FIVE YEARS AGO THIS WEEK Atlantic City lost a treasure. I still carry around the late Sid Trusty’s faded yellow business card in my wallet. I got the opportunity to meet the man on a few occasions before he passed away on Aug. 16, 2004. We talked about his days as a drummer in the Atlantic City nightclub Club Harlem. And how the lines would be around the block when people like Ray Charles and James Brown came to town to play.
Trusty was more than a “historian,” as his card read; he founded the Sid Trusty Memorabilia Center, which he ran out of his cluttered garage in Atlantic City — a mecca of lost and forgotten goodies from Atlantic City’s heyday as an entertainment staple on nearly every traveling musician’s itinerary during the good ol’ days — and was considered the “unofficial mayor of Kentucky Avenue.” As his obit read, Trusty’s “life’s dream was to have a permanent location” for his collection of Atlantic City artifacts, posters, scrapbooks and clippings, “so that everyone could know what Atlantic City once had.”
Trusty had thousands of items from A.C.’s African-American past. The last I heard, his son, who lives in Connecticut, has the collection. Wouldn’t it be nice to bring Trusty’s goldmine back to the city and, as Chicken Bone Beach jazz series organizer Henrietta Shelton tells Mike Pritchard in this week’s feature, “have a jazz hall of fame in the city”? Shelton has numerous artifacts; so do other local collectors.
A call into Mayor Lorenzo Langford’s office this week revealed that discussions are taking place for “some type of public museum” for the third phase of The Walk in Atlantic City. Langford also says that the city has a few other options where such a museum could be housed.
Langford likes where the current Atlantic City Historical Museum and Art Center are located, directly across from the Revel Entertainment construction site, on Garden Pier. However, he says, if a “reasonable offer” to purchase that property were made, those two entities could be potentially be merged with such a museum that Trusty hoped for.
“[Garden] Pier is not going anywhere,” says Langford, “until a reasonable offer is made. That pier is a jewel. I like it fine where it is. They would move only if a good deal is made.”
Langford adds that he is aware that a variety of interested parties in the city want a museum for Trusty’s collection.
“And at some point in time there will be a permanent home for Sid Trusty’s [collection],” he says.
And like many people, as Shelton says, “I’d love to see that some day.”
WEB EXTRA: The following are portions of a Q&A with the late Sid Trusty, conducted by Bill Kent for the Feb. 27, 2003 issue of AC Weekly. Trusty was 81 at the time:
1. Why does Atlantic City need an African-American history museum?
Because if you look at what we've got around town now, we've got nothing. The African-American community is lacking in business and culture. even when you take into account the activity that comes out of the churches and civic centers [in Atlantic City]. There's nobody around this town trying to show the young folks where they came from and what they had before we came here. If we were as conscious of African-American history 12 months of the year, as we are in February, we'd be a loing way down the line.
2. Who are some of the people from Atlantic City we should remember?
There are so many: Did you know an African-American man set an aviation record for non-instrumental flight, taking off from Bader Field and going all the way to California? We had Sarah Spencer Washington, the first black millionaire woman in cosmetics. We had track stars like Larry James, who won an Olympic medal, and Josiah Williamson, who set a world's record in track. John Henry "Pop" Lloyd was a baseball player who's in the Hall of Fame. And we had the greatest entertainment scene.
3. You were there?
You couldn't keep me away. The nightclub scene started late, after the Boardwalk entertainment ended. Most of the nightclubs were over on the Northside, around Kentucky Avenue, and there was never any prejudice as fas as the patrons were concerned. They all mixed. Everybody had a ball. It was all one big party going on until the sun came up. You ask anyone if they remember Club Harlem, and the first thing they'll tell you was about the breakfast shows. People would come from all over — New York, Philadelphia, Washington D.C., just to see those shows.
4. It's gone now?
It's hard to believe, but itis. You go down Kentucky Avenue between Atlantic and Pacific [avenues] and you would never know that, just a few years back, it was the center of a scene so big that every singer, performer, comedian or musician in the country had to come play here. We had famous musicians like Chris Columbo. He played drums at Club Harlem and lived to be 100. We had Rufus Wagner, a trombone player who worked for Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Carlton Drinker, Billie Holiday's piano player, was from Atlantic City.
5. You met these people as a musician?
It was a great turnout and Ralph Hunter was in rare form last Saturday when the African-American Heritage Museum of Southern New Jersey was honored with the U.S. Postal Service’s unveiling of the Rosa Parks commemorative stamp on the 100th anniversary of her birth.
Placed in charge of Atlantic City’s two “colored” schools by 1921, Pennsylvania native Brock succumbed the following year at the age of 42, in the thick of a battle over whether or not to integrate the local schools.
On Tuesday, Feb. 22, groundbreaking will commence on the newest Smithsonian museum in Washington, D.C. The Smithsonian’s 19th museum, the National Museum of African American History and Culture, will occupy a five-acre site on Constitution Avenue between 14th and 15th streets N.W., between the Washington Monument and the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History.
If you’ve never been to the Civil Rights Garden in Atlantic City, you should make it a point to drop by there and sit awhile. It is a contemplative place.
“I really don’t think there is a name as beloved in baseball as Clemente’s,” says Michael Everett, director of the Pop Lloyd Committee. “We already know a lot of people are turning out solely because of the connection to Clemente. It’s really amazing the command and the respect the name brings with it.”
For one day — Sunday, Sept. 18 — the Asbury United Methodist Church in Atlantic City, home of the South Jersey Jazz Vespers, will be transformed into the bygone Club Harlem as a tribute to a name nearly as legendary as the club itself. Chris Columbo (1902-2002) was a jazz drummer who led the Club Harlem orchestra for 34 years, right up until the club closed its Kentucky Avenue doors forever in 1978
Sedaka and the Globetrotters