Mural Recalls Jazz Greats Living in Queens

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A walk on Linden Boulevard in St. Albans, under the Long Island Rail Road overpass at 180th Street near the St. Albans station, reveals a colorful mural on the north side depicting jazz and R&B greats Billie Holiday, Illinois Jacquet, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Brook Benton, Milt Hinton, Fats Waller and James Brown, as well as baseball’s Jackie Robinson and Roy Campanella. It appeared in 2004 and was organized by Winnie Morgan and designed by Joe Stephenson with the aid of volunteer artists; it replaced an earlier mural that had chipped away and had otherwise been compromised over the years.

 

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The personalities on the mural weren’t selected arbitrarily — everyone here was a resident of St. Albans, and more specifically, most lived in Addisleigh Park, a quiet neighborhood located between Guy Brewer Boulevard, the LIRR, Linden Boulevard and 111th (Brinkerhoff) Avenue.

Southern Queens’ ascendance as a mecca for jazz musicians began in 1923 when Clarence Williams, a successful musician and entrepreneur from Plaquemine, Louisiana, purchased a home and eight lots at 171-37 108th Avenue. Anticipating the increasing popularity of jazz in the north, Williams moved first to Chicago in 1920 and then to New York with his wife, singer Eva Taylor, in 1923. Desiring open spaces reminiscent of his upbringing in the Louisiana delta, Williams made his home in Queens. He would be the first in a lengthy line of jazz musicians to come to southern Queens.

Elsewhere in Queens, Louis Armstrong and Dizzy Gillespie called Corona home (both are interred in Flushing Cemetery); swing kings Benny Goodman and Woody Herman resided in Jackson Heights; Bix Beiderbecke in Sunnyside; and Cannonball Adderley in East Elmhurst, among many others.

The Queens Jazz Trail, a map and walking guide by Tony Millionaire and Marc H. Miller and published by the Flushing Council on Culture and the Arts, is an excellent guide to the residences of jazz musicians borough-wide.

Kevin Walsh writes at Forgotten New York. His book of the same name is also available.

One Comment

  • This is a pretty amazing area not only for the unbelievable jazz history and famous residents, but also the homes which are are some of the most beautiful in the area, all maintained well and black owned. Ashamed that the original mural was allowed to deteriorate because of lack of caring, especially by the elected leaders. Also a shame that for all of this amazing jazz history in Jamaica, that there is not one jazz cafe/club or museum. Again Jamaica has some of the worst elected officials who do so little to really promote and help build up Jamaica as opposed to letting so much of it to go down hill over the decades. Hopefully with new leaders and a possible revitalization of Jamaica that will change.