Tuesday, October 7, 2014

An Artist, a Gentleman, a Cheshire Cat

Geoffrey Holder (1930- 2014)

I remember my first road trip to NYC with some friends in college. While seeing the sites we stopped in one of the fancy department stores. As a bunch of scruffy college boys from central PA we were promptly (and probably deservedly) given the stink eye by the staff and patrons.

While ducking their daggers I saw this Giant of a man casually looking at ties. I recognized him but didn't really know who he was. He had a grace about his movements even in such a ridiculously mundane and pedestrian moment as this. My friends saw me gawking and dared me to go ask for his autograph. I didn't have any paper let alone a pen and poked around in the nearest store trash can until I found something - a torn of piece of a Lord and Taylor bag - good enough! I haltingly walked up to him and he looked down at me (he was taller than anyone there of course) and he smiled and offered a friendly "Hello" in that booming voice.

I held up my scrap of paper and asked if he would sign it. He was most gracious. His molasses thick low voice asking "Do you have.. a PEN?" sounded like Shakespeare. I don't think I even said anything and he glided over and asked the clerk at the counter (who really didn't like me at this point but was VERY polite to Mr Holder). He asked me my name and signed my scrap. Then he leaned over and before I could squeak out anything he shook my hand and HE said "Thank you" to me. You know how people sometimes describe movie stars or performers as having personality or charisma that lights up a room? Well, he had that.

I knew him from his movies and TV commercials (Co-Co- Casa CREAM of Coconut!) but I didn't even know his real name. When I figured it out (this was before internet kids!) sure enough, I had the autograph of Geoffrey Holder. I was what you could call a fan ever since. I remember smiling at the screen when I saw him as the Cheshire Cat on PBS. And of course he got to show off his iconic playful Baron Samedi as the villain from the Bond film Live and Let Die.

The more I learned the more I was in awe of this artist. He was not just a dancer but a ground breaking choreographer and director. He was a painter, photographer, award winning costumer designer, and, of course, a philosopher. In 2005 a documentary of the lives of Geoffrey and his wife, dancer Carmen DeLavallade,  was released titled Carmen and Geoffrey. You can find information on it via IMDB here
As you can see above I still have the autograph.  When I look at it and remember my brief encounter with him I always smile. He didn't need to be so kind and patient to a strange young man while shopping in a crowded store but he was. 

I suppose if you've read this far you're wondering what any of this has to do with synthesizers or sound. I suppose I could shoehorn in my fascination with his unique delivery and voice and claim his melodic manner of speaking was a form of music in and of itself. He certainly elevated everything he did from 7up commercials to the classics with his instrument. 

But the bottom line is he simply was every bit as inspirational and creative in his multi-disciplinary pursuits as any of the other artists I admire and mention in this blog and, like he once did with me, I wanted to share. 

Thank you,  and Dance in Peace Mr Holder.

A good starting place for those interested in his life and work can be found in today's New York Times piece here: