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Two months passed and the seven had become inseparable. It was Jade’s birthday and her mother was throwing her a party. But, it wasn’t just any party. The nation was beginning to show signs of recovery from the Great Depression, but some still said that parties were over the top.
But, Virginia Gateway was known for her extravagances. He lavish parties, rich male callers, and even the way she dressed her two daughters had turned more than a few heads outside Striver’s Row. The two square blocks was home to some of Harlem’s the upper class: including famous writers, names from the music world, doctors, lawyers and successful Negro business owners.
Most notable of the residents of the “Row” were the musical genius Eubie Blake and some say the soul of the Harlem Renaissance, Langston Hughes. Deacon had even spoke to his once, if you count a brief wave as world famous writer ducked into a waiting car.
The spacious four story townhouses were designed in16th century in Italian palazzo style architecture, complete with iron grille balconies, fine stone faces with terra cotta trim.
Some offered street level entrances guarded by manicured hedges incased in iron fences. Others offered sets of steps that cozied up to grand structures with large oak doors, canopy covered windows and the subtle trapping of lavish living.
It wasn’t the first time that Deacon and the others had visit the home of their privileged friend, but each time was like the first. It was more of an experience that a visit. Loveboy, Clayton, Mooch, and Deacon arrived together. Hannibal had offered an excuse when Jade told him of the party.
The boys were all decked out in Sunday. There was a doorman to greet them and take their coats. The white jacketed servant was hired just for the occasion. In fact, Queenie, their single servant was buttressed by a staff of four others including two servers, a chef and a valet.
Crossing the threshold was like crossing over into another world, one rarely seen by Harlem Negros. As they stepped into vestibule that served as a reception area divided by two oak Corinthian columns, their names were announced before being shown into the formal living area.
A well-dress assortment of successful Negro clustered about the immense room. While some discussed the political and social issues of the day around an rosewood fireplace other gather around a classic grand piano, atop of which sat a mound of colorfully wrapped gifts. Deacon marveled over the rich grained walls, and parquet floors covered with imported Persian rugs. Presiding over the room was an impressive likeness of the hostess and her to darling daughters.
Deacon and the others were huddled in the middle of the room when Jade came running up to them. She was lavishly dressed in an antique while dress with fringes that moved when she did and a plunging waistline. Around her neck hung a string of pearls and on her wrist a bracelet with solid gold charms of her favorite childhood items. She stood radiantly in the glow of the crystal chandelier overhead.
“Oh, you hooligans finally decide to show up,” she said, slowing releasing a jubilant smile.
“When your mothers celebrates a birthday she’s really goes all out,” said Clayton,” his eyes scanning the room. “At my last birthday, I got a couple pairs of dress socks and my mother served greens and children wings to family member that I don’t even like.”
“I tried to get them to hurry up, but they wouldn’t listen. I told them that it was bad manners to arrive late,” said Mooch, his nose sampling the air for any hint of food.”
“Most of the guests have already dinned, so why don’t head back to the kitchen. Queenie will fix you up something,” replied Jade, reading the big boys ravenous minds.
Jade led her friends over to a seating area off to the corner of the room where Mandy was already seated. A smile showed on her face at the sight of her friends. Led by Loveboy, the boys bowed to her, to which she rose and curtsied in response.
“Mandy, you look great,” said Deacon, with the others adding complements of their own. The tuxedo-clad server interrupted with a tray of sugar cookies and almond brownies. As the boys filled the pocket, Jade older sister, Elizabeth, strolled over.
“You know that those are for all the guests and are not your private bakery, she said, her face displaying a look of discuss. I told mother about allowing in all types of riff-raft.”
“Beth, maybe I should have a talk with mother about that bottom feeder that you seen around town with. Aren’t there some hoi polloi who could use some of your renowned sycophancy?
Her older sister offered up a counterfeit smile then returned to hobnobbing with her mother’s most prominent guests.
“Don’t pay her any mind. She’s all wet.” All of them agreed, adding their own choice descriptions. Then Clayton interrupted.
“Let’s ditch this mausoleum and head over to Ray’s so that we give you our special present,” he said.
“You have a present for me,” asked Jade with growing enthusiasm. Her eyes began to glow with excitement, her raised voice turning the head of nearby guess. Jade turned and gave the room an apologetic smile and then turned to Mandy. “You know that you can never keep anything from me. Tell me, Mandy what are they planning? Where are they taking me?”Mandy simply smiled and threw up her hands in pretended ignorance.
“To a place where you’ve always wanted to go,” said Mandy, finally surrendering to her friend’s cross-examination.
As the gang walked up Seventh Avenue through the cold, Clayton reached in his coat and withdrew a bottle of gin wrapped in a paper bag. It took some prodding, but even Mandy took a swallow of the hard stuff.
As they passed the Tree of Hope, Harlem’s wishing tree, outside the Layette Theater, Mandy suggested that Jade rub it for good luck, as thousands of dancers, actors, and singers had done since the theater’s opening.As they neared their undisclosed destination, 140th and Lenox Avenue, Jade began to put the pieces together.
“I’ve seen the inside of the Savor before,” Jade said, sounding a slightly disappointed. My mother snuck me in to see Cab Calloway last year. Besides, any slow Joe knows that it dance night and we’ll never be able to get in.”
“The stompers don’t start arriving until about 9 o’clock, we’ll be gone long before then,” said Deacon reassuringly. Closing in the “home of the happy feet,” they viewed the grand marquee that lit the night with the illumination of a thousand candles: Chick Webb and his orchestra with Thursday Night Ladies Night displayed just below the name of the famous headliner.
Inside, they were met by a bouncer who knew Clayton and played basketball with his brothers. He led them through the restaurant area, up a marble stairway leading to the celebrated ballroom.
The room with something to behold, featuring a combination of pink pinstripe walls, polychromatic lights and long glossy dance. It was Deacon first journey inside ballroom. Overwhelmed by its size and sophistication, he lagged behind the others but soon ran to catch up.
The dozen or so patrons scattered about the room were barely noticeable, veiled by the emptiness. The only other things breathing were the employees of the establishment who were scurrying about in preparation of the room and catering to hungry customers.
Oddly, the dance floor contained two cloth covered tables ornamented with candles and four folding chairs. The tables occupied a space about ten feet back from one of the two dark bandstands.
“Where is my surprise,” asked Jade, her eyes scanning the room. Deacon nodded to Loveboy and he stepped onto the bandstand and hit a switch. Colored spotlights flashed on, revealing a bass player, guitar man and a drummer. After which Loveboy took a seat at the piano.
“This is a wonderful birthday gift. But, who did you get,” asked Jade.
“The best singer dancer I know. She’s not famous, not yet anyway, but day she will be,” is all that Mandy would say, her tone puzzling to Jade. Then a man, decked out in shiny black pants with a red stripe down the side and a bright blue blazer travel pass them without saying a word.
Taking center stage, he grabbed up the microphone from the stand. A beam of white light traveled the length of the room and landed right on him. After tipping his head to the tables in acknowledgement, he raised the mic to his lips. A bolt of high pitched reverb pierced the air causing the gang at the table to cover their eyes. When the silenced returned, the announcer began.
“Welcome to the world famous Savor ballroom, the land of the happy feet. Over the years we have been proud to present such acts as Louie Armstrong, Muddy Waters, Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington and Eubie Blake. Now, we have a special surprise for you. About to come to the stage is a beautiful and talented young girl.”
Jade began to shake her head as all eyes turned to her. “No, there’s no way that I am going up there.”
“You’re always talking about playing the big time. Well, here is your chance,” said Mandy.
“While it is her first time gracing the stage of the Savoy ballroom, it certainly won’t be her last. Join me in welcoming to the stage Miss Jade.”
There was a small eruption of applauds, which was quickly swallowed up by the spacious room. Deacon removed her coat with Jade putting up a halfhearted struggle. Mandy pulled Jade’s cascading hair to one side and pinned it aside with a single white orchid. Deacon then extended her his arm, posing as her escort as they made their way to the bandstand.
Up the short few steps she walked, her nervousness displaying in her even move. Loveboy was there to greet and lead her to the mic. There the two entered a short discussion before Loveboy returned to his seat behind the keys. No soon he was seated; he began the opening bars to Ain’t Misbehavin. The other instruments chimed in to produce a rich full sound, summoning the dead ballroom with life.
But, Jade froze, missing her queue, instead standing timidly, like a bird about to flee a pole line at the sound of a train whistle. She was a deer catch the headlights of an on rushing motor car. Seeing his friend about to flee, Deacon stepped forward to the edge of the stage and whispered a few words of encouragement. A smile settled lazily over her face and she through back her creamy shoulders and readdress the mic.
When her queue came around for a second time, she started singing, her voice timorous and slightly off key. Loveboy offered up a few more bars, starting from the top and Jade started up, her voice stronger now. She seemed to draw energy from the spotlight on her face.
She began slow and soft but in perfect pitch, and her voice hovered majestically above the music, her body swaying to the soft and fetching rhythm. Her pearl white gown glowed surreal in the spotlight, only outshined by the luminance of her smile. Her eyes were giant green saucers catching and throwing off light like emerald moons paying homage to a green sun.
By now the entire room started to take notice. Waiters, porters, and hostesses’ slowed to a standstill, sidetracked from their duties by the honey-sweet voice of an angel. The gang had heard her sing loads of time, but never had she sounded like this.
She wasn’t their Jade, she was someone else. Her voice was soft yet powerful, youthful yet sultry. Her performance belied her nearly fourteen years, resonating the feeling that she was born to the stage. Couples pushed back from their plates and shelved their talk in favor of a listen.
Following a brief solo by Loveboy, Jade ended the song with a dance routine, filled with carefree pirouettes and leaps, which she and Mandy had been working on in her room. When the music stopped, the silence waded in, leaving Jade standing before the lights, her chest rising and falling and jubilant smile painted her face.
The mesmerized audience, now swelled to ten times it original number erupted into applauds. As she descended the set of steps, Jade was mobbed by her friends. Then, then everyone’s surprise, Jade hugged Deacon tightly and planted a long kiss on his lips.
“Thank you for setting this up. It was the best birthday gift I have ever received.”
“It wasn’t me alone,” said Deacon, still showing the effect of the kiss. “It was Mandy’s Idea, but all of us played a part. Loveboy put together the band.” Loveboy took a playful bow. “Clayton got the owner to let us use the ballroom and Mooch, Hannibal and me hauled boxes outback for a week after school to settle the account.”
Even some of the staff crowded in to show their appreciation for the budding talent. The crowd then parted as a tall, handsome man, silk shirt and diamond tie pin, made his way though. The workers hurried off, clearly shaken by the man sudden appearance. The man stood head and shoulders above everyone. Then, the well-dressed man took Jade’s hand in his giant hand, bent over and gently touched his lips to the back of her hand.
“A Star is born,” was all that he said, flashing an enormous smile. This may have been your first performance at the Savoy, but it definitely will not be your last.”
Jade’s voice abandoned her. Though she tried, the words remained crammed in her throat. And her legs looked like they were about to give way underneath her. The large man turned to leave and then turned back.
“Oh, and happy birthday, Jade,” he said with a nod and a wink. “Look me up in a couple of years and the sky’s the limit.”The gang watched him as he walked away, back to the two beautiful women waiting to receive him on the other side of the floor.
“Do you know who that was,” asked Loveboy. “That’s Satin Struthers, own of Minton’s Play,” he said, not waiting for an answer.
“He’s also in the rackets,” offered Clayton. I heard he even shot a man down in cold blood over a dice game over at Ray’s pool hall.
He bad news, Jade,” cautioned Mandy. “He’s bad news all away around.” But, Jade hadn’t heard a word, her eyes still following the big man as he made his way to his private booth