Original posting, Oct 2014
When I turned sixteen my parents threw a big party for me, called a “sweet sixteen” party at the time. The fact that my parents selected the party site without discussing it with me, or at minimum asking my opinion on a location, was a curious thing. But that they booked my party in a nightclub called the African Room, a place they had never visited and knew very little about, was even stranger. I just accepted that my party would be at a nightclub that at the time seemed a pretty inappropriate location for a girl’s sixteenth birthday party. And it was.
The African Room billed itself as “New York’s most Exciting Restaurant-Nite-Club,” and with its “Ubangi Supper” menu was not the typical teen's food choice at the time. Considering that all my friends were below legal drinking age it was a wonder the restaurant owners would even consider hosting such a party with no chance for revenue from alcoholic drinks, but they did.
My parents and I arrived at the African Room a bit early, before my friends arrived. Inside the place was lit up, but the lights went low once the nightclub part of the evening went into full swing, and seeing became difficult then. My friends complained that they couldn’t see what they were eating, and the food was different enough to begin with. Although tasty, the piles of food on the plates were a combination of various meats, vegetables and spices, none of which were recognizable, so we referred back to our menus to recall what we had ordered. Adequate lighting would have been helpful, but it was a nightclub first, second and third — a teen party venue, not so much.
The place was business as usual that night, though a long table was set up for my party with a clear view of the stage; other patrons would come in and be seated at tables, as on a typical Saturday evening. Adults, mainly couples at the small nightclub tables who were sitting close together, surrounded us.
At one point in the evening during our dinner the club manager went onstage. To my surprise he announced it was my birthday, which was followed by shouts of “Happy Birthday,” and applause from the nightclubbers around us. Then with the wave of a welcoming arm, the manager introduced Otis Blackwell, who was seated in the audience, telling us Mr. Blackwell wrote and composed the song “Fever,” made famous by ’50s singer Peggy Lee.
Mr. Blackwell stood up, or tried to, as he obviously had had two or three too many and swayed to keep his balance. He then wobbled from his seat to the stage and stumbled on his way up the few steps. Taking the manager’s microphone, Mr. Blackwell looked straight at me sitting before him, and still swaying to keep his balance sang “Fever” to me and then said, “Happy Birthday.” I had recalled hearing the song before, with its seductive beat and sexy lyrics, but mainly felt mildly uncomfortable with all eyes on me as the drunk onstage serenaded me. Not exactly an age-appropriate song for this older guy to be singing to a sixteen-year-old girl, but it certainly made an impression, and my sixteenth birthday party is forever a rock solid memory.
Thanks for the everlasting memories Mr. Otis Blackwell; eternally R.I.P dear man.
Who is she, this person writing about the arts of her life, the passions, the learning? Notice how learning something is at the core of everything she writes — a different perspective perhaps from what other creative types write about, but it is real for this writer — this eagerness to learn and grow with new knowledge.