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Remembering Legends: Maya Angelou, Ruby Dee, Jimmy Scott

By Marcus Samuelsson | June 18, 2014

This month, we saw the loss of three influential people in the African American community, all three who had a strong ties to Harlem. I speak for many when saying, I’m thankful for the volumes of work and minutes of their lives they shared with us. 

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Maya Angelou passed away on May 28th at the age of  86. Maya, known to many as the famed writer, lived far beyond the page. She came to New York as a young dancer, left as the first black female screenplay writer to have been produced and returned in her later years as a poet, educator and national treasure. I had the privilege of being Maya’s neighbor, meeting and cooking with her several times and and could not have been more in awe of her spirit, grace and spunk. Her legacy is one of the most influential on American culture; her words serve as an anthem for African Americans and the voice of modern feminism.

Actress Ruby Dee passed away June 11 at the age of 91. Known for her acting work in A Raisin in the Sun, Do The Right Thing,  American Gangster and No Way Out, Ruby was raised in Harlem and remained close to the community throughout her life. Ruby was not just an trailblazing award wining actress, but a vigilant civil rights activist, even emceeing the March on Washington in 1963, alongside Martin Luther King Jr.

Celebrated jazz singer Little Jimmy Scott passed away on June 12th  at the age of  88. Jimmy was known for his angelic voice and sang alongside such greats as Charlie Parker, Sarah Vaughan, Quincy Jones and Ray Charles. Who can forget Jimmy’s rendition of “Why Was I Born” during President Bill Clinton’s 1993 inauguration?  Two and a half years ago, Ginny’s Supper Club had the pleasure of  hosting Jimmy for one of his last trips to NYC. It was a magical set of shows and proved that even in old age Jimmy transcended the music world with his joyful spirit and generous soul.

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