MR. NOSTALGIA AND THE SHEBA
OUR TRUE LOVE STORY
OUR TRUE LOVE STORY
I was about eleven years old when I first laid eyes on Cliff Carter. I was working in my family's store, Metropolitan News, at the crossroads of the nation, Peel and St. Catherine Streets in Montreal, selling newspapers from all over the world. My family was teaching me the business. And Cliff, a singer and pianist, had just come to Montreal from the United States to play at The Clover Cafe across from the Montreal Forum.
As time passed, Cliff came to play in the Candlelight Room of the Diana Grill right next door to our store. I was too young to go down into the nightclub, but I could watch Cliff through the restaurant's storefront window and listen to his sweet music flowing out into the evening air over the loudspeaker. And that handsome man would look up at me and smile and make funny faces at the fat little girl in blue jeans.
And that teenage girl dreamed that one day, somehow, Cliff Carter would discover she could sing and invite her to be his partner. To me, he was always The Gentleman at the Piano. I listened to his radio shows and I started a fan club - and I sent all the fan mail myself. And he dedicated songs to me, and to my mother, and to my grandmother who also worked in our store selling Irish linens and fine English Bone China.
Decades later, Cliff would remind me that he would play a song I requested on his radio show. "Stella By Starlight". He remembered that. I didn't. Decades later, Cliff told me he had seen me riding a horse at the corner of Peel and St. Catherine when I was fifteen. He remembered that. I didn't even know he had seen me.
I brought home every Hit Parade song book and I listened to the radio and memorized all the songs of the day. Someday he'll discover me. I studied theatre arts at the Montreal Repertory Theatre - dramatics with Eleanor Stuart, voice and diction with Dorothy Danford, stage makeup with Griffith Brewer and history of the theatre, with Miss Stehle I studied opera with Mme. Pauline Donalda, founder of The Montreal Opera Guild and co-star of Nellie Melba and Enrico Caruso. Some day. One day.
I met so many fascinating people while working at Metro. Metropolitan News was my alma mater. Eddie Feigelman was an impresario - a theatrical agent - a big man with a big heart. One day, Eddie told my father that there was to be a Red Cross Blood Donors' Marathon at a Montreal armoury. All sorts of entertainers would take part. I overheard - and I dared to ask if I might have a chance to sing. Eddie said, maybe. Was I ever thrilled when I received a telegram announcing that I was included on the program and a volunteer would come to drive me to the armoury. I was about sixteen. I had never sung in public before. Thrilled, surprised - scared. I put on my salmon colour gown and my parents bought me a rose corsage. I still have that flower in a scrap book.
It was a cold, dark and icy night. The doorbell rang and a gentleman who identified himself as "Harry" waited to help me down the slippery steps to Uncle Harry's School Bus.
I had told Eddie Feigelman that I had no accompanist. Eddie said, "Don't worry about it." Don't worry about it? How could I perform in front of a huge audience and television cameras without an accompanist? God would provide. I went forward in a haze, my heart pounding with fear and anticipation.
The lights were out in Uncle Harry's School Bus. My guide told me there was one other passenger on the bus - "so don't get scared". There was only one person on the bus. I hadn't seen him in years. One person - who happened to be the partner of my dreams - Cliff Carter.
That night, for the very first time, Cliff played for me to sing .When I stood up there on the stage in front of all those people and the lights and cameras, everything went white and I thought I would faint. I couldn't think of a word or a tune, Cliff played an arpeggio - and my mind cleared and my pounding heart slowed down - and I opened my mouth, and I sang Blue Moon and Smoke Gets in Your Eyes.
I had never sung in public. I had never sung with an accompanist other than Peter Miller, my first singing teacher, and Mme. Donalda's sister, May Lightstone, who played for my lessons. I had never sung for Cliff before. And yet, when I opened my mouth to sing, he knew exactly what to play.
In 1954, Cliff returned to the United States. Shortly afterward, I married " a nice boy" and settled down. But my heart never settled. There was always something missing. I became more involved in politics and journalism. Twelve years passed and there was no word from Cliff. My dreams of becoming a singer were set aside like childhood's beloved toys - but they were kept in a secret place somewhere very deep in my heart. "Someday" had not yet come, and I didn't think about it. I just felt restless, insecure and incomplete. I loved my family but I rarely felt happy.
Cliff returned to Montreal in the late 1960's, but we rarely saw him. There followed years of turmoil in my life and, unbeknownst to me, also in Cliff's .
One day, my parents received a phone call from Cliff. He was playing at The Raphael in Montreal and he invited our family to come. It was Christmas time, 1972.
Cliff and I sat on the winding staircase in The Raphael to pose for a souvenir photograph. Something deep inside me stirred at that moment. Daylight. Awakening. I attributed it to sentiment. But I soon realized that it was something much richer. It was persistent and overwhelming and warm, and the newfound excitement brought hope back into my life. And terrible fear. There would be a lot of heartache before there could be any peace. Our incompatible marriages had both been on the rocks for years and had to be carefully dissolved before we could breathe freely. Out of the ashes of that painful transition, The Sheba - a new me - was born.
One January night in the late 1970's, Cliff was invited to play for a business party on the 34th floor of the Chateau Champlain Hotel in downtown Montreal. The baby grand piano stood by the bay window overlooking Dominion Square. Cliff played and we sang and the guests applauded. The guests surely thought I was singing for them. In truth, I never sang for the audience. I always sang for Cliff alone.
The white moon shone as I gazed down in awe at the park. The dark night was brightened by the sparkling snow and Christmas lights and the great church way down below looked like a pretty toy. Miniature cars and people scurried about. It felt like a dream.
Just then, I experienced a stunning revelation. It struck me like a zap of lightening. From where I was standing at the bay window on the 34th floor of the Chateau Champlain Hotel, I could see the exact spot where, as a young girl, I had so often stood with my nose pressed against the window pane listening to Cliff play the piano in the Candlelight Room. I saw myself there, as I was back then - a young girl, enchanted. I felt now what I had felt back then. At that moment, I knew deep in my heart that there was a heaven watching over us.
" I believe in love. I believe in music."
October 31, 2010
Cliff Carter , " Mr. Nostalgia "
The Gentleman at the Piano
His Claim to Fame
Cliff Carter saved the life of W.C. Handy when he fell onto the subway tracks.
He participated in a pageant celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Emancipation Declaration: Booker T. Washington was present at that event.
Cliff's grandmother and great-grandmother were teachers at Hampton College where Booker T. Washington was a student.
As a young lad, Cliff sat to lunch at Mrs. Pickenpack's apartment with Matthew Henson, the man who trained the dogs and led Robert Peary to the North Pole on April 6, 1909.
He ran foot races with Jessie Owens in the park.
He lived in the home of Fats Waller's sister. He filled in for Billie Holliday.
He played for Princess, (later Queen) Elizabeth and Prince Phillip in Montreal.
Cliff's godfather, Charles Luckyth " Lucky" Roberts wrote Moonlight Cocktails.
Cliff made pancakes for Bing Crosby when he would come to rehearse at Lucky's home.
At Lucky's house, Cliff met Sigmund Romberg, George Gershwin and other great artists. George Gershwin came to Lucky to ask his help with some of the difficult fingering for Rhapsody in Blue.
Godfather, Lucky, and Godmother, Lena, were stars in Sissel and Blake shows.
Cliff retrieved Lucky's diamond ring, repeatedly lost in gambling to Bojangles Robinson.
He met Enrico Caruso and knew his daughter, Gloria.
He won trophies for his ballroom dancing.
He set an unofficial foot-racing record for the Newark, New Jersey, Athletic Club.
Cliff invented a sepia solution which he sold to Eastman ( before Kodak), for $100.00.
He was a chef on the old Penn Railroad when everything was cooked from scratch.
He sang with Art Tatem at the piano.
He was probably the first Black person to appear on stage at the Hippodrome Theatre.
He taught himself to play the piano at the age of thirty-seven - just by watching.
His repertoire consisted of approximately 3000 songs, but he did not read music.
Cliff could play ANY piece of music immediately upon hearing it for the first time.
He composed several songs, some of which appear on his only commercial album,
"Cliff Carter, Mr. Nostalgia" . RCA Records. 1982.
Cliff recorded this album for Thrill of a Lifetime-CTV, just weeks before his 80th birthday.
He learned to drive a car when he was in his mid-fifties.
He worked on a cattle boat to South Africa with his friend, son of a Zulu Chieftain.
He polished torpedoes in WW I.
He saw Houdini perform his straight-jacket escape while hanging high above the pavement in New York City by a single rope.
He was acclaimed for his elegant penmanship and was chosen to inscribe graduation certificates for a famous American naval academy.
Cliff had his own radio shows in Montreal in the 1950's.
He made numerous radio and television appearances in Montreal and in New York City.
More about Clifford John Manning Carter
Cliff Carter played piano and sang from Java to Broadway, where he had his own band.
Cliff's personal friends of long-standing included Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Cozy Coles, Art Tatem, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Louis Armstrong and Billy Daniels.
He was also associated with Sarah Vaughan , Dorothy Lamour (whom he always called "Dottie"), Lena Horne, Liberace, W.E.B. Dubois, Mae West, Nat King Cole, Percy Rodriguez, The Mills Brothers and so many others.
Cliff visited Germany at the time of Von Hindenberg.
He was a professionally qualified portrait photographer and earned his living doing fine embroidery and bead-work.
Cliff saw Halley's Comet in 1911, but we both missed it in 1986 due to overcast skies.
Cliff and I first met when I was about eleven years old. It was my dream to sing love songs with Cliff Carter, but I never seriously believed that some 25 years later, we would be married. We lived and loved and sang together for almost 20 years. His smile was like sunshine, his voice like honey. Cliff was adored by everyone he met. He was a gracious, easy-going gentleman in the best of times and in the worst of times.
Recognition by Thrill of a Lifetime and RCA records was a major highlight in both our lives. Another came in the Autumn of 1986 when Cliff Carter and The Sheba performed in the Parliament of Canada at the Black Orpheus Gala for the Harambi Foundation.
Cliff Carter left us on March 25, 1992, eleven days before his 90th birthday.
The world has never been as lovely since then.
|Label: RCA Victor KKL1-0445|
|Item Number: 15-70577|
|Release Country: Canada|
|Release Date: 1982|
For more about Cliff Carter, see
MR. NOSTALGIA, CLIFF CARTER