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.”
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.