Markuann Smith, executive producer/actor on “Godfather of Harlem” knows everything about holding your vision.
It was his determination that smashed open previously closed doors when trying to get the story of infamous crime boss Bumpy Johnson aka the “Godfather of Harlem” to the small screen. The second season of “Godfather of Harlem” returned this spring to impressive numbers.
Markuann Smith was one of those savvy New York City kids who would listen to conversations with his godmother, Margaret Johnson about her grandfather, who happens to be Ellesworth “Bumpy” Johnson. There at a very young age, he was determined to share these stories with the world. He wanted the world to know him in a very different light. He wasn’t just a gangster, he was just as important to Harlem as the politicians were in the community in the 1960s. In many ways, Ellesworth “Bumpy” Johnson made Harlem—Harlem.
Set in the early 1960s after eleven years in prison, he finds the neighborhood he once ruled now in shambles and controlled by the Italian mob, Bumpy must take on the Genovese crime family to regain control. During the brutal battle, he forms an alliance with radical preacher Malcolm X (Nigel Thatch)––catching Malcolm’s political rise in the crosshairs of social upheaval and a mob war that threatens to tear the city apart. “Godfather of Harlem” is a collision of the criminal underworld and the Civil Rights Movement during one of the most tumultuous times in American history.
Now that the show “Godfather of Harlem” is in its second year, it feels like getting it made was a cakewalk. It wasn’t. It took Markuann 18 years to get the show made.
Markuann was the youngest of two sons born and raised in poverty in Harlem by his mother and stepfather. His mother held down three jobs, and as a young child, he practically raised himself, watching movies and television to escape the harsh realities of the city and the sound of gunshots that are a part of his childhood.
He would watch movies on television to escape his reality of the gunshots outside his window. Restless and searching, Markuann was thrown out of the house and spent a large majority of his youth in Queens, Far Rockaway where he fell in with a bad crowd.
In high school, he began a journey that would eventually pave the road to working in the entertainment industry. Markuann’s oldest brother better known as Father M.C. had secured a record deal with uptown MCA records and took him on tour where he was exposed to Tupac Shakur, Sean “Diddy” Combs, etc. Sean Diddy Combs personally groomed Markuann on how to be a hype man and it was then he caught the entertainment bug. Markuann says his brother saved his life.
After the tour, he went to Morgan State University and majored in theater. After college, he secured a job working in production at Black Entertainment Television (BET) and became lifelong friends with Jacque Reid, and together they made their mark in Reality TV together with Jacque Reid as a cast member and Markuann as a host of the popular “Let’s Talk About Pep” on VH1, starring Pep of Salt N’ Pepa.
Inspired by the stories of his Godmother, Ellesworth “Bumpy” Johnson, vowed to put the record straight on “Bumpy” Johnson. Here is what Markuann Smith shared.
AMSTERDAM NEWS: Markuann Smith please, set the record straight.
MARKUANN SMITH: When I started this journey in Margaret Johnson’s Lennox Terrace apartment over 20 years ago, I wanted people to understand that Bumpy was more than a gangster, he was a man that took the cards that were dealt to him and played the game of life his way. He didn’t come to New York to become the baddest gangster on the streets of Harlem he migrated up North just like any other African American looking for the American dream he wanted to become an attorney to fight for injustice but when he was turned away at City College because the bursar told him we don’t give financial aid to colored folks he said you will eat those words and a legend was born… Bumpy wasn’t just a gangster he was a philosopher––he read Nietzsche and Shakespeare––he was a published poet he was an accomplished chess player even an urban legend that he beat the grandmaster of chess Bobby Fisher.
The warden of Alcatraz said he had the highest IQ for a colored person he ever saw, princes and princesses, dictators, actors and actresses, singers, musicians all flocked to Harlem to be in his presence. Margaret wanted to show the side that the world never saw and I made a promise to her to get it done. She called me her manchild in the promised land and was fiercely protective over me that was the Johnson bloodline in her.. Like Frank Sinatra, Bumpy did it his way the only way he knew. When he was getting sentenced to go away to Alcatraz he looked over at his wife Mayme and said to her don’t cry, it’s all part of the game… He was a man that didn’t make excuses, he took ownership of his misdoings. He walked amongst giants, ran with the wolves, and swam with the sharks. In a different time, he could have been the next Jeff Bezos or the next Steve Jobs but he played the hand that was dealt with him with a poker face all the way to the end.
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