men to work for Proskauer Rose LLP, he represented jazz legends such as Billie Holiday, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and Max Roach. Most notably, Wright was made an honorary member of Princeton University’s 2001 class, 65 years after being denied admission because of his race.
What would a reception be without good music? This one was no exception, as the musicians were all equally accomplished. Harpist Brandee Younger received an undergraduate degree in harp performance and music business at the Hartt School of Music in West Hartford, Conn. His training included attendance at the Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz and work with saxophonist Ravi Coltrane to honor the music of the late harpist Alice Coltrane.
Bassist Belden Bullock attended the Berklee College of Music, where he is also a faculty member. He has toured with the George Adams Quartet, the Ahmad Jamal Trio, Ralph Peterson Fo’tet, Oliver Lake and Abdullah Ibrahim.
Mark McGowan, Esq., is a professional trumpeter. Having received a bachelor’s degree in music from Hunter College, he studied with Barry Harris and William Fielder. His performance career includes stints with Illinois Jacquet and Lionel Hampton. McGowan leads his own musical troupe called the Black Diamond Orchestra.
James Weidman, the most talented pianist, has played with Cecil Payne, Pepper Adams, Bobby Watson, Cassandra Wilson, Kevin Mahogany, Abbey Lincoln, Steve Coleman and Joe Lovano, just to name a few.
Giving the drummer some applause was easy, as drummer Steve Williams has collaborated with jazz pianist and singer Shirley Horn, Monty Alexander, Milt Jackson, Freddie Hubbard, Joe Williams, Woody Shaw, Gary Bartz, Eddie Henderson, John Hicks and Mulgrew Miller in the past. What a party.
Many are coming to pay their last respects to the Rev. Dr. Eugene Saint Clair Callender, who made his transition on Nov. 2. Born on Jan. 21, 1926, in Cambridge, Mass., Callender became the first African-American to attend Westminster Theological Seminary. He chose the ministry as a means to right the wrongs of segregation and create opportunities for African-Americans.
As a civil rights champion, Callender worked with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and stood with many others to try and end the horrific effects of racism on American culture. Indeed, he brought King to Harlem for the first time. He was responsible for helping launch Alex Haley’s career by helping to get “Roots” published. Callender developed a program to support drug addicts become free of addiction through the creation of Addiction Recovery Center- and Harlem-based street academies.
Callender enjoyed a prestigious career. He founded the Manhattan Christian Reformed Church in the 1950s, now named the Christian Parish for Spiritual Renewal. For many years, he presided over Church of the Master in Harlem. He served on five presidential commissions under five U.S. presidents, as well as having served as a trustee and president of the SYDA Foundation. In 2012, he penned a memoir, “Nobody is a Nobody: The Story of a Harlem Ministry Hard at Work to Change America.”
Callender is survived by two siblings, Thelma Burns and Leland Callender; a daughter, Renee Callender-Williams; a grandson, Roshon Martin; and a great-granddaughter, Shanice Jackson; as well as countless loving friends in New York City and nationwide. Public memorial services will be held on Saturday, Dec. 7 at 12 p.m. at the Abyssinian Baptist Church.
Vocalist Frank Senior is the featured guest vocalist during the jazz vespers at Saint Peter’s Church with world renowned piano player Michael Kanan on Sunday, Dec. 8 from 5-6 p.m. The church is located at 619 Lexington Ave. The entrance is on East 54th Street. This service will take place during advent, a season of waiting and light. Senior said, “Please join me on this very special gig to help me bring in and celebrate the holidays. Everyone is welcome, and there’s no charge!” Also appearing will be the great blind piano player—the incomparable, incredible Valerie Capers.
Until next week … kisses