Five days ago, on March 22, 2016, a dear friend made his transition to the realm of Ancestor/Angel, and I was devastated.
|DAVID LANGSTON SMYRL - NOW AN ANCESTOR/ANGEL|
David Langston Smyrl has been a friend since we first met in New York City at the Cotton Club in Harlem. I had no idea that we would become such good, lifelong friends at the time - and actually had no real idea who he was then - the year was 1985 - I was invited by my friend Dorothy Pitman Hughes to an entertainment showcase that they held regularly at the time.
Phyllis Yvonne Stickney was just getting her comedy repertoire off the ground, and was being represented by none other than Khalid Muhammad (who always dressed to the nines back then); there was a Cotton Club orchestra - yes orchestra - that provided live music, and you could dance and have a great time. And of course the food was (is) fantastic.
I was probably the only one not trying to be an entertainer. I had just written a piece on Africa in a local Black publication called the New American, and wanted to give my activist pitch to the audience. The person serving as host for the evening kept screwing up my name - and when I went up on stage, I didn't correct her, but immediately launched into the information I had to present and then sat back down.
Well Smyrl, who didn't know me from Adam's house cat at the time, got on my case: "When someone doesn't have the respect to get your name right, you make sure you pronounce it for the audience yourself. Don't let them get away with that. Your name is just as important as anyone else's. What you had to say was serious - they have to equate your name correctly with your information. Don't let that happen again." I looked at him, he had a slight scowl on his face, his eyebrows were furrowed the way they do when he's intense, but he also had a slight smile that let me know immediately that he meant well. So I smiled and said, "Yes sir - I won't let it happen again."
He reached out his hand to shake mine, "David Smyrl. If you think you have a difficult name to pronounce, mine is just as bad. I'm constantly having to make sure they get it right. I've been doing it ever since school. But your name means something."
Shortly after that he went on stage, and regaled us with his comedy routine, which had me rolling on the floor - well almost.
I would like to say that Smyrl and I became instant friends after that - but not quite. It was probably six months later when my son, RA, asked me to sign a permission slip for him to be in a short educational film. He was very talented, so every opportunity for him to display his abilities was welcomed. The person I spoke with was Karma Stanley, After being sure that it was a positive image, I allowed him to participate. Upon the premiere of the film, who do I run into but Smyrl - but having no idea that he was part of the production, I explained to him that I had come to see my son's film. It was being shown at what used to be the Coliseum.
Of course the upshot of the whole thing was that Karma and David had a production company called Real to Reel, and my son was in a short on teen sexuality. David had had no idea that RA was my son. But finding that he was cemented what would become a lifelong friendship - under the small world isn't it, synchronicity, obviously we are supposed to be friends concept, we began to hang out together. That is when he wasn't on shoots, or traveling or producing his own material.
It was Smyrl who introduced me to the 609 Club (or Broady's) at 609 W. 125th Street - my favorite After Hours Club! I had never been there before. We were coming out of the Cellar, on 96th when he recommended that it was way to early to go in. Broady's was a treasure trove of entertainers who went there after their regular gigs to really get down. I met so many great artists there that it became my regular hangout.
It was Smyrl who mentored my son when he landed an extra role on the Cosby Show - as well as Bill Cosby himself, who told him how to be on camera and part of the background as well.
It was Smyrl who used to show up to help with Dorothy Pitman Hughes Harlem Business Tour, taking guests to La Famille - a once great jazz and supper club in Harlem. We would co-host the Japanese tourists who would come to Harlem by the bus loads; as well as the fledgling business and political neophytes - including Ken Knuckles and others - to try to give them a sense of the spirit of Harlem, and the need for investors to work with Black business owners.
It was Smyrl who took me to Larry Holmes club in Easton, PA, where he and his own fledgling jazz group performed. We had a lot of fun with Holmes and Smyrl talking about who would knock out whom now.
I guess you can see by now that I had a deep admiration for David Smyrl. I remember asking him what his name meant and what was the origin - and he gave me some comedic song and dance about it. He was honest, honorable, quick witted, meticulous, creative and dedicated to his craft. If David decided he wanted to learn something - like the guitar - he didn't quit until he could play it like a virtuoso. You have to admire that kind of tenacity. He was a Virgo - Virgos have amazing attention to detail, they are sharp, their talents know bounds; he was a genius and a brain -but he was also down to earth, and fun to be with.
It was a good solid positive friendship. We loved debating about things, or examining whether things even made sense. He was definitely my verbal sparring partner; and I freely admit I had had a "thing" for Smyrl. I think it was mutual - but it didn't materialize. It wasn't supposed to, either. We were great as friends. He was a Virgo - neat, everything in its place, totally punctual; I'm an Aries - not necessarily chaotic, but always on the fly. I'll pick up the stuff later. With ten things in the fire at the same time. It would have been a disaster. We decided that the best thing to do was to not mess with a good thing. So friends we remained.
When my son graduated from college, he and his wife moved to Philadelphia. As it turned out, Smyrl live in the same neighborhood. He had come back to look after his ailing mom. Of course, RA was no longer the little skinny kid that Smyrl featured in his film short. He was now 6'3" and muscular. Smyrl didn't recognize him. When he reintroduced himself, he almost fainted. And of course, RA wasted no time in surprising me with the fact that he lived nearby. Seeing David and his wife was like old times. We sat around and told Black in the day stories, jokes, and marveled at what a man RA had become, and what a beautiful young lady my daughter Adiya, who was 6 the last time he saw her, had become.
That was 2002. I would run back and forth between Philly and New York, but it always seemed that if I was in New York, Smyrl was in Philly; if I was in Philly, he would be in New York. But somehow he always managed to keep tabs on me. When I would write an article, or a review, I would get a note from Smyrl about how great it was.
While our communication was sporadic, when ever we caught up with each other, we'd give the encyclopedic version of what we had been up to. Somehow, however, Smyrl always seemed to know. My last communique to him on Facebook was to ask how he was faring. I had messaged him shortly after he announced the proposed chemo treatments, just to see how things were progressing, but had not received a response. I now know that he was otherwise occupied with his next great production: that of entry into the realm of Ancestor/Angel.
It takes a minute to accept that a friend of 30 years has moved forward. My love and condolences to his wife Cheryl, his family, friends and fans. David Langston Smyrl was a total treasure. Greatly loved and greatly missed.
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