Brooklyn Archives - StoryCorps

Two Bartenders Remember the Highs and Lows of Working at Brooklyn’s Historic Starlite Lounge

Sometimes a bar is more than just a business, it’s a part of history. These bars are places where cultures flourish, and often become a second home to devoted customers and a treasured landmark that neighbors proudly claim. For many years that was the Starlite Lounge in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, which was one of the first Black-owned gay bars in the city.

“It was the most welcoming place in the world,” Albert Johnson remembers.

Closing night at the Starlite Lounge in Crown Heights, Brooklyn in summer 2010. Courtesy of Donna Cuthbert.

Albert tended bar at the Starlite for nine years, and in 2010 he came to StoryCorps with fellow bartender Donna Cuthbert to talk about their time working there; the nights of dancing, the beloved jukebox and the eccentric regulars—some of whom refused to go home.

That same year the property owner sold the building, and despite efforts by the local community it was last call for the Starlite. But its legacy as a gathering space for the gay Black community lives on in the memories of its former employees and patrons.

Originally aired December 30, 2022 on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

This broadcast is supported in part by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a private corporation funded by the American people, and the National Endowment for the Arts. 

With your support, StoryCorps is able to record more stories that help lift up underrepresented voices, bridge political and social divides, and preserve personal histories for the future.

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Hunny Reiken and Elliot Reiken

It was the summer of 1946 in the Catskills. Hunny Feller and her identical twin sister, Bunny, were waitresses at a hotel. Another set of identical twins, Elliot and Danny Reiken, worked as musicians in a band there.

At StoryCorps, Hunny and Elliot (below in 2010) remembered what happened when the twins met the twins.

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Originally broadcast May 28, 2010, on NPR’s Morning Edition. It was rebroadcast on May 6, 2022 on the same program.

Top photo: Danny and Bunny, and Hunny and Elliott, at their joint wedding. Courtesy of the Reiken family.
Bottom photo: Hunny and Elliott Reiken at their StoryCorps interview in New York City.

The Brooklyn EMT Who Saved A Life and Inspired A Nursing Career

In the summer of 1991, 7-year-old Bryan Lindsay was riding his bike in Brooklyn, New York when he was struck by a van and almost killed.

Rowan Allen was the paramedic who arrived on the scene. Almost 20 years later, he and Bryan came to StoryCorps to remember that day and the impact it had on both of their lives.

But Rowan and Bryan weren’t the only ones transformed by the accident. In 2021, Bryan’s mom, Dorothy Lindsay, sat down for a StoryCorps interview with Rowan to thank him for saving her son’s life, and to tell him how his actions inspired her to pursue a new line of work.

Top Photo: Bryan Lindsay, Dorothy Salmon-Lindsay and Rowan Allen at their StoryCorps interview on June 26th, 2013. By Eve Claxton for StoryCorps. 

Originally aired December 24th, 2021 on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Through Music, Father And Son DJs “Sow Love” And “Get Love Back”

Jo Vill first started DJing back in the 70s, eventually passing his passion on to his son, Chad. 

Chad, at around 2 years old, reaching for his dad’s turntable. Photo courtesy of Chad Vill.

But they never imagined that their shared love for music would bring their Brooklyn, New York neighborhood together, as the COVID-19 pandemic was ripping families apart.

During lockdown, many New Yorkers, including Jo’s wife, Gail, would join in a daily ritual of cheering for first responders. Jo and Chad were then inspired to put some speakers in the street and start playing songs for their neighbors. This quickly morphed into a daily block party, with hundreds of people flocking to their Clinton Hill street, St. James Place, to dance and connect with others during a time of isolation. They named the parties St. James Joy.

Neighbors dancing at a Saint James Joy block party in August of 2020. Photo by Niikai Wells.

Jo and Chad came to StoryCorps in May of 2021 — more than a year after they first started St. James Joy — to remember how it all began.

Top Photo: Jo Vill and Chad Vill in Brooklyn, NY, in June of 2021. By Nathan West.

Originally aired June 18, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

For the Love of Books: One Librarian Makes All the Difference

As a young father in Brooklyn, NY, Rich Jean wasn’t always sure how to keep his three year old daughter, Abigail, busy and happy. He decided to start taking her to their local library. Abigail was soon enrolled in one of their programs for young learners. That is where they met an aspiring librarian, Hasina Islam. Hasina was still an intern at that time, but immediately did everything she could to encourage Abigail in her love of books.

Four years after that first encounter, Rich, Abigail and Hasina came to StoryCorps to talk about how that chance meeting set them on a path to friendship.

Hasina Islam and Abigail Jean after their StoryCorps recording on April 25, 2021. Courtesy of Hasina Islam and Rich Jean. 

Five years later, while separated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Hasina and Abigail came back to StoryCorps to reconnect remotely with a second recording in 2021.

Top Photo: Rich Jean, Abigail Jean and Hasina Islam at their StoryCorps interview in Brooklyn, NY on November 5, 2016. By Jhaleh Akhavan for StoryCorps.
The 2016 interview was recorded in partnership with the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and IMLS National Medal winner, Brooklyn Public Library.

This interview is part of the Anwar Collection of Muslim Voices through StoryCorps’ American Pathways initiative. This initiative is made possible by the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art and an Anonymous Foundation. Additional support is provided by the Stuart Family Foundation. It will be archived at the Library of Congress.

Originally aired April 30, 2021, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

A Grandmother Gives Advice On Living Through “Crazy and Consequential Times”

As a young girl growing up during WWII, Jane Isay heard stories about how both of her grandparents had died during the 1918 influenza pandemic, leaving her mother an orphan from a young age. 

Now, as the United States contends with the COVID-19 pandemic, Jane made time to sit with her grandson, Tobey Isay, 11, to impart some of her hard earned wisdom. They recorded this conversation using StoryCorps Connect, not long after Tobey had contracted and recovered from COVID himself.

Editor’s note: Jane Isay is the mother of Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps. Tobey Isay is the son of Dave Isay.

Top Photo:  Jane Isay and Tobey Isay at their StoryCorps interview in Brooklyn, New York on April 11, 2020.
Middle Photo: Tobey Isay and Jane Isay. Photo courtesy of Jane Isay.

 

For Brooklyn’s Bianco Brothers, Keeping it Sharp is a Labor of Love

Small family businesses have been particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re going to hear from one of them.

Bianco Brothers Instruments is owned by twin brothers Joe and Vinny Bianco. They took over the shop from their father, and now their sons are working beside them, expertly sharpening all types of tools. Over the years, their business has grown to include manufacturing a wide array of sharp instruments, from chefs knives to dental cement spatulas.

In a remote interview recorded through StoryCorps Connect, Joe and his son Peter reflected on their craft, and the legacy they are carrying forth in their Brooklyn storefront.

Top photo: Joe Bianco and Peter Bianco.Courtesy of Peter Bianco.
Bottom photo: Joe Bianco grinding at the wheel at the family shop in the 1980s. Courtesy of Joe Bianco.

Originally aired September 4, 2020, on NPR’s Morning Edition. 

He Traded Single Life To Be Foster ‘Pop’ To More Than 50 Kids

Guy Bryant grew up surrounded by women who dedicated themselves to caring for children in their Brooklyn community. He then spent years working with foster teens as they made the transition to living on their own. 

But after three decades as an administrator in the child welfare system, he felt that he wasn’t doing enough. So one day, he brought his work home with him, and twelve years later, he’s fostered over 50 young people in his New York City apartment. 

Guy came to StoryCorps with one of these kids, Romario Vassell, to talk about the early days.

Originally aired October 18, 2019, on NPR’s Morning Edition

Photo by Jey Born for StoryCorps.

Akiva Johnson and Henry Jimenez

Henry Jimenez and Akiva Johnson, both 17, are classmates and close friends at the High School for Youth and Community Development in the Flatbush section of Brooklyn. Now juniors, they met freshman year while participating in StoryCorpsU, a former program of StoryCorps Education.

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In their StoryCorps conversation, Akiva and Henry discuss the challenges they have had to confront in their daily lives, and how grateful they both are for the support—often unknowingly—they have provided each other, by sharing stories they have never before told.

While they were talking, Akiva (pitcured above left) revealed that in October 2012, after Hurricane Sandy devastated much of the eastern coast of the United States, he and his mother were displaced from their home. They spent parts of the next three years in homeless shelters across New York City—including last Christmas—something Henry was unaware of.

Henry (pictured above right) has also had to overcome difficulties. When he was 13 he left Mexico and came to the United States to live with an aunt, leaving behind his parents and younger brother. The challenges faced by a young boy coming to an unfamiliar country were eased by the support he received from Akiva.

They both expect that their friendship, which was forged in school by having the opportunity to open up and share personal stories, will endure—even after Henry follows his dream and enlists in the Marine Corps.

Originally aired December 18, 2015, on NPR’s Morning Edition.

Walter Dean Myers and his son Christopher Myers

Walter Dean Myers grew up in Harlem as the son of a janitor. Today, he’s the author of nearly 100 books that are very popular with teenagers.

Growing up, there was always one person Myers struggled to impress with his writing – his father, Herbert Dean.

Here he talks about his father with his own son Christopher.

Walter and his son Christopher work on books together – as writer and illustrator.

Originally aired June 17, 2011 on NPR’s Morning Edition.