FRISNER AUGUSTIN, HAITIAN VODOU DRUMMER
By JON PARELES
Published: March 10, 2012
Frisner Augustin, a Haitian vodou master drummer whose deep knowledge of traditional rhythms and leadership of the Brooklyn-based Troupe Makandal made him a major force in preserving and popularizing his Afro-Haitian heritage, died on Feb. 28 in Port-au-Prince, Haiti. He was 63.
The cause was a brain hemorrhage, said La Troupe Makandal’s executive director, Lois Wilcken.
Mr. Augustin had an encyclopedic knowledge of the rhythms of vodou (the word is the Haitian Creole spelling of voodoo), in which more than 100 spirits are represented and summoned, each by a distinctive rhythm.
Leading La Troupe Makandal, a drum and dance group, and performing in both vodou ceremonies and secular events, Mr. Augustin devoted his career both to preserving those rhythms and to battling negative stereotypes and misconceptions about vodou. His personal style was meticulous not only about rhythm but also about the melodies made by drum tones. “He would say the drum is like a piano,” Ms. Wilcken said.
In 1999, the National Endowment for the Arts named Mr. Augustin a Heritage Fellow, the nation’s highest award for traditional artists.
Mr. Augustin was born in Port-au-Prince on March 1, 1948, to a poor family. He began drumming as a child on water buckets and whatever else came to hand. An uncle was a drummer, and after watching and listening to him, Mr. Augustin began playing with drum groups while he attended a trade school for welding. He was illiterate throughout his life, but by the time he was 10 or 11, he had learned parts for the various drums in vodou ensembles and had already begun to play the maman, the lead drum, despite his youth. “They had to put me in the chair and put a rope around the chair to hold me and the drum up,” he once recalled.
In 1961, he left welding behind to become a full-time musician. He was initiated as a ountògi, a sacred drummer, during his teens in Haiti, and as an oungan sou pwen, on the threshold of vodou priesthood, in 1984 in the Bronx.
Mr. Augustin immigrated to New York City in 1972 and worked with various groups as a drummer; he also began his lifelong second career as a drumming teacher. In 1981 he took over as artistic director of La Troupe Makandal, a Haitian ensemble named after a Haitian revolutionary and mystic, when it relocated from Port-au-Prince to New York.
La Troupe Makandal has performed for both Haitian and world-music audiences. When it brought abridged vodou ceremonies to public stages, the rhythms were so traditional and intense that unplanned spiritual possessions sometimes took place in secular spaces. The troupe also performs choreographed programs devoted to Haitian history and culture. It has made four albums of traditional Afro-Haitian music: “A Trip to Vodou,” “Èzili,” “The Drums of Vodou” and “Prepare.”
In 1983, Mr. Augustin began teaching the Haitian Drum Workshop at Hunter College, with instruction not only in vodou but also in other Haitian traditions. He also taught drumming at regular workshops in Brooklyn neighborhoods and worked with a Haitian-American children’s dance company, Tonel Lakay.
When the Rolling Stones began their Voodoo Lounge stadium tour in Washington in 1994, Mr. Augustin was a member of the vodou drum group that opened the concert. He also worked on the soundtrack of the Jonathan Demme film “Beloved,” and appears on albums by the genre-defying composer Kip Hanrahan and on a 2011 album, “Route de Frères,” by the Haitian-American jazz drummer Andrew Cyrille. In 1998, when the New York folklore group City Lore inducted Mr. Augustin into its People’s Hall of Fame, Mr. Demme called him “the Arnold Schwarzenegger of transcendental drumming.”
A year later, Mr. Augustin received the National Endowment of the Arts fellowship. “He wanted his drums to both call the spirits and to speak to a broad public,” said a statement by Rocco Landesman, the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts.
Mr. Augustin, who was married and divorced once, is survived by seven children — Garry Augustin, Gregory Augustin, Dominique Augustin Rosa, Johnny Augustin, Nicolas Breland, Niguel Breland and Courtney Mathurin — and five grandchildren. La Troupe Makandal will continue to perform, with a lineup including longtime students of Mr. Augustin.
LEONARDO CIMINO, A DISTINCTIVE ACTOR
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Published: March 10, 2012
Leonardo Cimino, who once thought his singular appearance would make an acting career improbable but who ended up spending more than 60 years as an in-demand character actor whose roles included gangsters, grandfathers, the pope, Vincent van Gogh and “Scary German Guy,” died on March 3 at his home in Woodstock, N.Y. He was 94.
NBC, via Photofest
Leonardo Cimino in the 1983 television mini-series “V.”
The cause was chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, his wife, Sharon Powers, said.
Mr. Cimino studied acting, directing and modern dance at the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theater. But he thought that his looks — he was slight of build and had a distinctively thin face — might make it hard to win steady roles when he was trying to choose a profession in the 1940s. Those looks, however, turned out to be his greatest asset.
“He doesn’t look like anybody else,” Ms. Powers said. “If you want a Leo Cimino, you want a Leo Cimino.”
He was taking dance classes with Martha Graham when José Ferrer, who was directing and starring in a 1946 revival of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” asked if he would play a part. Mr. Cimino became a regular under Ferrer, which eventually led to more roles.
On Broadway Mr. Cimino was in the 1962 adaptation of E. M. Forster’s “Passage to India” and a 1985 revival of “The Iceman Cometh,” among other parts. Off Broadway he performed Shakespeare with the Public Theater, notably a 1975 performance as Egeon in “The Comedy of Errors” alongside Ted Danson and Danny DeVito. He also starred as Vincent van Gogh in “Vincent” at the Cricket Theater in 1959.
“Leonardo Cimino’s van Gogh is a small, lively, appealing figure — appealing because he does not ask for pity,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in The New York Times.
He won an Obie Award for his performance as the disturbed and morose Smerdyakov in a 1958 production of “The Brothers Karamazov.”
On television, he appeared in the original version of the science-fiction mini-series “V” and in shows like “Naked City,” “Kojak” and “Law & Order.” His many movies included “Dune,” “The Freshman” and “Moonstruck.” He played the pope in the 1982 film “Monsignor” and the aforementioned “Scary German Guy” in “The Monster Squad.”
Leonardo Anthony Cimino was born in Manhattan on Nov. 4, 1917, to Andrea Cimino, a tailor, and his wife, Leonilda. He began playing the violin as a child, and studied at Juilliard as a teenager.
He landed with the second wave at Normandy during World War II.
Other than his wife, Mr. Cimino has no immediate survivors.
When Mr. Cimino was dabbling in dance, he spent a few months as a substitute teacher, filling in for Sidney Lumet at the High School for the Performing Arts.
His final role was in 2007 alongside Ethan Hawke, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Albert Finney in the film “Before the Devil Knows You’re Dead,” Mr. Lumet’s last film.
JIMMY ELLIS, LEAD SINGER IN DANCE BAND TRAMMPS
By DANIEL E. SLOTNIK
Published: March 8, 2012
The cause was complications of Alzheimer’s disease, Erika Stinson, his daughter, said.
Mr. Ellis’s melodious voice overlaid the funky guitar riffs and driving bass and drums of the Trammps’s dance music. He sang lead on most of the group’s songs, backed by the bass singer Earl Young, and later harmonized with Robert Upchurch, who joined the band in the mid-1970s.
The Trammps were formed in the early ’70s, according to their keyboard player and manager, Edward Cermanski. Mr. Cermanski said the second “m” in the group’s name came from the days when Mr. Ellis and his friends sang on street corners.
“The police called them tramps,” he said. “So they said they wanted to be high-class tramps, with two ‘m’s in the name.”
Their first recording was a remake of one of Judy Garland’s signature songs, “Zing! Went the Strings of My Heart,” which reached No. 17 on the R&B charts. They went on to have hits like “Hold Back the Night,” and in 1975 were signed by Atlantic Records, which released seminal disco records by the group like “Where the Happy People Go.”
The Trammps peaked with the album “Disco Inferno,” whose title track climbed to No. 11 on the Billboard pop chart in 1977. It became emblematic of the disco era when it was used as background music in an extended John Travolta dance sequence in the 1977 movie “Saturday Night Fever.”
The movie’s soundtrack rocketed to No. 1 on the pop chart and became the highest-selling album of all time until Michael Jackson surpassed it with “Thriller.” The soundtrack won a Grammy for album of the year in 1979. The Trammps, along with every performer featured on the album, received Grammys.
James Thomas Ellis II was born on Nov. 15, 1937, in Rock Hill, S.C. He sang gospel as a teenager in St. Mary’s Church, graduated from Emmett Scott High School and left for Philadelphia to sing with R&B groups like the Volcanoes and the Exceptions, who had a popular single called “Down by the Ocean.”
In addition to his daughter, Mr. Ellis, who lived in Rock Hill, is survived by his wife, Beverly; three brothers, Johnny, George Robert and Charles; a sister, Alice Ruth; a son, James III; eight grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Except for a hiatus of several years, Mr. Ellis toured with the Trammps until 2010.
DONALD M. PAYNE, FIRST BLACK CANDIDATE ELECTED TO CONGRESS FROM NEW JERSEY
Published: March 6, 2012
Representative Donald M. Payne, a former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus who achieved a long-held goal of becoming the first black congressman from New Jersey, died on Tuesday in Livingston, N.J. He was 77.
Lawmaker’s Death May Bring Battle for Successor(March 7, 2012)
The cause was complications of colon cancer, his office said. He died at St. Barnabas Medical Center.
Mr. Payne, a Democrat, announced his cancer diagnosis in February but ruled out taking a leave of absence, saying he planned to seek re-election because his doctors expected him to make a full recovery.
He had declared his ambition to become New Jersey’s first black congressman as early as 1974, when he was an Essex County legislator. But he was defeated in 1980 and 1986 in primary races to unseat Representative Peter W. Rodino Jr., the longtime dean of the state’s Congressional delegation and a popular figure in the heavily Democratic and largely black 10th Congressional District, which includes sections of Essex, Hudson and Union Counties.
It was not until Mr. Rodino chose not to seek a 21st term, in 1988, that Mr. Payne saw his opportunity. “I want to be a congressman to serve as a role model for the young people I talk to on the Newark street corners,” Mr. Payne said at the time. “I want them to see there are no barriers to achievement. I want to give them a reason to try.”
In the general election, he handily defeated his Republican opponent, Michael Webb, by a vote of 83,520 to 13,511.
“Nothing is as powerful as a dream whose time has come,” Mr. Payne said after the victory. “Sometimes a political leader is marching a little in front or a little behind the people. But once in a while the marcher and the drumbeat are in exactly the same cadence, and then, finally, good things happen.”
He had voiced that sentiment two years earlier, in his second bid to unseat Mr. Rodino, maintaining that a largely black district was entitled to be represented by one of its own. After his 1988 victory, Mr. Payne said he was aware of how Mr. Rodino had been a source of pride for Italian-Americans, earning national recognition as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee during impeachment proceedings against President Richard M. Nixon. Mr. Payne said he wanted to instill the same kind of pride in blacks.
In Congress, Mr. Payne was a low-key and unassuming presence who nonetheless made a mark in a number of areas, including education and global affairs.
A former teacher, he advanced policies that sought to make college more affordable. He led efforts to cut interest rates on Stafford loans for college students and increase the size of need-based Pell grants.
As a member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, he wrote legislation that sought to provide famine relief to the war-torn Darfur region of Sudan. He was also a founder of the Malaria Caucus in Congress and helped secure billions of dollars in foreign aid for treating H.I.V., AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
In a statement, President Obama said Mr. Payne had “made it his mission to fight for working families.” The state’s governor, Chris Christie, called Mr. Payne “a great role model for every person in New Jersey who aspires to public service.”
Donald Milford Payne was born on July 16, 1934, to William Evander Payne and the former Norma Garrett in Newark’s predominantly Italian-American North Ward, in a section called Doodletown. His father held jobs as a chauffeur and a dockworker. “I didn’t have a black teacher all through elementary and high school, until my senior year,” Mr. Payne once recalled.
A graduate of Seton Hall University, he taught English and social studies and coached football in Newark at South Side High School (now Malcolm X Shabazz High School). Before entering politics he held executive positions at the Prudential Insurance Company and Urban Data Systems, a computer forms company founded by his older brother, William. He was also the first black president of the National Council of Y.M.C.A.’s.
Mr. Payne developed a passion for politics early. At 19 he followed his brother into Democratic politics, running his successful campaign to become the North Ward’s first black district leader. His brother was 21. In 1972, Mr. Payne was elected to the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders. A decade later, he won a seat on the Newark Municipal Council.
He was in his 12th term in the House when he died. In several of his later campaigns, he ran without any Republican opposition.
Mr. Payne was chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus from 1995 to 1997.
He married the former Hazel Johnson in 1958. She died in 1963. His survivors include a son, Donald Jr., a Newark councilman; two daughters, Wanda Payne and Nicole Payne; four grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.
Correction: March 8, 2012
Because of an editing error, an obituary on Wednesday about Representative Donald M. Payne, the first black congressman from New Jersey, referred incorrectly to his membership in the Congressional Black Caucus. He was a member from the time he joined Congress, in 1989, until his death — not just from 1995 to 1997. (Those were the years he was chairman of the caucus.)
WILLIAM HEIRENS, THE ‘LIPSTICK KILLER’
Published: March 7, 2012
William Heirens, the notorious “Lipstick Killer” who in 1946 confessed to three horrific murders in Chicago and then spent the rest of his life — more than 65 years — in prison despite questions about his guilt, was found dead on Monday in the Dixon Correctional Center in Dixon, Ill. He was 83.
Peter Thompson/Associated Press
Mr. Heirens served more than 65 years in prison in Illinois.
He was pronounced dead at the University of Illinois at Chicago Medical Center, where an autopsy was to be performed, the Cook County medical examiner’s office said. Mr. Heirens was known to have had diabetes.
Mr. Heirens’ notoriety stemmed from the separate killings of two women, Josephine Ross and Frances Brown, in 1945. At the scene of the second murder, that of Miss Brown, someone had used lipstick to scrawl on a wall: “For heaven’s sake catch me before I kill more. I cannot control myself.”
The reports of a “lipstick killer” terrified Chicago as the press took note of other unsolved murders of women. Then, about two weeks after the Brown murder, on Jan. 7, 1946, a 6-year-old girl named Suzanne Degnan was discovered missing from her bedroom at her North Side home. A ladder was found outside the window. The police later determined that the killer had strangled her and taken the body to the basement of a nearby building, where it was dismembered. Her head was found in a sewer; other body parts were found scattered about the neighborhood.
The newspapers called the killing the crime of the century, and though the police questioned a parade of suspects, there was no arrest.
Almost six months later, Mr. Heirens (pronounced HIGH-rens), a 17-year-old student at the University of Chicago, was apprehended at the scene of a burglary in the girl’s neighborhood. The police charged him with the murder after determining that his fingerprints were on a $20,000 ransom note that had been left behind at her home.
While he was in custody, The Chicago Tribune, citing what it called “unimpeachable sources,” reported that Mr. Heirens had confessed to the Degnan murder. Four other Chicago newspapers published similar articles, basing them on The Tribune’s account. The outcry against him mounted.
Mr. Heirens, who said he was beaten and given “truth serum” in jail, disputed the newspaper accounts, saying he was about to sign a confession in exchange for one life term but rebelled at “being forced to lie to save myself.” Prosecutors then charged him with the Brown and Ross murders, saying they had incriminating physical evidence against him, including crime-scene fingerprints and a handwriting analysis. Offered three consecutive life terms in exchange for a guilty plea, he accepted, on the advice of his lawyers. Later he said he had done so only to avoid a death sentence if he had gone to trial.
“I confessed to live,” he said.
When he did confess, his memory seemed ragged. Time after time during the plea bargaining, prosecutors brought up details from The Tribune article, which he then incorporated into his testimony. Mr. Heirens recanted his confession soon afterward and maintained his innocence for the rest of his life while being denied parole or clemency numerous times. He questioned the validity of the fingerprints and other evidence, as have public interest lawyers who supported him.
In one clemency petition in 2002, his lawyers from the Northwestern University Center on Wrongful Convictions alleged more “prosecutorial misconduct, incompetent defense counsel, unprecedented prejudicial pretrial publicity, junk science, probably false confessions and mistaken eyewitness identification than any other case we have studied.” But others could not ignore his detailed admissions of guilt, even if he had retracted them. “He is the yardstick by which all evil is judged,” Thomas Epach, a Chicago police official, said at the 2002 clemency hearing.
Suzanne Degnan’s family fought all efforts to release him. Betty Finn, Suzanne’s older sister, said at the 2002 hearing, “Think of the worse nightmare that you cannot put out of your mind, you’re not allowed to put out of your mind.”
William George Heirens was born on Nov. 15, 1928, in Evanston, Ill. His father’s flower business failed, and the family teetered on the edge of poverty. In interviews, William said that his parents had fought frequently and that he had burglarized houses to relieve the tension he felt at home. He did not try to sell the things he stole, he said.
He was placed in two Roman Catholic youth detention centers. At the second, he proved to be an excellent student, skipping his senior year of high school. He was admitted to the University of Chicago at 16, with plans to major in engineering. In interviews, Mr. Heirens said his mother had led him to believe that sex was dirty. When he kissed a girl, he said, he would burst into tears and vomit. He said one reason he broke into houses was to play with women’s underwear.
In the burglary in which he was arrested, the police testified that he had aimed a gun at an officer and twice pulled the trigger, but that the weapon misfired. He was additionally convicted of assault with the intention of killing a police officer.
After Mr. Heirens went to jail, his parents and brother changed their names to Hill. He left no known survivors.
While serving one of the nation’s longest prison terms, Mr. Heirens became the first prisoner in Illinois to earn a degree from a four-year college. He also managed the prison garden factory and set up several education programs. In recent years, his diabetes damaged his eyesight, and he used a wheelchair. He told The New York Times in 2002 that he had learned that prison friendships were fleeting.
“Most of them, you hear for a little while, and then they kind of fade out,” he said. “Usually when they get out, they try to forget they were ever in.”