IN REMEMBRANCE: 9-6-2015

ALBERTA WRIGHT, SOUL-FOOD PIONEER

SEPT. 4, 2015

 

ALBERTA WRIGHT

Alberta Wright at Jezebel in 2007, the year she closed the soul-food place in the theater district. Credit Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times

Alberta Wright, the owner of Jezebel, which brought soul food with panache to Manhattan’s theater district and helped make sophisticated variations of Southern dishes a culinary trend, died on Friday in the Bronx. She was 84.

The cause was heart failure, her son Ronald said.

Jezebel, which opened in 1983 on Ninth Avenue and 45th Street, was a precursor of today’s upscale soul-food restaurants, like Marcus Samuelsson’s Red Rooster in Harlem.

Mr. Samuelsson called Ms. Wright a “trailblazer” and an “inspiration” in a telephone interview on Friday.

“When you ate with Alberta, you were her friend,” he said, adding: “You come into her living room and she’ll take care of you. She’ll remember what you had, where you like to sit. It’s the core of what a restaurateur should be.”

Jezebel’s menu drew on Ms. Wright’s experience growing up in South Carolina, north of Charleston; the décor harked back to her years selling vintage clothing from her successful boutique, also named Jezebel, on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.

“Palms and assorted foliage sway under the breeze of big room fans; lacy, multicolored shawls hang from ceiling pipes; eccentric old lamps flicker in every corner; antique furniture mixes with white wicker chairs and porch swings suspended from the ceiling,” Bryan Miller wrote in a review in The New York Times in 1987. “Add to this potpourri Oriental rugs, vintage posters, lace-covered tables and crystal chandeliers and you have one of the most intriguing settings in New York.”

Jezebel offered traditional dishes like garlic shrimp, she-crab soup and three varieties of chicken — fried, honey-fried and with waffles. A 1992 review in The Times, also by Mr. Miller, described Jezebel’s offerings as “the best soul food south of 110th Street (maybe above, too).”

Ms. Wright tried opening a branch of her restaurant in Paris and worked with investors like Denzel Washington, Wesley Snipes, Charles Oakley, Julius Erving and her son Michael Wright, the stage and film actor, to open another on the Upper West Side, but both efforts fizzled. Ms. Wright closed Jezebel in 2007. Piece of Chicken, a dollar-an-item takeout business that she ran from Jezebel’s kitchen window, stayed open for a while longer.

Alberta Wright was born on June 13, 1931, in Pineville, S.C. Her parents, Annie and Edmond Wright, were sharecroppers. She learned to cook by watching her mother.

“My mother worked as a domestic for wealthy white folks,” Ms. Wright said. “I’d go through the back to the kitchen — we couldn’t go through the front — to where my mother was working, and she’d slip me a muffin.”

Ms. Wright gave birth to twins, Ronald and Donald, as a teenager and moved to New York. The twins stayed behind with different families, and after Ms. Wright had saved up enough money working as a waitress, she brought them to New York.

She worked at an aircraft plant, a camera company and a dress shop and became deeply involved in the civil rights movement in the 1960s. She told The Times that she once served chili to Malcolm X and was a regular at West African diplomatic parties, where she learned of new foods and spices that she later used in her kitchen.

In addition to her sons Ronald, Donald and Michael, Ms. Wright is survived by a sister, Gladys Jenkins; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

SOURCE

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GARY KEYS, FILMMAKER WHO DOCUMENTED DUKE ELLINGTON

AUG. 30, 2015 

GARY KEYS

Gary Keys in 1992. Credit John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive, via Getty Images        

Gary Keys, a filmmaker whose documentaries captured some of the most important figures in jazz from the 1960s through the 1980s — notably Duke Ellington, the subject of three of his films — died on Aug. 9 in Manhattan. He was 81.

The cause was complications of a gastrointestinal disorder, his former wife Wendy Keys Pels said.

Mr. Keys, who started out as a producer of jazz and pop concerts in the late ’50s, filmed Ellington and his orchestra on a tour in Mexico that he organized in connection with the 1968 Olympic Games. The ensuing documentary, “The Mexican Suite,” for which Ellington composed some original music, gave viewers an intimate look at the bandleader and his musicians at work.

In “Memories of Duke” (1980), Mr. Keys used much of the same concert footage but added interviews with musicians who had worked with Ellington. “Reminisicing in Tempo” (2006) offered a collage of performances and personal recollections.

Gary Joe Keys was born in Detroit on Feb. 12, 1934. After attending the University of Michigan for a semester, he served two years in the Army, where he was put to work organizing concerts for the troops in Germany.

After leaving the Army, he moved to New York and worked as a type designer and art director at a large printing house. When he began producing concerts, he often hired top graphic designers, including Milton Glaser and Seymour Chwast, to do the posters.

In the early ’60s, Mr. Keys helped produce and program some of the first “Jazz in the Garden” summer concerts at the Museum of Modern Art. He also produced concerts at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center by Stan Getz, Dionne Warwick, the Supremes, Simon and Garfunkel, Judy Garland and Stevie Wonder.

He made his first documentary, “Don’t Make Me Over,” about Ms. Warwick in the late ’60s. He then produced two socially conscious films: “Step by Step,” a portrait of Harlem Prep, a new school dedicated to educating high school dropouts and sending them on to college, and “Voices of the City,” about the Newark Boys Chorus.

In 1976, Mr. Keys’s produced the CBS-TV concert special “The Original Rompin’ Stompin’ Hot and Heavy, Cool and Groovy All-Star Jazz Show,” which featured performances by Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Max Roach, Stan Getz, Herbie Hancock and a host of other jazz greats. He went on to produce, with Tim Owens, the PBS series “Jazz in America.”

Mr. Keys later produced and directed music documentaries on Cuba (“Cuba: Island of Music”), the interracial group the Salt and Pepper Gospel Singers (“Not Just Good Time Sunday”) and Whitney Houston (“Whitney Houston and Her Family: Voices of Love”).

His most recent film, “Trying to Kill Giants,” about the embattled lives of the boxers Jack Johnson and Muhammad Ali and the actor and singer Paul Robeson, was shown in May at the African-American Film Festival in Dublin.

Mr. Keys, who had a second home on Cape Negro, Nova Scotia, that he shared for many years with the singer Richie Havens, is survived by his fourth wife, Grace Park; a son, Ellington; and two daughters, Linnea Keys and Malena Keys.

Correction: September 3, 2015
An obituary on Monday about the filmmaker Gary Keys misstated the name of the third of his three documentaries about Duke Ellington, released in 2006. It is “Reminiscing in Tempo,” not “Duke Ellington: Reminiscing in Tempo.” (“Duke Ellington: Reminiscing in Tempo” is an unrelated 1991 documentary directed by Robert Levi.)

WES CRAVEN

Wes Craven on the set of the 1999 drama “Music of the Heart,” an occasional departure from horror films. Credit Kerry Hayes/Miramax Films

Lynn Walker Huntley. Credit NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund

Lynn Walker Huntley, a lawyer who was deeply involved in a wide spectrum of civil rights cases and causes, including capital punishment, race relations and employment discrimination, died Aug. 30 at her home in Atlanta. She was 69.

The cause was cervical cancer, her husband, Walter Huntley, said.

Ms. Huntley was at various times an official in the Department of Justice, general counsel to the New York City Commission on Human Rights, a lawyer for the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, a scholar and program director for the Ford Foundation and president of a charity that works to improve education for children.

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