The "Shim Sham Shimmy Man"
Entertainer, dancer, producer, writer, composer, teacher, coach and more.
- May 6 2000, Leonard Reed Day
- Rusty Frank's book and video tape
Leonard Reed is 111 years old.
Talking with Leonard Reed:
Leonard at his piano looking through his song notebook. Songs he has written.
Video from this visit:
A Song: "Now I Know"
and a funny bit: "I'll Be Your Band"
Courtesy Leonard Reed
In January of 1937 Leonard was in a serious auto accident while in a car owned by one of the relatives of his friend Joe Louis, the heavy weight. This accident lead to his 4F classification in World War II and therefore to his work with the USO, on tour to entertain troups.
Leonard loves the size of this headline which is much larger (and at the top of the page) than the headline about FDR's second-term inaugeration. The headline is from Saturday, January 23 1937 (the Chicago Defender).
The Orpheum Theater in its heyday. This was the second Orpheum and was constructed around 1900. It was torn down in 1961. Where it stood (1212 Baltimore) radio station KPHN now occupies a front window in that location, next to the Muehlbach hotel. It was from this theater that in 1923 or 1924 Leonard won a Charleston contest.
When the organizers of the contest realized that he was not white they decided not to pay Leonard his prize and instead brought in the strong-arm guys. He grabbed his prize money from the drawer and took off. The contest officials yelled "Catch that nigger!" and people started running to do just that. Of course Leonard was light of skin and the audience had just seen him win the contest. Leonard, running, also started yelling "Catch that nigger!"
Most of the people running to catch that "n..." assumed they were trying to help Leonard. They asked Leonard, "Which nigger?" and Leonard replied, "The one that got my money!" Once he got out of the theater Leonard headed for the train yard and hopped a freight for three days out of town before returning.
This is Barbara. Leonard and Barbara have been married since January 1951. I've replaced the flower in the original picture (of the picture) with a picture of a six-iron. When I gave them the picture they howled with laughter. This is a reminder of the start of their marriage and of Leonard's golfing. No sex while in the middle of competition. After she'd had enough of that, and after Leonard had told her that nothing compares to the satisfaction of hitting a six iron "that close" to the hole, it was finally time for intimacy. As Leonard got ready, Barbara said, "Stroke your six-iron!"
After nearly half a century of married life Barbara and Leonard are quite a team. Barbara was a beautiful young singer from Guatemala when they met. She sang in six languages. Leonard proposed to her in English. She remembers that when they first met she immediately didn't like him. They have been everywhere together. Through children, travels, productions.
They are one of the nicest and most gracious couples you'd ever like to meet.