News / Arts & Entertainment

New York City’s Harlem Mourns, Cherishes Maya Angelou

The Apollo Theater marquee in Harlem paid tribute to Maya Angelou. (Adam Phillips/ VOA)
The Apollo Theater marquee in Harlem paid tribute to Maya Angelou. (Adam Phillips/ VOA)
Adam Phillips
Poet, author and human rights activist Maya Angelou, who died Wednesday at the age of 86, was considered by many a literary giant.  But to residents of Harlem, a largely African American New York neighborhood where she sometimes lived, the author of “Why The Caged Bird Sings” and other works is especially mourned.  

While Maya Angelou received dozens of awards and honorary degrees, she came from the humblest of beginnings in the racially segregated South - having worked as a streetcar conductor, fry cook and calypso performer among other jobs during her youth.   

On a city bus riding through Harlem, Rayna Clay-Cuffee remembered Angelou from a half century ago, when they were both nightclub singers.  
 
"And then the years went by, and then I was there when she spoke at the inauguration for [President] Clinton," she said. "So she’s been around a long time.  She’s a wonderful woman, extremely intelligent, and she used her intelligence for the world."

Joanathan, who also was riding the bus, admired Angelou for her wisdom and compassion.  He said that while her writing often expressed the challenges she and other African Americans faced in their struggle for equality, she felt an underlying bond to all peoples.

“And they can coexist in one.  People always make the mistake of saying ‘that race did that’ or ‘that one ain’t no good.’  But we are one human race. And that’s what she understood," said Joanathan.

On 125th Street, Harlem’s busy main thoroughfare, “Lord Harrison,” a hip hop artist, sold his CDs to passersby.  He credited Maya Angelou’s poetry and public acclaim with helping to pioneer his musical genre.

“She paved the way!  Without her doing her thing and opening the way and ‘bustin’ with the moves,’ as we like to say, hip hop wouldn’t be invented.  It wouldn’t have happened.  She did it!  She is a true American icon," he said.

Nearby, the marquee of the famed Apollo Theater, where the Jackson Five, James Brown, Aretha Franklin and other stars played, noted in big black letters Maya Angelou's passing. 

In-house historian Billy Mitchell, who has worked there for 49 years, remembers meeting her.     

“What a regal lady she was!  Very graceful.  That beautiful smile.  ‘How are you, ​
Billy Mitchell, the Apollo Theater in-house historian. (Adam Phillips / VOA)Billy Mitchell, the Apollo Theater in-house historian. (Adam Phillips / VOA)
x
Billy Mitchell, the Apollo Theater in-house historian. (Adam Phillips / VOA)
Billy Mitchell, the Apollo Theater in-house historian. (Adam Phillips / VOA)
young man?’  I could have melted right there," he said. "Because I meet so many people here and there are just a few that really make me feel a little strange and giddy and groupie-like.  And she was one of those people that did that for me, absolutely. ​"We all adored Maya.  Her words made us feel proud. She understood our struggle.  She understood what it was like to be poor and to be hungry and she made something of herself.  Young kids are still reciting her poetry: ‘and still I rise.  I rise.  I rise.'"

Plans for Maya Angelou’s funeral have not been released.

You May Like

Egypt's Suez Canal Dreams Tempered by Continued Unrest

Seen as a potential driver of recovery, Cairo’s plan to expand waterway had been raising hopes to give country much needed economic boost More

Ebola Maternity Ward in Sierra Leone First of its Kind

Country already had one of world's highest maternal mortality rates before Ebola arrived, virus has added even more complications to health care More

Malaysia Flight 370 Disappearance Ruled Accident

Aircraft disappeared on March 8, 2014; with ruling, families of 239 passengers and crew can now seek compensation from airline More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Productioni
X
George Putic
January 29, 2015 9:43 PM
The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Groundbreaking Hand-Painted Documentary About Van Gogh in Production

The troubled life of the famous 19th century Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh has been told through many books and films, but never in the way a group of filmmakers now intends to do. "Loving Vincent " will be the first ever feature-length film made of animated hand-painted images, done in the style of the late artist. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Rock-Consuming Organisms Alter Views of Life Processes

Scientists thought they knew much about how life works, until a discovery more than two decades ago challenged conventional beliefs. Scientists found that there are organisms that breathe rocks. And it is only recently that the scientific community is accepting that there are organisms that could get energy out of rocks. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports.
Video

Video Paris Attacks Highlight Global Weapons Black Market

As law enforcement officials piece together how the Paris and Belgian terror cells carried out their recent attacks, questions are being asked about how they obtained military grade assault weapons - which are illegal in the European Union. As VOA's Jeff Swicord reports, experts say there is a very active worldwide black market for these weapons, and criminals and terrorists are buying.
Video

Video Activists Accuse China of Targeting Religious Freedom

The U.S.-based Chinese religious rights group ChinaAid says 2014 was the worst year for religious freedom in China since the end of the Cultural Revolution. As Ye Fan reports, activists say Beijing has been tightening religious controls ever since Chinese leader Xi Jinping came to office. Hu Wei narrates.
Video

Video Super Bowl Ads Compete for Eyes on TV, Web

Super Bowl Sunday (Feb. 1) is about more than just the NFL's American football championship and big parties to watch the game. Viewers also tune in for the world famous commercials that send Facebook and Twitter abuzz. Daniela Schrier reports on the social media rewards for America’s priciest advertising.
Video

Video Theologians Cast Doubt on Morality of Drone Strikes

In 2006, stirred by photos of U.S. soldiers mistreating Iraqi prisoners, a group of American faith leaders and academics launched the National Religious Campaign Against Torture. It played an important role in getting Congress to investigate, and the president to ban, torture. VOA's Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Freedom on Decline Worldwide, Report Says

The state of global freedom declined for the ninth consecutive year in 2014, according to global watchdog Freedom House's annual report released Wednesday. VOA's William Gallo has more.
Video

Video MRI Seems to Help Diagnose Prostate Cancer, Preliminary Study Shows

Just as with mammography used to detect breast cancer, there's a lot of controversy about tests used to diagnose prostate cancer. Fortunately, a new study shows doctors may now have a more reliable way to diagnose prostate cancer for high risk patients. More from VOA's Carol Pearson.
Video

Video Smartphones About to Make Leap, Carry Basic Senses

Long-distance communication contains mostly sounds and pictures - for now. But scientists in Britain say they are close to creating additions for our smartphones that will make it possible to send taste, smell and even a basic touch. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Former Sudan 'Lost Boy' Becomes Chess Master in NYC

In the mid-1980’s, thousands of Sudanese boys escaped the country's civil war by walking for weeks, then months and finally for more than a year, up to 1,500 kilometers across three countries. The so-called Lost Boys of the Sudan had little time for games. But one of them later mastered the game of chess, and now teaches it to children in the New York area. VOA’s Bernard Shusman in New York has his story.
Video

Video NASA Monitors Earth’s Vital Signs From Space

The U.S. space agency, NASA, is wrapping up its busiest 12-month period in more than a decade, with three missions launched in 2014 and two this month, one in early January and the fifth scheduled for January 29. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, the instruments being lifted into orbit are focused on Earth’s vital life support systems and how they are responding to a warmer planet.
Video

Video Crowded Republican Presidential Field Off to Early Start for 2016

It seems early, but the 2016 U.S. presidential election campaign is already heating up. Though no one has officially announced a candidacy, several potential Republican contenders have been busy speaking to conservative groups about making a White House run next year. Many of the possible contenders are critical of the Obama administration’s foreign policy record. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Circumventing Censorship

An Internet Primer for Healthy Web Habits

As surveillance and censoring technologies advance, so, too, do new tools for your computer or mobile device that help protect your privacy and break through Internet censorship.
More

All About America

AppleAndroid

New in Music Alley

 

 

 

 

 

Singer Leyla McCalla takes up not only the guitar, but the banjo and cello to perform songs from her new disc, “A Tribute to Langston Hughes,” music that mixes the Creole rhythms of Haiti with the French Quarter flavor of New Orleans on this edition of "The Hamilton Live."