Remembering Gregory


May 1993. The Virginia Theater, 245 West 52d Street, Manhattan. Row J, Orchestra. Elevated into view on a platform at the edge of the darkened, empty stage, Gregory Hines arrives without fanfare. His back is to the audience, his posture crestfallen. When he finally turns to look at us, he is unsmiling, mute and shuddering. That night Gregory Hines made the single most unorthodox and magnificent star entrance I shall ever see. Nothing could have prepared me for that moment. Not even the 10 months I had spent obsessively listening to the Original Cast Recording of George C. Wolfe’s brilliant show “Jelly’s Last Jam”. It took my breath away. So did Gregory Hines. His elegance, his humour, his ability to carry the dramatic weight of the piece with such dignity. And his voice. My God, his voice. I could listen to that man sing all day. And as I said, I often did.

“Jelly’s Last Jam” captured my imagination in a way nothing had before. When I first got my hands on a copy of that soundtrack I was 18 years old and it spoke to me regarding so many of the things I was passionate about. The theatre. Jazz music. History. The civil rights movement. It had razzle dazzle to be sure, but it also had a message and it had heart. I was intoxicated by it. By the notion that theatre could do all those things at once. Gregory Hines was the heart and soul of that production.

Two nights after I saw the show, I went back a second time. I couldn’t stay away. Attending this piece of theatre was like a religious experience for me. In fact, I still listen to that soundtrack every few months. Different days inspire different emotions but whether I sing along or laugh or cry I am always moved.

Yesterday, when I put the soundtrack into my CD player it was my little, private way of eulogizing Gregory Hines. My way of remembering his talent and his life. My way of somehow trying to make the news that he had died of cancer at the age of 57 real. My way to try and make sense of the loss.

The man is gone too soon, another victim of this horrible, random disease.

He will be missed. He will be remembered.

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