SYLVIA WOODS, FOUNDER OF FAMED HARLEM SOUL FOOD RESTAURANT
By MARGALIT FOX
Published: July 19, 2012
- Sylvia Woods, whose eponymous Harlem soul-food restaurant was frequented by local and national politicians, international celebrities, tourists, epicures and ordinary neighborhood residents, died on Thursday at her home in Westchester County, N.Y. She was 86.
Her family announced the death, citing no cause. Its statement said Ms. Woods had been ill with Alzheimer’s disease for the last few years.
Her death came a few hours before she was to receive an award from Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg at a reception at Gracie Mansion commemorating the 50th anniversary of Sylvia’s Restaurant. There was a moment of silence before the award presentation; a family friend accepted it on her behalf.
Sylvia’s Restaurant opened on Aug. 1, 1962 — with six booths and 15 stools — at Lenox Avenue near 127th Street, offering soul-food staples like ribs, hot cakes, corn bread and fried chicken. The immense popularity of its dishes earned Ms. Woods the sobriquet the Queen of Soul Food.
A culinary anchor and the de facto social center of Harlem, Sylvia’s has served the likes of Roberta Flack; Quincy Jones; Diana Ross; Muhammad Ali; Bill Clinton; Jack Kemp; Robert F. Kennedy; and, besides Mr. Bloomberg, Mayors Edward I. Koch and David N. Dinkins, who was partial, Ms. Woods said, to the chicken, candied yams, collard greens and black-eyed peas with rice.
Busloads of tourists from as far away as Japan routinely descend on the place.
Spike Lee used the restaurant as a location for his 1991 film “Jungle Fever.”
Sylvia’s inspired two cookbooks by Ms. Woods, “Sylvia’s Soul Food: Recipes From Harlem’s World Famous Restaurant” (1992; with Christopher Styler) and “Sylvia’s Family Soul Food Cookbook: From Hemingway, South Carolina, to Harlem” (1999; with Melissa Clark).
The daughter of a farming couple, Van and Julia Pressley, Sylvia Pressley was born in Hemingway on Feb. 2, 1926; her father died when she was a baby.
The first thing she cooked as a girl, she recalled, was a pot of rice on the family’s wood stove. But the rice burned after Sylvia ran out to play and left it to cook on its own, a fact she withheld from her mother. A switching ensued.
“I got punished,” Ms. Woods told The Post and Courier of Charleston, S.C., in 1999, “but not for burning it — for telling a lie.”
Sylvia met her future husband, Herbert Deward Woods, when she was 11 and he was 12 and both were working in the fields, picking beans under the blazing sun.
As a teenager, Sylvia moved to New York to join her mother, who had gone there for work. She found work herself, in a hat factory in Queens. In 1944, she married Mr. Woods, who had come North to claim her.
In the 1950s, Ms. Woods began work as a waitress at Johnson’s Luncheonette in Harlem; because she had grown up poor in the Jim Crow era, the day she first set foot in the place was the first time she had been inside a restaurant anywhere.
In 1962, with help from her mother, who mortgaged the family farm, Ms. Woods bought the luncheonette and renamed it Sylvia’s. Three decades ago, Gael Greene, the food critic of New York magazine, wrote a laudatory article on Sylvia’s, sealing the restaurant’s success.
Over time, Sylvia’s expanded to seat more than 250; it is the cornerstone of a commercial empire that today includes a catering service and banquet hall and a nationally distributed line of prepared foods.
Ms. Woods, known for her effusive warmth in greeting customers, ran the business until her retirement at 80.
“I keep pressing on,” she told The New York Times in 1994. “I can’t give up. I’ve been struggling too long to stop now.”
Mr. Woods, her self-effacing but stalwart partner in the venture, died in 2001. Survivors include her sons, Van and Kenneth; her daughters, Bedelia Woods and Crizette Woods; 18 grandchildren; five great-grandchildren; and two great-great-grandchildren.
A major factor in Sylvia’s enduring appeal, Ms. Woods learned firsthand, was the time-honored conservatism of its cooking. Toward the end of the 20th century, in deference to an increasingly health-conscious public, Ms. Woods chose to supplement the menu with lighter fare.
“We had lots of salads and stuff,” she told The Philadelphia Daily News in 1999. “And it went to waste. When people come here, they got in their mind what they want.”
Douglas Martin contributed reporting.
WILLIAM RASPBERRY, PULITZER PRIZE-WINNING COLUMNIST
Published: July 17, 2012
- William Raspberry, a Pulitzer Prize-winning syndicated columnist for The Washington Post who for 39 years in more than 200 newspapers brought a moderate voice to social issues, including race relations — sometimes to the ire of civil rights leaders — died on Tuesday at his home in Washington. He was 76.
The cause was prostate cancer, said Kris Coratti, a spokeswoman for The Post.
Mr. Raspberry wrote his column for The Post from 1966 to 2005. Initially under the title “Potomac Watch,” and later under his own name, it steered clear of Washington’s power brokers to focus on street violence, drug abuse, criminal justice, poverty, parenting, education and civil rights, often quoting ordinary people he interviewed and asserting his belief in individual responsibility in dealing with social issues.
“Words matter,” he wrote in a 1993 column about the raw lyrics of rap music. “And because I know words matter, I wish my children, and kids younger than my children, would get back to innocent, hopeful lyrics. I wish their music was more about love and less graphically about intercourse. I wish their songs could be less angry and ‘victimized’ and more about building a better world.”
His writing could spur controversy. In a column about violence in the streets of Washington in 1993, shortly after a shooting at an elementary school, Mr. Raspberry drew criticism for calling for federal troops to restore order.
“If we can deploy American soldiers in Mogadishu to protect the Somali people from violent ‘warlords,’ ” he wrote, “is it beyond reason to deploy a few hundred troops here, at least until the streets are calm enough for ordinary law enforcement to take over?”
Mr. Raspberry defied conventional labels. In 1974, Time magazine wrote that he had “emerged as the most respected black voice on any white U.S. newspaper.”
“Neither a Pollyanna nor a raging militant,” Time continued, “he considers the merits rather than the ideology of any issue. Not surprisingly, his judgments regularly nettle the Pollyannas and militants.”
N.A.A.C.P. officials were nettled by a 1989 column in which Mr. Raspberry criticized civil rights leaders, accusing them of dwelling on racism rather than pressing for practical solutions to the problems faced by blacks.
“I don’t underestimate either the persistence of racism or its effects. But it does seem to me that you spend too much time thinking about racism,” he wrote. “It is as though your whole aim is to get white people to acknowledge their racism and accept their guilt. Well, suppose they did: What would that change?”
“Well, quite a lot, as a matter of fact,” replied Roger Wilkins, a former colleague of Mr. Raspberry’s at The Post and later publisher of the N.A.A.C.P. journal, The Crisis, writing in Mother Jones magazine in 1989. “The issue isn’t guilt. It’s responsibility.”
“Like it or not,” Mr. Wilkins continued, “slavery, the damage from legalized oppression during the century that followed emancipation and the racism that still infects the entire nation follow a direct line to ghetto life today.”
To which Mr. Raspberry responded, “Just for the hell of it, why don’t we pretend the racist dragon has been slain already — and take that next step right now?”
Mr. Raspberry won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary in 1994.
That year, the National Association of Black Journalists presented him with its lifetime achievement award. “Raspberry’s clarity of thought and his insistence on speaking the truth as he sees it — even when others disagree — have kept his column fresh, unpredictable and uncommonly wise,” the citation said.
William James Raspberry was born on Oct. 12, 1935, in the small Mississippi town of Okolona, where, he said, “we had two of everything — one for whites and one for blacks.” His parents, James and Willie Mae Raspberry, were teachers.
Mr. Raspberry graduated from Indiana Central College (now the University of Indianapolis) in 1958 with a degree in history. But his reporting career had already started in his freshman year with a summer job at The Indianapolis Recorder, a weekly newspaper primarily for African-Americans.
In 1962, after serving as a public information officer in the Army, Mr. Raspberry was hired by The Post as a teletypist. But when an editor spotted his writing talent, he was promoted to reporter and was soon covering civil rights issues and turmoil in black communities. His reporting on the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles earned him the Capital Press Club’s Journalist of the Year award.
The next year he began writing a column on local issues. It moved to the paper’s op-ed page in 1970.
Mr. Raspberry married Sondra Patricia Dodson in 1966. Besides his wife, he is survived by his mother, who is 106; two daughters, Patricia Raspberry and Angela Raspberry Jackson; a son, Mark; a foster son, Reginald Harrison; a sister; and a brother.
Mr. Raspberry taught journalism at Duke University for more than 10 years. He retired from The Post in 2005 and afterward organized an educational foundation for low-income families in his Mississippi hometown, financing it out of his own pocket.
In one of his last columns, he returned to his theme of individual responsibility, declaring that “father absence is the bane of the black community.”
“What is happening to the black family in America,” he wrote, “is the sociological equivalent of global warming: easier to document than to reverse, inconsistent in its near-term effect — and disastrous in the long run.”
Even though Mr. Raspberry “often wrote about race, he nevertheless transcended race,” Leonard Downie Jr., a former executive editor of The Post, said in a telephone interview in June. “He made sense of the issues that roiled the community.”
KITTY WELLS, COUNTRY SINGER
By BILL FRISKICS-WARREN
Published: July 16, 2012
- NASHVILLE — Kitty Wells, who was on the verge of quitting music to be a homemaker when she recorded a hit in 1952 that struck a chord with women and began opening doors for them in country music, died on Monday at her home in Madison, Tenn. She was 92.
The cause was complications of a stroke, said her grandson John Sturdivant Jr.
Ms. Wells was an unlikely and unassuming pioneer. When she recorded “It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels,” she was a 33-year-old wife and mother intending to retire from the business to devote herself to her family full time. The only reason she made the record, she told the weekly newspaper Nashville Scene in 1999, was to collect the union-scale wage ($125) that the session would bring.
“I wasn’t expecting it to make a hit,” she said. “I just thought it was another song.”
But Ms. Wells’s record proved to be much more than just “another song.” It was a rejoinder to Hank Thompson’s No. 1 hit “Wild Side of Life,” a brooding lament in which the singer blames a woman he picks up in a bar for breaking up his marriage, and it became her signature song.
“Honky Tonk Angels” resonated with women who had been outraged by Mr. Thompson’s record, which called into question their morals and their increasing social and sexual freedom. At a time when divorce rates were rising and sexual mores changing in postwar America, the song, with lyrics by J. D. Miller, resounded like a protofeminist anthem.
“As I sit here tonight, the jukebox playin’/The tune about the wild side of life,” Ms. Wells sings, she reflects on married men pretending to be single and causing “many a good girl to go wrong.” She continues:
It’s a shame that all the blame is on us women
It’s not true that only you men feel the same
From the start most every heart that’s ever broken
Was because there always was a man to blame.
The NBC radio network banned Ms. Wells’s record, deeming it “suggestive,” and officials at the Grand Ole Opry would not at first let her perform it on their show. The Opry eventually relented, in part because of the song’s popularity and Ms. Wells’s nonthreatening image.
Ms. Wells “sang of ‘Honky Tonk Angels,’ but no one would have ever mistaken her for one,” Mary A. Bufwack and Robert K. Oermann wrote in the book “Finding Her Voice: Women in Country Music, 1800-2000.” “She was always proper, always dignified,” they added. “She dressed in prewar gingham instead of pantsuits, flamboyant Western garb or satin costumes.”
Sung in a gospel-inflected moan and backed by a crying steel guitar, Ms. Wells’s record spent six weeks at the top of the country charts and crossed over to the pop Top 40. The song’s success not only made her the biggest female country music star of the postwar era, it also persuaded record executives in Nashville to offer recording contracts to other women. (Music labels had not thought female singers were worth the investment.)
Ms. Wells became a model for generations of female singers, from Loretta Lynn and Dolly Parton to Iris DeMent. The renowned song publisher Fred Rose anointed her the Queen of Country Music.
Muriel Ellen Deason was born in Nashville on Aug. 30, 1919. Her father, a brakeman for the Tennessee Central Railroad, played guitar and sang folk songs after the fashion of Jimmie Rodgers. Ms. Wells grew up listening to the Grand Ole Opry and singing gospel music.
She learned to play the guitar at 14 and made her singing debut on the radio in 1936. She married Johnnie Wright the following year and worked briefly in a group with her new husband and his sister. When Mr. Wright formed the singing duo Johnny and Jack with Jack Anglin in the late ’30s, Ms. Wells, at that point performing under her married name, was the featured “girl singer” in their show.
She appeared on some of the biggest radio hoedowns of the day, including “Louisiana Hayride” and the weekly Grand Ole Opry broadcast. As the Little Rag Doll she worked as a disc jockey, playing records and selling quilt pieces on KWKH in Shreveport, La. Mr. Wright suggested that she adopt the stage name Kitty Wells, drawn from an old folk ballad made popular by the Pickard Family.
Ms. Wells recorded for RCA Victor in 1949, but all of her major hits were made after that for the Decca label and produced by Owen Bradley. Several of her early records were duets with country stars like Red Foley and Webb Pierce. During her 27-year recording career she placed 84 singles on the country charts, 38 of them in the Top 10.
Family was important to Ms. Wells and her husband. Early on they incorporated their children into their touring revue. They also recorded with them.
Mr. Wright, Ms. Wells’s husband of more than 70 years died last year. She is survived by a son, Bobby, and a daughter, Sue Wright Sturdivant; eight grandchildren; 12 great-grandchildren; and five great-great-grandchildren. Another daughter, Ruby, died in 2009.
Ms. Wells had her own syndicated television show in 1968 and made a country-rock album with members of the Allman Brothers and the Marshall Tucker Band in 1974. She was elected to the Country Music Hall of Fame in 1976. In 1991 the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences presented Ms. Wells with a lifetime achievement award. Only two other performers in country music, Hank Williams and Roy Acuff, had previously received that honor.
JON LORD, KEYBOARDIST WITH DEEP PURPLE
By BEN SISARIO
Published: July 16, 2012
- Jon Lord, the keyboardist of the pioneering British hard-rock band Deep Purple, died on Monday in London. He was 71.
The cause was a pulmonary embolism, said his manager, Bruce Payne. Mr. Lord announced last year that he had cancer.
In songs from the late 1960s and early ’70s like “Smoke on the Water,” “Hush” and the epic “Child in Time,” Deep Purple laid much of the groundwork for heavy metal, drawing a blunter and fiercer sound out of the blues-based riffs common in the British invasion’s first wave.
Mr. Lord’s Hammond B-3 organ — with its signal routed through a Marshall amplifier to give it a distorted tang — was key to Deep Purple’s style. It locked into formation with Ritchie Blackmore’s guitar, Roger Glover’s bass and Ian Paice’s drums, forging catchy lines like the four-note motif of “Smoke on the Water” that helped the band sell tens of millions of albums around the world.
But Mr. Lord did more than pound out chords. His fast, wandering solos reflected a lifelong interest in lyrical classical music, and in the band’s early years he composed several large-scale pieces for the group, including “Concerto for Group and Orchestra,” which was recorded with the Royal Philharmonic in London in 1969.
Born in Leicester, England, on June 9, 1941, Mr. Lord studied classical piano from a young age and became a fan of piano rockers like Jerry Lee Lewis as well as jazz organists like Jimmy Smith. After moving to London in 1959, he played in various jazz, blues and pop groups throughout the 1960s, until in 1968 the first incarnation of Deep Purple was formed in Hertford.
After its first singer, Rod Evans, left in 1969, the group recruited Ian Gillan, who had the vocal prowess to match the band. In the early 1970s the group released a string of hit albums, including “Deep Purple in Rock,” “Machine Head” and the live “Made in Japan.”
Mr. Lord remained in the group despite numerous personnel changes until it finally disbanded in 1976. He then formed Paice, Ashton and Lord, a short-lived group with Deep Purple’s drummer and the singer Tony Ashton, and joined an early version of the band Whitesnake. Deep Purple reunited in 1984, and Mr. Lord stayed until 2002; since then he has continued his composing career and collaborated with musicians including Anni-Frid Lyngstad of Abba.
He is survived by his wife, Vicky, and two daughters, Amy Cherrington and Sara Lord. His first marriage to Judith Feldman ended in divorce.
In a recent interview, Mr. Lord demonstrated how he tailored the organ’s sound for Deep Purple.
“Lovely a sound as it was, it wasn’t quite giving me what I wanted,” he said. “I could hear another sound in my head — something harder, something more throaty.”
“You tap straight in and put it through a straight speaker,” he added, “and you get a beast.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: July 20, 2012
An obituary on Tuesday about Jon Lord, the keyboardist with the rock band Deep Purple, referred incorrectly to Ian Gillan, who became the band’s lead singer in 1969. He sang on the album “Jesus Christ Superstar” shortly after he joined Deep Purple, not before.
CELESTE HOLMS, WITTY CHARACTER ACTRESS
By ANITA GATES
Published: July 15, 2012
- Celeste Holm, the New York-born actress who made an indelible Broadway impression as an amorous country girl in Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “Oklahoma!,” earned an Academy Award as the knowing voice of tolerance in “Gentleman’s Agreement” and went on to a six-decade screen and stage career, frequently cast as the wistful or brittle sophisticate, died early Sunday at her apartment in Manhattan. She was 95.
Her death was announced by Amy Phillips, a great-niece. Ms. Holm had a heart attack at Roosevelt Hospital in New York last week while being treated there for dehydration, but she was taken home on Friday.
Ms. Holm was 25 and had already appeared in at a number of Broadway productions, including William Saroyan’s “Time of Your Life,” when she was cast as Ado Annie in “Oklahoma!,” the period musical that reinvented the form. Her character’s shining moment was the twangy lament “I Cain’t Say No,” about Annie’s inability to resist men’s romantic advances. The role made her a star, and she played the lead in the musical comedy “Bloomer Girl” the next year.
Hollywood soon called, and in her third film she hit the jackpot. “Gentleman’s Agreement” (1947), starring Gregory Peck, was based on Laura Z. Hobson’s novel about a journalist pretending to be Jewish in order to expose the depth and scope of American anti-Semitism. Ms. Holm was cast as a witty, worldly fashion editor who saw through hypocrisy. “And some of your other best friends are Methodists,” her character reminded one self-congratulating man, “but you never bother to say that.” Her performance garnered her the Oscar for best supporting actress.
Her film career flourished. She played a fellow psychiatric patient of Olivia de Havilland’s character in “The Snake Pit” (1948). She earned two additional Oscar nominations, for portraying a French nun in “Come to the Stable” (1949) and a playwright’s well-meaning wife in “All About Eve” (1950), the classic drama about the New York theater world.
If her best-known roles shared one quality, aside from Ms. Holm’s signature sparkle, it was that her characters rarely got the guy. The fashion editor lost out to the rich girl in “Gentleman’s Agreement.” As a smart magazine photographer in “High Society” (1956), Ms. Holm was ignored by her reporter colleague (Frank Sinatra), who had eyes for a society bride (Grace Kelly) instead. In “The Tender Trap” (1955) she married at the end of the film, only because her 33-year-old character felt she was so old that she had to settle or be alone forever. Even in “A Letter to Three Wives” (1949), as the voice of a suburban femme fatale, the man she ran away with went back to his wife.
Between movie roles Ms. Holm returned to the stage, appearing in eight Broadway shows in the 1950s and ’60s. She filled in for Gertrude Lawrence in “The King and I” and for Angela Lansbury in “Mame” and played the title role in “Anna Christie.” When she was 73, she charmed audiences and critics, after a 12-year absence, as a theatrical agent revisiting a long-ago romance with John Barrymore by having a fling with Barrymore’s ghost in “I Hate Hamlet” (1991). It was her last Broadway role.
She spent her last years estranged from much of her family. In 2002, her two sons set up a trust that provided living expenses for their mother. When she remarried in 2004, she and her new husband, Frank Basile, went to court in an attempt to overturn the trust. This led to a long legal battle, which created serious financial problems for Ms. Holm.
Celeste Holm was born in Brooklyn on April 29, 1917, the only child of Theodor Holm, an insurance adjuster for Lloyd’s of London, and Jean Parke Holm, an artist. (She was of Norwegian descent on her father’s side and in 1977 was knighted by King Olav V of Norway.) She grew up in Manhattan, around Gramercy Park, and spent summers at the family farm in Hackettstown, N.J. (where she continued to live as an adult); she liked to say that she won the “Oklahoma!” role because she told Richard Rodgers she was adept at hog-calling.
Interested in acting since childhood, she studied at the University of Chicago and began working in summer stock and community theater in the 1930s.
She made her Broadway debut at 21 in “Gloriana” (1938), a British historical play. After “Oklahoma!” brought her to public attention, she made her film debut in “Three Little Girls in Blue” (1946), a musical set in 1902 Atlantic City, as the title characters’ man-crazy cousin.
She acted in television films and made guest appearances on series throughout much of her career, but she never had a hit series of her own. “Honestly, Celeste!,” about a Midwestern teacher who became a New York City reporter, lasted only a few months in 1954. Later she played the White House chaperon of the first daughter on “Nancy” (1970-71) and the grandmother in the family adventure “Promised Land” (1996-99). In the 1980s she had a recurring role as an imposing widow on the nighttime soap “Falcon Crest.” She is also remembered as the fairy godmother in the 1965 television version of “Cinderella.”
In 1987 she played Ted Danson’s mother in the film “3 Men and a Baby.” She was last seen on the screen in “Alchemy,” a 2005 romantic comedy that starred Tom Cavanagh and Sarah Chalke. But she had completed two other films by the time of her death: “Driving Me Crazy,” a romantic-comedy road movie that also features Mickey Rooney, and “College Debts,” another comedy. Neither has yet been released. She also continued to perform in theater and cabaret at least into her late 80s.
Ms. Holm married five times. Three relatively brief marriages — to Ralph Nelson (1938-39), an actor and director; Francis E. H. Davies (1940-45), an auditor; and A. Schuyler Dunning (1946-52), an airline executive — all ended in divorce. She married the actor Wesley Addy in 1961. They were together until his death in 1996. In 2004 she married Mr. Basile, a singer more than 45 years her junior, and surprised friends with the news at a party at Sardi’s, the theater-district restaurant. He survives her, as do her sons, Theodor Nelson, an information technology pioneer, and Daniel Dunning. Her other survivors include three grandchildren.
Asked in 2007 how the art of acting had changed during the 70 years since she began her career, Ms. Holm told a writer for The Star-Ledger: “Truth is still truth. That’s what people go to theater for. To see our version of truth.”
VINCENT MANCUSI, ATTICA PRISON WARDEN
By Emily Langer, Published: July 19The Washington Post
(AP / NEW YORK STATE DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS AND COMMUNITY SUPERVISION ) – Vincent R. Mancusi, the superintendent of the Attica Correctional Facility in upstate New York during the bloody insurrection there in September 1971, died July 5 at his home in Springfield.
The inmates of Attica, who were rioting largely because of poor living conditions and the alleged racism of white correctional officers, became symbols of the prison reform movement. In the social unrest of the early 1970s, the word “Attica” became a rallying cry for anyone resisting the establishment.
In Sidney Lumet’s 1975 film “Dog Day Afternoon,” set in Brooklyn and based on a real incident, a bank robber played by Al Pacino memorably tries to rile the crowd of onlookers by chanting: “At-ti-ca! At-ti-ca! At-ti-ca!”
At the time of the revolt, Mr. Mancusi was 57 and had climbed the ranks of the New York state penal system to his post at Attica in 1965. He oversaw policy at the prison, while the deputy superintendent presided over day-to-day operations.
Mr. Mancusi lived in a brick house on the grounds of the prison, where inmates were contained by 30-foot walls and 14 gun towers. One inmate, Frank Smith, told a reporter years later that he ironed the warden’s shirts, cleaned linens for the Mancusi household and received in payment a box of cigarettes at Christmas.
Such an arrangement was not unusual for correctional officers of Mr. Mancusi’s era. He was, in essence, an old-school warden and became known at Attica for his “cage approach” to criminal justice, the New York Times reported during the uprising. The method proved ineffective, and ultimately explosive, as the civil rights and the prisoners’ rights movements took hold.
Herman Schwartz, a lawyer with the American Civil Liberties Union who served as the first intermediary between the Attica prisoners and law enforcement, said in an interview that Mr. Mancusi “was not responsible for the overcrowding, which is one of the worst things that can happen in a prison because it scares everyone.”