During the slide show presentation at the Schomburg Center Monday evening for Norma Jean Noble to commemorate her remarkable life—she died May 25, 2021 at 86—Bob Marley’s “Could You Be Loved” was a perfect selection to accompany the photos and video, signifying her birthplace in Jamaica and the extent which she was deeply admired.
Norma Jean, for the uninformed, was the companion of the late Gil Noble and, as expected, it was hard to talk about her life and legacy without evoking her husband. In effect, they were an inseparable duo, and many members of their extended family, particularly their grandchildren, marched on stage to recount memorable moments with her.
The Rev. Herbert Daughtry with words and feelings presided over the event, and his comments, prayers, and closing benediction were delivered with a tenderness and dignity that makes him in such great demand for these occasions. In the soon to be published book the “Passing of Giants” he has collected his eulogies and obituaries, and Norma Jean’s is sure to be among them.
After the libations from Dr. Akil Khalfani, the celebration was underway and highlighted by the reading of scripture and musical interludes, none more moving than Chris Noble’s tenor saxophone solo and his playing along with film clips of pianist Oscar Peterson and bassist Ray Brown. Two dancers also joined him on stage as images of Norma Jean flicked on the background.
Vocalist Karen Abreu, accompanied by a guitarist, offered “Ave Maria” and “How Great Thou Art,” again a nod to Norma Jean, a lifetime that was denoted gracefully by two of her grandchildren during the obituary reading. Many close followers of the Nobles had seen some of the photos of them published in Gil’s book “Black is the Color of My TV Tube” but weren’t sure about the wedding photo depicted there. That incident was explained in the program in which Norma Jean and Gil were invited to model at an American Exhibition fashion event in Moscow, Russia in 1959. The wedding sequence caused quite an uproar when only whites were shown in the setting. Later, to assuage the misstep, the Nobles were actually married in Moscow with a reception at the home of Llewelyn Thompson, the U.S. ambassador to Russia. The couple then bought a Volkswagen Beetle and toured Europe.
Travel was a constant element in their lives, so much so that they often ventured back to Jamaica, eventually establishing a home in Silver Sands. During his eulogy, Dr. Wayne Batchelor touched several of these significant moments in the Nobles’ days together. Many patients and co-workers at the Montclair Community Hospital recall Norma Jean’s warm and caring bedside manner as a nurse during their stay in ICU.
Assemblyperson Charles Barron, Drs. Rosalind and Leonard Jeffries, both of whom were close to the family and often appeared on “Like It Is,” were among the notables there to honor the Nobles.