Rudy King
for bringing the steel drum to New York City

The steel pan, some claim, is the only widely played instrument to be invented in the 20th century. During World War II, when Trinidad’s noted carnival was banned, the first rudimentary steel pans with one or two notes were invented. It started with one musician who hit the pan so hard he made a dent. Musicians discovered that dents made notes, then scales, and in each successive year, pan makers devised ways to add new sounds to the drums. “Everybody took part in improving the pan,” Rudy says, “so everybody can claim they had a role in its invention.”

Rudy was born in Port of Spain, Trinidad, and took part in carnival and steel band music as a youngster. He moved to New York in 1949, anxious to pursue his music and teach New Yorkers about this new instrument. He heard about some large empty metal drums at a Brooklyn hospital, and in a friend’s van swiped several. Hammering dents in one of the pans in his Harlem apartment, he was doused with water from a window. When he moved to a park where he lit a fire inside the drum to temper the metal, a policeman threatened to arrest him. But the drum got made and Rudy proudly pioneered the pan in New York in the 1950 Harlem West Indian Carnival parade, which ran along 7th Avenue. Rudy became the first pan maker in the city, and the first pan player accepted into the musician’s union, Local 802. He traveled all over the U.S. with calypso bands, and is a beloved figure in the West Indian Carnival community. 

The Ross Family
for preserving the bialy in New York City

“If you eat a good bialy with butter, you’ll never eat another bagel,” says Steve Ross of Coney Island Bialys, the oldest bialy business in the city. It was Steve’s grandfather, Morris, who started the business in East New York in the early 20th century. He baked Bialystocks (or bialys as they are now called), the traditional bread of his former city, Bialystock, Poland. Like so many immigrants, he used the cuisine of the old country to fashion a new future. In the 1940s, Grandpa Morris moved the bakery to Coney Island. Booming business prompted one more move, to its present location at 2359 Coney Island Avenue, between Avenues T and U in Brooklyn. Steve grew up in the business, as did his father, Donald, and has fond memories of climbing-and even falling asleep-on the flour sacks. 

The Ross Family still makes the bialys and bagels by hand. Bagels were added in the 1970s. A brief experiment with a bagel machine was abandoned when Steve was unhappy with the quality. Sometimes accompanied by his children, Bryan and Heather, Steve’s work day starts well before dawn. The dough needs to be baked the same day because, unlike bagels, bialy dough doesn’t keep. Key ingredients are fresh onions-about 200 pounds per week-and, of course, New York City water. In 2001, the Smithsonian’s Folklife Festival brought the Ross family to the Mall in Washington, DC. To recreate his famous bialys and bagels, Steve requested New York City water, which was ceremoniously shipped down to him in containers by the city’s Department of Environmental Protection. 

Peter Schumann
for creating Bread & Puppett Theater

Peter Schumann moved to the U.S. in 1961 from the Silesia region of Poland. He founded the Bread & Puppet Theater in 1963 on New York’s Lower East Side, creating a unique blend of puppetry and political protest. In 1970 the Theater moved to Vermont, first as theater-in-residence at Goddard College, then to Glover, Vermont, where it also started a museum. Bread & Puppet does massive spectacles in the U.S., Europe and Latin America that address social, political, and environmental issues, or simply the common urgencies of our lives. Although no longer in New York, Bread & Puppet’s inspiration is visible in the Halloween and the Mermaid Parades, at large political protests, and in the work of Jim Henson and Julie Taymor (The Lion King).

City Lore friend Tom Goodrich nominated Bread & Puppet “For the integrity of their alternative vision to the corporate American Dream; for composing awesome, archetypal imagery from sweat, imagination and cardboard in this age of high tech special effects; for living in community and for hatching dreams collectively; for remembering the land and our dependence upon our Earth Mother; for charging almost nothing for most of their performances; for the fecundity and accessibility of their “cheap art”; for accompanying their heady creations with black sour dough bread; for making puppets which pull our strings and provoke thought; for running us into the circus and for evoking laughter which quickens the human soul even in the darkest of times; for using volunteers and challenging all in the audience to become the show.” 

Rosa Elena Egipciaco
for fostering the Puerto Rican art of mundillo, bobbin lace

The art of bobbin lace has long been associated with luxury and elegance, with Spanish royalty and elite fashion. But in Puerto Rico, where it is known as mundillo, it is a hobby and art form for young girls. Rosa Elena is from Moca, Puerto Rico, a small town in the northwestern part of the Island that is known as the capital of mundillo. Rosa Elena learned the tradition from her mother when she was just four years old. As she grew up, the tradition became part of her courtship years. “When I was a child (many decades ago) I used to make lace in the company of friends, and we would hide love notes from admirers in the back of our looms.” 

Rosa Elena is now a master lace maker in the mundillo tradition. She was President of the El Centro Cultural Mocano in Moca, which is part of the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, from 1971 to 1973. During this time she traveled throughout the island giving lectures on mundillo. Rosa Elena has also been a certified artesana (folk artist) at the Registro de Artesanos del Instituto de Cultura Puertorrqueña since 1978. She moved to New York City in 1986. She teaches mundillo classes at City Lore and is a professor/facilitator at Boricua College—the first post-secondary educational institution in the U.S. designed to meet the educational needs of Puerto Ricans and other Spanish-speaking people. Her lace has been exhibited at New York and Columbia Universities, the American Museum of Natural History, and El Museo del Barrio, among many other venues. Rosa Elena’s dream is to “build a mundillo museum in my hometown and donate all my designs and laces to that piece of land I love so much.”

for making a home for underground rock and youth culture

CBGB stands for Country, Bluegrass, Blues. But country did not work at CBGB when proprietor Hilly Kristal first opened the club in the same building as the dilapidated Palace Hotel, one of the most notorious flophouses on the Bowery in 1973. Recognizing that his establishment was desperate for money, and that rock musicians were desperate to be heard, he introduced rock. The result was a democratic stage where a long line of rockers cut their teeth and were discovered: Television, Talking Heads, Blondie, Patti Smith, the Ramones, and the Dead Boys. Later, such bands as Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins, The Police, and the B-52’s, had their first gigs in New York City at CBGB’s. “When they are here they are not famous,” Hilly told us. When they are famous some of them come back.”

CBGB features 5, 6 or 7 bands a night—every night of the week. Generations of young bands have screamed their hearts out to generations of young punk and underground rock fans. “All I did was give a people a chance to say whatever it was they wanted to say,” Hilly told us. For nearly 30 years, the beer-soaked, dark-wood club, plastered and replastered with generations of flyers and clippings, feels as venerable as an old church. When Joey Ramone died, a shrine appeared spontaneously outside of CBGB, taking over the sidewalk and reminding passers-by that CBGB’s is the mecca for youth culture and the cauldron for whatever styles of rock are bubbling up.