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.
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.
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.
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.
Architect or Builder: Adolph Hoak Year Built: 1887-90
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]
Christopher D. Brazee/NYC LGBT Historic Sites Project, 2016.