Billy Strayhorn & Aaron Bridgers Residence

315 Convent Ave New York

LGBT Harlem: In the Life/Billy Strayhorn & Aaron Bridgers Residence
NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project
Written By NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project

The first initiative to document historic and cultural sites associated with the LGBT community in New York City, illustrating the richness of the city's history and the community's influence on America.

Overview

Jazz great Billy Strayhorn lived here with his partner, jazz pianist Aaron Bridgers, from 1939 to 1948, though Strayhorn stayed until 1950. During these years, the openly gay Strayhorn forged his collaboration with composer Duke Ellington and wrote “Take the A Train” and other compositions.

History

The great jazz composer/arranger Billy Strayhorn (1915-1967) lived in a ground-floor apartment in this Harlem rowhouse at 315 Convent Avenue with his partner, jazz pianist and composer Aaron Bridgers (1918-2003), from 1939 to 1948. Strayhorn stayed here until 1950 after Bridgers moved to Paris.

At the age of 23, Strayhorn got a job with the legendary Duke Ellington, and they remained highly successful collaborators for the next three decades. Strayhorn, however, lived in the older and more famous man’s shadow publicly, one reason being that he was one of the rare men in the jazz world to be openly gay.

“…the most amazing thing of all about Billy Strayhorn to me was that he had the strength to make an extraordinary decision – that is, the decision not to hide the fact that he was homosexual. And he did this in the 1940s, when nobody but nobody did that.” -- friend of Billy Strayhorn, date unknown

During his years in this house, Strayhorn wrote “Take the A Train,” “Lush Life,” and “Lotus Blossom,” as well as most of the music for the musicals Beggar’s Holiday and Jump for Joy. Other city residences associated with Strayhorn include 409 Edgecombe Avenue in 1938 and 310 Riverside Drive in 1961.

Bridgers studied classical piano, but later switched to jazz after hearing the music of famed jazz pianist Art Tatum, who would become his teacher. In 1948, he left New York for Paris, where he took on his first professional engagement as a pianist. He appeared in the movie Paris Blues in 1961.

Building Information

Architect or Builder: Adolph Hoak Year Built: 1887-90

Sources

Christopher D. Brazee, Gale Harris, and Jay Shockley, “150 Years of LGBT History,” New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (June 2014). David Hajdu, Lush Life: A Biography of Billy Strayhorn (New York: North Point Press, 1996). [source of pull quote, p. 79]

Cover Photo

Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.

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LGBT Harlem: In the Life

Billy Strayhorn & Aaron Bridgers Residence

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