Leonard Harper, one of the great minds and producers of the Harlem Renaissance during the 1920s and 1930s, will be honored with a street in his name on the southwest corner of 132nd St and Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. in Harlem. Street co-naming is a tradition that provides recognition to the creativity, innovation, and legacy of others. Mayor DeBlasio recently signed off on legislation to co-name several streets in New York City. Commenting on the importance of this tradition, DeBlasio said:
Our city has a long and powerful history, brimming with dedicated New Yorkers who have fought to improve their communities in countless ways – from public service to community activism to the arts. It is essential that we commemorate those who have built up our past as we work to build a better future for our city. This legislation ensures that we remain connected to our history and to the important values embodied by these individuals.
Leonard Harper can correctly be described as multifaceted. Over the span of the Harlem Renaissance, he left his mark as a dancer, choreographer, producer, and studio owner.
Harper and his wife, Osceloa Banks, put together and performed in his first big revue, Plantation Days, at Layfatte Theatre in Harlem in 1922. As a result, Harper started producing. He is credited with over 2,000 shows on stage and screen. He is associated with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Fred Astaire, Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Mae West, Josephine Baker, Lena Horne and the Marx Brothers. Harper also brought his talents to the nightlife scene. He was instrumental in the Cotton Club’s opening, which featured two of his revues, and regularly brought talent to Connie’s Inn, The Kentucky Club, and The Apollo Theatre.
On the international stage, Harper is known as the “father of cabaret.” He created “The Harpettes” and performed with them internationally in cabaret, vaudeville, and medicine style shows. Always managing to enrich the lives of others, Harper went on to own a dance studio in Times Square where Black dancers became teachers and shared their culture and dances with white dancers.
Harper’s biggest Broadway contribution was the 1929 staging of Hot Chocolates, which etched “Black and Blue” and “Ain’t Misbehavin” into the collection of Broadway classics.
Council Member Inez Dickens remembers Harper fondly, stating:
His work left everlasting impressions and opened a door of opportunities for others to be involved in the motion picture industry because of his historic performances and productions that showcased Black culture.
Harper died at 44 in 1943. He was recently honored with a 2015 NAACP History Makers Award.
The street naming will occur Saturday, October 10, at 2pm.