People’s Hall of Fame Inducts a New Crop of Larger-than-Life New Yorkers, for Tenth Time
Pete Benfaremo, the Lemon Ice King
In his jaunty white cap, 84-year-old Lemon Ice King, Pete Benfaremo, possesses a certainsavoir faire, gained no doubt from decades of wearing this cotton crown. His palace is a glassed-in corner shop in Corona, Queens expanded from the early days, when Pete used to hand-crank the ice in tubs. Today, lemon is the perennial favorite at the Lemon Ice King, with peanut butter (studded with real peanuts) a close second. God help the customer who asks to mix flavors. Pete, known for his standards, has tacked up a hand-painted sign reading, “WE DO NOT MIX OR EXCHANGE ICES.”
Renee “Juice” Flowers
Renee “Juice” Flowers has been leading the Gowanus Wildcats Drill Team since the ripe old age of 13. Now 48 years old, Renee is still the team’s tireless leader. She figures she has trained more than 500 young ladies—and, nowadays, even some of their daughters. Past winners of first place in the New York City Housing Authority’s Talent Search, the Gowanus Wildcats Girls Drill Team has performed in city parades, the Apollo Theater’s Amateur Night, and the Greenwich Village Halloween Parade, among other gigs. The present 25 members, ages of 6 to 20, meet twice weekly to rehearse drills that Renee describes as one part “cheerleading without the pom poms,” and other parts similar to stepping and military marching. The names of some of their drills are the Side Step, Round Step, Hit It, Payne, Kick in the Dip, and Meditation – the Wildcats do them all, including new rap routines with a positive message.
Nobuko “Cobi” Narita
Cobi Narita’s annual birthday party at Saint Peter’s Church at Lexington and 54th Street draws hundreds of well-wishers each year. Many are musicians and jazz lovers whom the 81-year old has helped over the last half century. After all, it was Cobi who developed the Jazz Line for Jazz Interactions; ran the repertory orchestra Collective Black Artists; and founded the Universal Jazz Coalition in 1976. She also presented the first of 16 Annual New York Women’s Jazz Festivals in 1978. In the early 80s, she opened her first performance space, Jazz Center of New York, which was so hot that even the likes of Dizzy Gillespie dropped by. In 1996, Cobi launched the International Women of Jazz, and now, with the help of her husband, Paul Ash, she runs Cobi’s Place, under the auspice of the Jazz Center of New York, by transforming a fourth-floor living room into an intimate concert hall. When Cobi thinks back to her childhood during the World War II years, she remembers writing and distributing newsletters at the Gila River Relocation Center, an internment camp for Japanese-Americans. Her comment: “I love doing newsletters. Everywhere I go I do it.” For 35 years, she has been mailing monthly notices to the Jazz Community.
The Pearls of Wisdom, the touring ensemble of Elders Share the Arts
Founded in 1979, these remarkable elder storytellers transform their memories into narrative art and share their stories in community settings throughout the five boroughs. They bear witness to changing times in a changing America through tales of immigration and labor, the Depression and prosperity, war and peace, discrimination and civil rights, cultures and traditions, and family and home. The Pearls of Wisdom perform at schools, senior centers, libraries, conferences, universities, homeless shelters, correctional facilities as well as at such venues as the United Nations, Lincoln Center and the International Storytelling Festival (UK). With this award, City Lore pays tribute to the original Pearls – Carrie Raiford, Roberta Jones, Myrtle Carvalho, founding Artistic Director, Peggy Pettitt and founding Executive Director, Susan Perlstein—as well as the current Pearls: Doris Diamond, Joyce Duncan, Rose Fontanella, Juliette Holmes, Sol Levitt, Carrie Raiford, Amatullah Saleem, and Shirley Young. The ensemble is guided by Managing Director, Marsha Gildin, and Artistic Director, Thelma Ruffin Thomas.
Peter Sokolow pianist, arranger, vocalist, clarinetist and saxophone player, has had a dual career in music for more than 50 years. In the field of klezmer music, he is the link between the old and young musical generations, having played and recorded with such luminaries as Dave Tarras, the Epstein Brothers, Denny Rubinstein, Sid Beckerman, Henry Sapoznik, Frank London and many others. Peter is a member of Kapelye and the lead musical director of Klezmer Plus. He is also widely know as a “stride” pianist in the Fats Waller style, having performed with Vinie Giordanos’s Nighthawks and many other well-known Dixieland groups. Peter has also been featured in the films, The Chosen (1981) and A Tickle in the Heart(1996). He has appeared in several PBS documentaries and with Yitzchak Pearlman In Fiddler’s House. Peter has two CDs both featuring his accomplishments in klezmer and traditional jazz.
Established in 1993 to honor grassroots contributions to New York’s cultural life, the annual People’s Hall of Fame awards celebration honors the contributions of ordinary people outside the glare of mass media. These local heroes are selected by a committee of New York City-lovers working closely with City Lore’s Board of Directors.