Reclaiming Venus in the City that Never Sleeps
List of Recordings
- Meeting and posing for Antonio Lopez
- Meeting Jerry Hall
- Posing with Jerry Hall for Scavullo
- Oblivious to the drug scene
- Getting into “the business” with Roberta
- Meeting Marty Klein
- Meeting Bill Graham
- “Lady of the night”
- “She’s the Boss”
- Mick learning to dance
- The first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- Miles Davis’s art show
- Finney’s memorial service
- Ashford and Simpson’s White Parties
- Reuniting with Howard King
- Nick telling Alvenia to write her memoir
- Nick Ashford’s memorial service
Meeting and posing for Antonio (Antonio Lopez’s Studio)
I had just come–oooh–back to New York and moved into midtown on 55th street between 8th and 9th, in a studio apartment, by myself. I moved from the village. My bearings weren’t right. I wasn’t used to being in midtown so I was just kind of roaming around, headed from 8th, I thought east, because I was supposed to go east. Then I find myself on 7th avenue and 56th street. By Carnegie Hall. Back of Carnegie Hall. I thought that was going to be my grounding. Carnegie Hall. Someone told me, “7th Avenue at Carnegie Hall. Keep your bearings because it’s close to Central Park.” I get to the part where I know I am supposed to be going east. I was supposed to be going to an agency, and I’m there on 56th and 7th. Then I just stopped this gentleman and the–and he had a smile on his face, and I said, “Excuse me, sir, could you direct me to the east? I need to go east.” And he had this huge smile on his face, and he said, “You go to the corner, and you make a right, and you just keep going. It’ll go, this is 7th, then it’s 6th and da da da. And that’s–and then he asked me if I would pose for him. He didn’t even ask me if I was a model. That’s the kind of person he was. He was just nothing but bubble and Puerto Rican, just free and spirited. Not knowing who he was, I said, “Pose?” I had no idea what that meant, but I was wide open for anything. And he had a business card, and he said, “Give me a call or come by.” And he gives the card, and he says, “The studio is right here.” And that’s what was called the Carnegie Mews. And there were all sorts of creative, artistic people in there. Bill Cunningham, who used to photograph for the New York Times all sorts of others–
So I went to my appointment and immediately I called him, and I went over, and I posed for him. And there was a network of folks, I mean they were models, Pat Cleveland, they were just, it was the gang of that. And I took my treasure. I had a treasure, treasure, treasure, treasure. And they were Yves Saint Laurent three inch heels. [laughs] And he comes to me. And I have on regular trousers and a blouse. And he had the top that’s in the, in the drawing. There was a very famous designer then, an older man [Charles James]. It was like a little jacket with like–what do ballerinas wear? [a tutu?] It was like a high tutu. Just so pretty. And it fit ‘cause I have a large ribcage, and it fit. And he had this big smile, smile, smile. And he showed me, it’s a beautiful place, the studio that the Carnegie Mews and um, he had it all set up, you know, like artists do. And he showed me where he wanted me to stand and how he wanted me to stand in these shoes. And he said, “Like a princess.” But I had to put my arms behind me and do a yoga stance–as if I was, I was about to dance. It was veeeeeerrry painful. My chest was to be to the sky, you know, sternum up. Chin out. Like that. But it was for about eight hours. [laughs] You know, the things we did for Antonio.
Note: In 1985, Antonio gives Alvenia a signed copy of “Shoe Metamorphosis” published in Antonio’s Girls.
Meeting Jerry Hall (Jonathan Hitchcock’s Showroom)
Jerry and I were so tight. She was my roommate. We were roommates. I met her when she had just come from Paris. I was working with Jonathan Hitchcock. He was a famous designer, a well-known designer. And I was like learning from him because I was going to FIT and trying to get into fashion and design. I was working with Jonathan Hitchcock on 26th and 6th Avenue. And I had to clean up the room after he finished and everything. And he had sent me out to look for brass zippers. He was designing something and needed brass zippers. And everyone uses plastic zippers. He was a really high-strung queen. And I would go out in the garment district in the 30s. I kept looking, looking, looking. And I was afraid to go back to the showroom because he would be angry because I didn’t have them. So I didn’t go back until I knew he had gone. And so I go in to do my job of cleaning up the cutting tables and putting everything in order for when he came in in the morning. And I hear–down from the cutting room is this little showroom. And that’s where he had all the fashion shows and everything. And I had to make sure everything was in order there.
But I hear somebody in the corner, crying. And it was Jerry. Jonathan was friends with Antonio Lopez. So Jerry had followed Antonio Lopez from Paris. He’s a brilliant illustrator. She followed. She was modeling in Paris, and she was so in love with Antonio Lopez, not accepting that he was gay and all of that stuff. So she knew about Jonathan. Jonathan left her there or whatever. She was there. I said, “What are you doing?” She was modeling and just signed with Eileen Ford. And she didn’t want to stay where Eileen wanted her to stay, in another place with other girls. So I had a little loft down by City Hall. On Ann St. I said, “I live downtown and you can stay with me until you–” I said, “It’s just a loft. I don’t have any furniture. The floor’s painted blue. There’s one bed and a big butcher’s table.” Something like that. And so she came down, and she stayed with me for a bit. And she would go up to do her work and things, and we would just hang out. She would come uptown and I would meet Geraldine. And Jerry got–it didn’t last long. Jerry said, “You’re too far downtown. We have to come uptown. So we moved up to 14th, around Union Square, on James St. We lived there. It was a walkup. Jerry was modeling, and I was working as a cocktail waitress and going to FIT during the day. We were just doing, just being, just growing, just learning.
Note: While Alvenia speaks about Antonio Lopez, she doesn’t know him at this time. They don’t meet until 1978 when Alvenia asks him for directions.
Posing with Jerry Hall (Francesco Scavullo’s Studio)
I was ready to kill Jerry because she didn’t leave the keys. So I called the agency, and they said she’s at Scavullo’s doing a shoot. They could tell me because they knew we were roommates. Scavullo was on 60 something between Park and Madison. His place was painted black. That didn’t mean blackness at all. That was just an art thing–that was just Scavullo’s vibe. Inside was the light and everything. You know Scavullo? The photographer? I go there and Jerry is doing this photo shoot, and then there was this other model friend of hers I didn’t know. And when I got there, I went in and standing back. I couldn’t see them on the set yet. I was just there. I said to Sean Byrnes, who was Scavullo’s like lover–and he just passed–that I needed to see Jerry. I need my keys. I’ll just wait right here. Then Jerry comes out, and she has nothing on. With a towel or something. So she comes out and I said “Jerry, I don’t have the keys and bla bla, and I have to get here and there and do this” because that’s when I was working part time as a waitress, too. And Scavullo leans out and says “Hi, Alvenia, hi” And he said, Come on in.” And he rolled–and Jerry had something wrapped around her, and Scavullo rolled out this big, big, big, big black furball like this. And Jerry gets behind it naked, and so does Margaret [Broderick], and so do I.
Oblivious to the drug scene (Studio 54)
How I missed, this just flashed through my head, how I missed, like, Studio 54. That was a club. I was there every night. Around the corner. I was on, in the beginning, you could call if you knew Steve Rubell and somebody else. I never had to call. All I wanted to do was dance. I didn’t want anything else, and I could just walk over and just go to the dance floor and dance, dance, dance, dance, dance and then come home. And everybody was there. Everybody. But I didn’t hang, and so I missed, I found out that everybody was going to the private rooms and things. I didn’t know. I was always on the dance floor while everyone was doing drugs. And it was so upsetting to me, and it sort of killed the fun of it, you know? ‘Cause I just never understood. Why would you want to put something up your nose? None of it. And they just, I mean that, that’s the worst. Not naive, but it’s in my mind, anything to try to alter this that’s already driving me crazy? I’m trying to get a hold of it. And everybody’s, somebody’s, they’re trying to get–and people were taking acid and stuff. I was just like, I just couldn’t even see. I’m just trying to roll with it, what’s out there. And I lost so many friends. I wasn’t hanging with them, but they would be buddies at 54 and all these clubs we used to go to just to dance. I mean, I went just to dance. And people would just disappear. Just not be around. But they weren’t people like I would be hanging with for dinner or anything. We would just meet at the club.
Getting into the “business” with Roberta (The Dakota)
M: Can you tell me again the story of how you met Roberta Flack?
A: Roberta, yah. Finney. The same Finney from LA who told me to come here. He was doing my hair, and I was just fed up with fashion. I had just moved back from Europe, not from the “John” time but another time in my life. I just moved back, and I didn’t know what I wanted to do. Just didn’t want fashion anymore. I was lost as to what was touching me. Nothing was, at all. So I just said to myself, “Just tell everybody.” I told everybody, everybody, everybody, everybody [laughs]. And Finney and I were really tight. I said, “Finney, don’t forget.” I think that was ‘81. So Roberta, Finney, and the band were going on tour behind, at that time, the Iron Curtain, whenever that was. And it was September, mid September. They were due back at Thanksgiving. So he was doing her hair after I put the bug in his ear and he said “Oh, by the way, do you remember Alvenia Bridges? She just moved back from Europe and she says to quote ‘She’s on the loose.’ She doesn’t know what she wants to do. She wants to do something. She wants a change from fashion.” Roberta was sitting in his chair with a phone we had put in for him. All of us, because Finney would just, he didn’t have a phone right there, and this way he wouldn’t be able to leave doing your hair, because he got on his phone out there, he would start frying chicken.
So Roberta picked up the phone and called me and said “Alvenia?” “Yes, this is Alvenia.” She said, “It’s Roberta.” And I said, “Roberta?” “Roberta Flack.” And I jumped up and nearly fell over backwards, and I said, “Yes, Ms. Flack” and she said “Roberta.” I said “Yes, Ms. Flack.” And she said, “Roberta.” And I said, “Yes, Roberta.” And she said, “I understand that Finney says you’re on the loose. I want to meet with you. Let’s have tea tomorrow. Tea time, about 4 o’clock.” I didn’t sleep because I didn’t know what I would say. I said to myself, “I said I wanted to do anything. What does that mean? What can I do?” [laughs] “Are you crazy? You put it out there and now it’s happening?” Not thinking that was whatever she was thinking.
And I remember going through the park, and I was sitting on the bench where Strawberry Fields is now, that whole patch there. And when it was time to cross the street and go over to the Dakota, I can see it all now, walking to the door, the opening of the building. To the right is the reception where you go up the stairs, where they announce you. The same guy is still there. And I said, “I’m Ms. Bridges for Ms. Flack.” “Yes, Ms. Bridges, just cross over and go in the elevator and I’ll buzz.” And I go in the elevator and I sit on this little bulkhead, just for two people. And I sit there still just wondering, and I started to breathe, “just accept receiving the gift.” And then this person, this all happens really quick, not a long time, ran up the steps and jumped and sat next to me and said, “Good day.” And I said, “Good day.” And the elevator starts to move. It’s the slowest elevator. Slower than this one [in my apartment]. And it started to move. We started to move. And I could feel this energy next to me. And I looked, and it was John Lennon, sitting right next to me. And the elevator slowed down [laughs]. And I kept thinking, “If we can just get off, if we can just get off.” And we get to the 7th floor, and the door opens. I get off first, and then he gets out and goes to the right. And I go to the left. And he gets to his door and he says, “Have a good day.” And I say, I didn’t turn around, and I said, “You, too.”
And he goes in and I pushed on Roberta’s door and her housekeeper at the time came and opened the door. “Ms Bridges,” and she closed the door. And I leaned against the door and slid down to the floor. Just like limp. And she started screaming, “Ms. Flack, Ms. Flack, Ms. Flack, there’s something wrong.” I just sat there, and Roberta came running down the hall. “What’s wrong, what’s wrong, what happened.” And I said, “Roberta, we can’t have a meeting today. I can’t think.” “What happened? What happened?” And I said, “John Lennon was on the elevator with me.” And she started to laugh hysterically. And she said, “Let me make some tea.” And Roberta was trying to help me up. And I said, “I can’t have a meeting. Please let me go home.” And she said, “I see him in his boxer shorts all the time. He’s next door. It’s true because of where the garbage shoot is, next to his place, I see him in his boxer shorts all the time.” [laughs] I composed myself as much as possible, and Roberta decided to let me go home. She understood. They were laughing and thought it was really funny. And it was not because I was star-struck, but I was hit with what they had done to the world. This man changed the world.
Meeting Marty Klein (William Morris Agency)
Roberta decided that she wanted to meet with me before she left for the tour. And she gave me five names of people she wanted me to meet within the industry. Her people. And I had no idea why, but I just listened. And she gave me the name of the president of her record company, Ahmet Ertegun, and his right-hand person, the sweet Noreen Woods. Her agent Marty Klein at William Morris. And her accountant. And Joe Ferla, who was her engineer. She was just giving me her key people. I knew nothing, zero about the music industry. Zero. Zero, zero. So I went to meet Marty Klein, her agent. He was very abrupt with me. Something like “How do you feel you can be of assistance to Roberta?” I said, “I have no idea. I’m just here because she asked me to come and meet with you. But I’m sure she’ll tell me.” And he sat back for a while, and he leaned forward, and he said, “Young lady, you will be crawling on your knees back to 7th Avenue.” Marty Klein said that to me. I remember walking out of 1350 6th Avenue and thought, “I wonder why he thought that?
Meeting Bill Graham (Bill Graham’s Office)
This was when I was working with Mick, with the Stones. I was with Roberta, and I left Roberta when Mick asked me to join him. And we were about to hit the road in three weeks. Mick came over, and that’s when I was in 5D, and he said, “You’ve got to meet someone before we go on the road. He’s the promoter. I told him about you but you have to meet him.” And I said, “Sure.” He said, “He’s around the corner and he’s just across from Carnegie Hall. It’s on the 5th floor, and his name is Bill Graham. Get Jan Simmons, that’s Bill’s right and left side of his brain, and make an appointment.” So I call Jan and set the appointment for the next day. That was the production office. So I go around there and get off on the 5th floor. And it is alive.
They are–Bill is facing, let’s say I’m coming in this way. Bill Graham is facing this way. And there’s something the size of this wall. It’s a mirror, and it’s about that high, but it covers all of this. [Alvenia gestures how big the mirror is.] And Bill is standing there with the sleeves rolled up with a garter belt, with a felt thing, and he’s writing, “JFK sold out. 8 minutes. So-and-so sold out.” And they’re all walking around, all the facets of the production crew are just talking to Bill. That section is telling him as the promoters are calling him, [Alvenia snaps fingers repeatedly] telling him the whole tour is being sold out. Sold out. Sold out. Sold out. And he’s doing like this. I’m just looking over like this, and he turns around and says, “What the fuck do you think you can do for this tour, young woman?” “Whatever you say, sir.” He goes back to–he’s still screaming, and he said that, and I was standing there, and I just stood there. And I looked over at Jan, and Jan somehow gave me the vibe, “Don’t move. Don’t leave. That doesn’t mean anything, yet. He hasn’t made a decision. Don’t move.” I stood there, and he turned back around. He said, “If you ever need anything, and you don’t let me know, you’re out. I’ll see you in Philly.” And he went back. And I turned and Jan said, “See you in Philly.” I turn around, and I go down the steps, and go out and stand there and lean against the building, looking at Carnegie Hall. And I was like, “I wonder why he doesn’t like me? He doesn’t know me.” And I just came home and carried on.
And this is like we started in mid-september. And I would see Bill. I would get up and do my thing and he would be doing his thing, and he would pass me, and I would call him Mr. Graham. And he would pass me and say, “How are you doing? And I would say, “I’m fine.” And he would just keep going, keep going, keep going. And so we get to Thanksgiving. We are on tour and everything. Syracuse, New York. Thanksgiving is off. We have 3 days off. I’ve been on the tour with Bill September, October, November. And it’s early in the morning, and I always go to a coffee shop or wherever. And there are those sidewalks that move like this. Bill’s getting on coming this way. We pass each other and I say, “Good morning,” and he says, “Good morning.” Then he gets off on his side and turns around and comes behind me. So I get off on my end, and I said, “OK,” and I just stood there. And I stepped away so he could get off. I turn to face him. I just looked at him. I didn’t say anything, and he said “You’re fucking bad.” He got back on the escalator. I dropped the papers, and I went “Yooooo!” Got my Academy Award!
“Lady of the night” (Alvenia’s Home)
c. June 1982
M: What happened when you moved in?
A: I was in Paris. I told you I got it from Janice upstairs. Looking for an apartment, I told her when I leave I wanted to live close to the park. We dreamed to live by Central Park. We were in Paris, and I was in my room, on tour. She called and she was just gaga hysterical: “I found a place. It’s a one bedroom.” And I said, “Take it, take it.” I said, “I’ll call the office.” The Stones office then was at 666 5th Avenue. The accountants. And everybody in the world knew I was looking for an apartment. [laughs] And so I said “I’ll call you back because I have to call the accountants.” And I called Debbie Walker. “Debbie, Debbie, Janice found an apartment,” and she said, “Oh, thank God, Alvenia.” [laughs] I said, “When she comes, just give her whatever she needs.” And she said, “Whatever she needs, but for how long?” And I said, “I’m going to call Janice back, but 6 months in advance.” “But you’re not going to be back.” “Six months in advance.” So I called J back and I said, “Go to Debbie Walker and the address is blah blah blah. And give 6 months in advance” And that was it.
And I found out from Hector how many units were in the building. And there are 60 units, 6-0. And I went to Teuscher Chocolate and got little chocolates, just one little chocolate and I wrote a note, a little card, like a business card size: “My name is Alvenia Bridges and I’m moving in.” Something like that, and I put it under everyone’s door. “From 5D.” And I would get in the elevator and would say “hello, my name’s Alvenia, da da da.” And everyone was kind of like strange. Very very strange. I didn’t even talk to Janice about it because I didn’t want to discuss racism. I didn’t talk to Janice, I just remembered that. I didn’t even mention it to her. I didn’t. So I went to Hector, and we went for a walk over there in the park. I said, “Nobody speaks, Hector. I don’t understand it.” You haven’t been around him because Hector always goes “ahem ahem ahem.” He said, “They think you’re a lady of the night.” “A what? What?” And I just went to myself, [tsk sound]. I really did. I really was like, I didn’t get angry. I didn’t get anything because I just didn’t. I knew how bad I was, you know. Let them have their fantasy. I really took it, I really just went, “Wow, that’s pathetic,” because what I went through as a child, they couldn’t touch. And I know how senseless that was.
And as I had just moved in and we had just come off the road, then there was break time. So Mick was off one holiday, da da da, and when he came back he started to come by. And he wanted to see it, see things, see his office. And see me, and things. I didn’t think anything–I didn’t think about them. I didn’t even think about their problem because I didn’t have any. Just to be happy that I got my dream. By the park? I had to be worried about them and their stupid selves? I didn’t. I really didn’t. I checked out the neighborhood and was just loving it, having a good time, getting settled in. And when he got back and came over, he really liked it and everything. He was just happy about it. But little by little another side of me started to get a little clearer on all these people here. Not angry, or anything. I just thought I’d kill them with kindness.
“She’s the Boss” (Alvenia’s Home)
Mick asked me. He was going to do a solo album, and I didn’t think anything about it. Word got out in the media that he was going to do it and they thought the band would be upset. No. He was just deciding to do it, and they were cool. And he asked me if I would coordinate it, meaning organize everything. I didn’t know he really meant producer. [laughs] I didn’t really know that’s what I was doing. I mean I knew that’s what they do, but I didn’t know that he was going to give me that title. So when it came out, I took it as, it was just an album. Not just an album. It was Mick for the first time ever solo. It went platinum. Platinum is 1 million and gold is 500,000. And I didn’t know when he was going to give me these [platinum and gold records]. And he gave me a jacket. I only started to wear it last year. All those years I just wore it last year for the first time.
Mick learning to dance (Mick Jagger’s Apartment)
[laughs] Mick wanted a dancing teacher. And I knew this–her name was Lori Eastside. She was a dancer. And I got in touch with her. And he chose the library floor because she had to put up a fake mirror. She and I talked about the money and stuff between she and I, and I went to him. That was not a problem. Just the scheduling and to make sure it didn’t interfere with her time. Because he was not going on tour or doing anything. And as Lori told it, “He just didn’t have rhythm.” She’s like a tough Irish girl and said, “I told him, ‘You just don’t have rhythm so just keep doing what you’re doing.’” [laughs]. Something like that. And they both laughed.
I told you Mick discovered Prince. He called me late at night. We never, you know when business was over, it was over. And that he called me and said, “I want to go and check somebody out” or something like that. And he said, “Can you be downstairs?” And I said, “I can be downstairs.” And I get in the car. When we were alone like that it was always just some kind of silly talk we would have, or something about the kids. He is a great father. Super, super father. We get allllll the way downtown to CBGBs in the Lower East Side. It was a funky, funky club. And he asked me if I wanted to go in. I said, “Of course.” “Stand by the door?” And I said, “Yah, I’ll stand here.” He said, “I’m going backstage.” And on the stage was Prince. On the stage with his garter belt over his clothes. And I didn’t know why we were there. I didn’t know about Prince. And Mick goes around this little stage, and goes to where the toilets are, the bathrooms, and there was a dressing room, I guess. And then he came out and we then come back and get back in the car, and Mick says, “What do you think?” And I say, “Pretty wild.” Then we changed the conversation. I mean we were talking, and he dropped me off. Never another word about Prince.
Never, until, it was a surprise. [laughs]. Mick–I mean the surprise was when we were playing at the Forum, down in Los Angeles, the Forum. That’s the big stadium. 250,000. The Forum. Big stadium. And there was some code that Mick had given to Bill–Bill didn’t know who he was, or anything either. But there was going to be a certain time that Prince was going to come on and get on stage, coming from the back, from where the cars are parked. And the band was going to come because Mick had this surprise for them. This opening act, one of the opening acts because there were three opening acts. And Prince runs by, whooooo, from the back, from the car, straight onto the stage. And flabbergasted, everybody was. And then he started to do his performance. The crowd just started booing and booing and throwing things. It was so far out and upsetting. Prince left the stage, jumped back in his car, and Mick got there and everything, and told me to find him. [And so you found him?] No. He went underground, and he didn’t come out for a long time. A year or so.
The first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (Waldorf Astoria)
January 23, 1986
M: So you were wearing one of Fabrice’s dresses? Tell me about all the dresses because you started talking about them the other day.
A: I would have to look at them to tell you.
M: So the one that you took to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with Bill Graham–and that was your first time?
A: At the Rock and Roll–that was the first Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. I don’t even know when that was. But he called, “Your sexy Jew from San Francisco, coming in. Get a dress. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.” We were sitting–it was at the Waldorf, and everybody was there. We were sitting not in the real middle but closer to where you could get up, go to the ladies’ room or something. And sitting–there are three–two steps up to the main floor to go to the bathrooms or to hang out. And there was this person that came and sat on the stairs like that. And I sat back, and I looked, and it’s Chuck Berry. I’m going to pass out. He is sitting there bored, on the steps. [laughs]. And Bill’s talking to–I was just like [mouth agape] and everyone was just so cool, so unaffected. In this grand beginning of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Everyone is like so mellow, “Heyyyyyy.” It was just amazing. Chuck Berry. Yeah and I was in all the Whatchamacallit. I was in Vanity Fair. Going to the ladies room with that dress on.
Miles Davis’s art show (Nerlino Gallery)
I came home one day and the person I was with said, “You have a strange message on your answering machine, and you should listen to it.” And I said, “Of course I am going to listen to it.” And it said [with raspy voice], “Call me, bitch.” [laughs] And I started laughing. And I said, “Oh, it’s Miles.” And he lives just across the street. I was talking out loud. And I call over, and he said, “I want to talk to you.” “OK, Miles.” And for me that meant to go over. It’s right at the Essex House, which is just down in the next block. It’s a hotel. And it’s on the left hand side. And I know how to go through the back way. And the elevator would go up, and the door would open right onto his floor. Bowie, a few people, lived there, quietly. And so I go, and he had his body [guards]–his guys. Just mellow guys. Just standing there. And Miles is facing uptown, by the window. And he’s painting. And the guys are standing there, and I walk up close to Miles. I said, “Miles, I’m here.” He turns around, and he says, “I forgot.” [laughs] I said, “You forgot?” He said “Yeah.” And he went back to painting. The guys kind of look at me and go [shrug]. We were all just like [shrug]. And so I leave.
I went back across the street and upstairs and hear the phone, “I remember.” [laugh] Miles on the phone. I say, “OK, I’ll be right there.” And I go back over and he says, “I want a show.” I said, “Show?” He said, “Art show. I want to show my work.” And I say, “Oh, OK.” And I say, “When do you want it, Miles?” And he says–this is, I’m off a bit something like, “in a week” or something outrageously ridiculous. When you have to get a gallery, it takes months. And my mind says “in a week, in a week.” In my mind. And I get in the elevator, and I come down. I’m coming down and I thought to myself, “How can I get in touch with someone with power that could just be on my side?” This is how my mind was thinking, that if I use Miles’s name, I could pull it off. And I thought about my friend at Rolling Stone magazine. Can’t remember her name. Together, I could go to a gallery, with Miles Davis, obviously, his name, and themselves, the Rolling Stone magazine, and my little bit of connections, to pull it off. And it really, really, really worked. It was in the village. And he gave me a painting. I told you somebody stole it. It was really just something to see. He wasn’t abusing his power. Like, there was no ego, kind of thing. He became passionate about this new art, other than his horn, and he thought, “I want to see what they think.” He pulled it off, [raspy voice] “Bitch.” [laughs]
Note: Exhibit details are mentioned in New York Magazine, April 23, 1990 (vol. 23, no. 16, p. 122)
Finney’s memorial service (James Finney’s Church)
Finney used to say, when he would come out of the dressing room after doing Roberta’s make up or whatever, and he would walk by and say, “She’ll be alright directly.” When Finney went on his journey, I was in charge of the service, you know, to celebrate his life. And he had a little church that he went to that was near him on 91st and Columbus. He was on 91st between Central Park West and Columbus. And so I went there and introduced myself to the minister. It was all OK. I just had to clean it up. Dust the pews and do all of these things just to make it nice and shiny. So everybody was there. Everybody. Nick and Val. Everybody. I couldn’t stay in. I was too–I lost my strength to be able to not cry. Because I was so happy. I was happy that everybody was there and happy that Finney was where he was. But everyone was getting up to speak about, talk about Finney. The place, the laughter [laughs] of the Finneyisms. And we were coming out, it was just so, so, so beautiful. And it was a sunny day, too. “Why does it take 24 hours to do your hair?” I tried to explain, “Because you can’t leave the chair.” Because Finney might, if he decides he wants to go to the corner, there was a little bar down there, he would say that he was going for a walk. But you don’t get out of that chair. You just wait until he comes back. Or if he decides to go fry a chicken, we all got televisions for him because he had to watch his soap operas. There was a television in the kitchen where he washed your hair, one in his little room with his barber’s chair where you sat. He was such a character. And Finney danced between the beat. When I saw him dance, I had never seen anybody dance like that. You can dance with him, I mean you could dance with him, but he’s always between the beat.
Ashford and Simpson’s white parties (Ashford and Simpson’s Sugar Bar)
They were the highlight of the summer. No matter what your career was, your life, anything, they would have people in their beautiful home in Connecticut. And they just decided to invite everybody they knew and loved, from the doorman to, I mean, everyone. In their home, they had tennis courts and swimming pool, and all sorts of food—soul food and vegetarian. It was outside and inside. Children–people could bring their children. They have a house on the east side and a place on the west side in Manhattan, and they would have transportation for people who couldn’t get to there but were invited. You just had to get to one of their houses. And no matter what, everything had to be white. I remember I heard once that somebody had on a baseball cap that wasn’t the right color, and Nick took it away and gave him a white one. And it was just, everyone was, everyone was equal. And they were just showing their love and appreciation for not only their fans but for mankind. And whenever it started, you never knew when it ended so transportation was always coming and going. And you must wear white. And the music, everyone would be performing. And Nick and Val always performed and changed clothes. They had a great routine all the time. They would tease each other all the time. It was just a joyous time in the summer. And I couldn’t wait every year. That’s the Fabrice in the kitchen that I had on, that I wore.
Note: Not much has been reported on the “white parties” but Simpson mentions them here.
Reuniting with Howard King (Ashford and Simpson’s Sugar Bar)
Howard King was a drummer in Roberta’s band. He was a drummer, one of the baddest, best drummers ever. He was just a character like all of her musicians. Last year–I keep him posted on how Roberta is. I mean, how she’s doing. Because she was, for the guys in the band, you know, she was really, really difficult. And so, when it comes to her music, she’s just a perfectionist and everything so it’s kind of hard for them, and so on. I kept him posted that she was doing fine. And when he speaks about it all the time, he says, “She’s the best. She’s the best. She makes you the best. Can’t beat her.” And when I saw him that night, last November 16th at the Sugar Bar when Val and they put together this thing honoring her there. All the musicians that had ever worked with her that they could get in touch with were there. I didn’t even know that was what it was for. And I had spoken to King and told him Miss Tee was trying to get me in. And I’m back there. And I was the first one in. I was back there and it had just started. And Roberta had already come in. And I was just high, sitting there, not believing I was there, and then, all of a sudden, I was just right there, and King wheels–I didn’t see him wheel in, but he wheeled his wheelchair right next to me. He had placed himself right here, right here, right here, right here! Because I looked, and I just grabbed him like this, and he said, “Fooled you. Fooled you. Fooled you!” And I said, “King!” I started kissing him and hugging him, and all the other musicians said “King, King, King.” He knew where the Sugar Bar was, everyone knew where the Sugar Bar was, and had gotten on a bus, from the Bronx.
Nick convincing Alvenia to write her memoir (Ashford and Simpson’s Sugar Bar)
I went up one night on a Thursday night. And Nick used to always be close to the front door. It’s such a small place. Nick said to me, he pulled me over just a little bit and he said, “Alvenia, I didn’t know you were so well endowed.” Because he saw this picture of me that Scavullo took in Vogue magazine on a plane. I said, “Whaaaaat?” He kept saying to me, “You got to write a book, Alvenia.” Nick kept saying that to me all the time. The music that they’ve given the world together, there’s just no way to describe. They’re so blessed and gifted, and we’re so blessed to have them.
Nick Ashford’s memorial service (Abyssinian Baptist Church)
At his service, it took a lot for me to get there, but I got there. I mean, spiritually. I just thought I can’t. I mean it was going to be too heavy. Such a sweet, sweet person. Whatever was wrong was kept so, so quiet. But, and I never inquired, so I, when, it was at Abyssinian Baptist Church [up in Harlem?] Yah. The Church. I went just by myself, and I walked blocks to get there because it’s blocked off and everything. Valerie gets up to speak, and I was really thinking, I think I am going to have to go. I thought I was going to cry and stuff. She was wearing this wonderful, wonderful, soft green color. And she started to tell these stories about Nick. The one that I remember the most, she said, “One night, Nick’s–he’s in his room, and I see him getting dressed. And I go in his dressing room, and I sit down, and I said, ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Im just going out, seeing what’s going on.’” And she said, “He started to spray on his cologne. “He was spraying on his cologne. And then he sprayed some on his ankles. And I said, ‘Hey, what you doing?’ He said, ‘You never know. Someone might want to kiss my feet’” [laughs]. The church fell to pieces. [laughs]. That was the service. He said, “You never know, baby. They might want to kiss my feet.”