[JPL] Struggling to Preserve Cab Calloway ¹ s Home
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Sat Sep 13 19:54:36 EDT 2008
September 14, 2008
Struggling to Preserve Cab Calloway¹s Home
By JULI S. CHARKES
LIONEL HAMPTON, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie, pioneers of the big band
and bebop sounds of the 1930s, 40s and 50s, were not just jazz legends to
Cecelia Lael Calloway. They were also friends who regularly dropped by her
childhood home here to visit her father, Cab Calloway.
³There have been so many wonderful spirits in this home,² Ms. Calloway said
on a recent tour of the house, which her family sold after her father died
Ms. Calloway, who began renting the house about two years ago with hopes of
buying it, wants to turn the home into a museum about her father, but her
plans have fallen into disarray since she fell behind $35,000 on the rent.
The house¹s current owner, Prenk Rasi, said that he appreciated the history
of the home but that the situation had financially hamstrung his family. He
said it had also dissolved the good will he had when agreeing to Ms.
Calloway¹s request that she be allowed to rent the house with the intention
of buying it for the price listed then, about $1 million.
³This has been going on far too long,² he said. ³We just want our house
Mr. Rasi has sued Ms. Calloway for the back rent, and this month Greenburgh
Town Court ordered her to pay the $35,000 she is in arrears.
Cab Calloway, whose ³hi-de-hi² and ³skee-tee-tuh-bee² scats are ingrained in
jazz history, moved with his wife and three of his daughters, including Ms.
Calloway, to the 12-room, white colonial-style home on Knollwood Avenue in
1955. As his children attended local schools and participated in summer
stock theater in White Plains, Mr. Calloway continued to entertain audiences
with appearances in film and stage productions.
Today, signs of that career are on display in the house. A framed gold
record of his most famous song, ³Minnie the Moocher,² sits on the mantel.
Nearby are posters for ³Porgy and Bess² featuring Leontyne Price and an
all-black revival of ³Hello, Dolly!² with Pearl Bailey, two productions Mr.
Calloway appeared in while living in Greenburgh.
Ms. Calloway said she moved back into the house ³with the intention to
create a celebration of his life, his music and his legacy and a way for
future generations to learn about his music and the music of others that
Ms. Calloway said that there was no dispute regarding the money owed, but
that unforeseen costs had compromised her ability to pay. She cited flood
damage to the basement, which she had hoped to turn into a recording studio
to provide money for the rent and to buy the house outright. Other
complications included the recent death of her older sister Chris Calloway,
In an effort to raise the necessary money, she recently put together a CD of
her father¹s material in collaboration with the swing band Big Bad Voodoo
Daddy that will be released in February, Ms. Calloway said. She has also
appealed to local government officials, including the Greenburgh town
supervisor, Paul J. Feiner, for designation of the house as a historic
Mr. Feiner said that the house represented part of Greenburgh¹s history and
that he had referred the property to the town¹s historic and landmarks
preservation board for review. That could give the house historic status,
regardless of who owns it. ³My feeling is that the house should be
preserved,² he said.
There is precedent for landmark designation. Last year, the board gave such
a designation to the former home of Gordon Parks, the photographer,
composer, writer and film director, who died in 2006.
Local musicians say preservation of the Calloway home would be an important
link to the county¹s jazz history. ³It would be similar to the way Yonkers
has paid tribute to Ella Fitzgerald,² said Mark Morganelli, a trumpeter who
is the executive director of the Westchester-based Jazz Forum Arts,
referring to the statue of Ms. Fitzgerald at the Metro-North plaza in
Mr. Calloway¹s Greenburgh home was where he enjoyed the company of many
entertainers, including Lena Horne, Sammy Davis Jr. and Michael Jackson, Ms.
³My father truly loved living in this town,² she said. ³This is where his
memory needs to be kept alive.²
Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company
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