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.

Header Photo

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

On the Map

 
Photo Above

Aaron Bridgers and Billy Strayhorn with Billie Holiday at Café Society Uptown in an undated photo. Source: Queer Music Heritage website.

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.

Hosted by YouTube

Other Sites in the Neighborhood

103-105 West 135th Street, Manhattan

135th Street Branch, New York Public Library

Cultural & Educational Institutions
253 West 125th Street, Manhattan

Apollo Theater

Performance Venues
20 East 127th Street, Manhattan

Langston Hughes Residence

Residences