Flushing hails Billie in her own backyard – QNS.com

Flushing hails Billie in her own backyard

By Zach Patberg

They were saluting the famous female vocalist on the 90th anniversary of her birth, April 7, 1915. Ken Cohen, president of the Flushing Suburban Civic Association and the local NAACP chapter, remembers often seeing Holiday walking her small white fluffy dog on his neighborhood sidewalks. “She was such a gentle person,” he said of “Lady Day,” who lived with her husband and manager, Louis McKay, at the 76th Avenue apartment from 1951 to 1958 when her career was winding down. “The dog suited her.”As did Queens itself, and for many more besides Holiday who migrated to Flushing, Corona and St. Albans' Addisleigh park in the 1950s and 1960s to escape the hustle and bustle of urban neighborhoods like Harlem. “Most jazz musicians came to New York City for the music but weren't used to the living,” said Lionel Knight, who has lived on 75th Road since 1952. “Here it was much more quiet and peaceful.””It was a big draw for blacks at that time,” agreed Cohen. He said the area was somewhat farm-oriented back then — even remembering a cow bridge at Aguilar Avenue and Kissena Boulevard – and suggested that such an atmosphere correlated well many of the blacks' rural roots.From the courtyard where a plaque in the ground commemorated Holiday, the group strolled down a few blocks to 158-05 75th Rd., where the great trumpeter and founder of bebop and Afro-Cuban jazz, John “Dizzy” Gillespie, lived in 1952.His second-cousin, Ernest Gillespie, stood near the first-floor apartment holding a photograph of Holiday with Dizzy grinning over her shoulder. The 77-year-old told of the good old days when he would sit in on Dizzy's rehearsals in the basement of his Corona house, where the horn player lived for 10 years after moving from Flushing and which was home to two other jazz bigs: Louie Armstrong and Charles Shavers.Besides Dizzy's love of Southern cuisine and teaching music to local youngsters, Gillespie recalls most fondly the South Carolina native's odd way of speech.”He would pronounce 'yesterday,' 'yestiddy' and 'the day before yesterday' 'de-foe-yestiddy,' and his wife would always tell him to stop that silly talk,” said Gillespie, whose son Phillip Gillespie, 30, is Dizzy's godson. Another legend the group paid tribute to was bassist “Jimmy” Garrison, of the John Coltrane Quartet, who lived in Kew Garden Hills in the 1960s. In her autobiography, “Lady Sings the Blues,” Holiday writes: “…Then we settled down at our own little place in Flushing where we have our fights like everybody else.”For the jazz buffs standing in the tall grass that warm Sunday afternoon, she is still there.Reach reporter Zach Patberg by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 155.

More from Around New York