A Tribute to Black History at Forest Hills Stadium
by Michael Perlman
Feb 27, 2018 | 1625 views | 0 0 comments | 30 30 recommendations | email to a friend | print
The Four Tops in 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival booklet, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
The Four Tops in 1968 Forest Hills Music Festival booklet, Courtesy of Rego-Forest Preservation Council
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As Black History Month comes to a close, it's a good time to look back at the African-American artists who graced the stage at Forest Hills Stadium.

On August 5, 1961, Ella Fitzgerald fans afforded the opportunity for what was considered excellent seats ranging from $2.25 to $4.50. For the July 13, 1963 engagement, Rolls-Royce limousines accommodated press representatives to and from Manhattan. She performed with Dave Brubeck, and adding to the character of the concert experience was the widespread scent of “My Sin," relating to the title of her song. A July 18 “Jet” publication read, “in keeping with a new arrangement by the producers wherein each night, prior to the performance, the Forest Hills Stadium will be sprayed throughout with the perfume.”

Ray Charles was welcomed by thunderous applause on August 3, 1963. Program numbers ranged from a hushed “The Thrill is Gone” to a swinging “Don’t Set Me Free.” He was accompanied by a 17-piece orchestra and The Raelettes. On August 27, 1966, Charles set a box office record at the Forest Hills Music Festival.

“The world has known two authentic musical geniuses, one was Beethoven and the other is Ray Charles,” Sammy Davis, Jr. was once quoted as saying.

Johnny Mathis’ August 4, 1962, concert featured hits “Misty,” “Wild Is The Wind” and “Come To Me.” His August 10, 1963, show marked his only New York appearance that year. He donated half of his earnings to Reverend Martin Luther King’s Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

On August 21, 1965, Mathis performed several numbers with a chorus of 18 talented children known as the Young Americans and a 30-piece orchestra. Mathis also performed in 1961, 1962, 1964 and 1967.

In 1966, a 15-year-old Stevie Wonder played the harmonica, piano, and drums, The Supremes showcased their highly polished and sophisticated singing, and The Temptations boasted graceful choreography and great voices.

An ad from the summer of 1966 read “You don’t have to fly to San Juan; You don’t have to drive to Kiamesha Lake; ‘cause you can see Sammy Davis (Jr.) with Count Basie and His Orchestra and Jay & The Americans right here at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium.” From July 17 to July 19, 1965, nine-time Grammy winner Count Basie also opened for Frank Sinatra.

On July 8, 1966, William B. Williams, “the voice of WNEW Radio,” introduced Davis as the “world’s greatest entertainer.” During his second number, “Change Partners,” Davis carried a mic as he walked to the lawn distinguishing the stage and the audience.

Davis later starred in “Super Night at Forest Hills,” a 1977 televised musical comedy in which he was joined by Arthur Ashe, Alan King and Buddy Hackett portraying old-time Jewish tennis pros reuniting, and Andy Williams, who commemorated tennis through songs.

The Four Tops performed on July 29, 1967, energizing the stadium with one of the groups that helped popularize the sound of Motown of the 1960s. The Four Tops also appeared with Marvin Gaye and King Curtis and His Kingpins on August 24, 1968.

The Jimi Hendrix Experience opened for the Monkees from July 14 to July 16, 1967, which was unique since their styles were so distinctively different. On July 16, Hendrix threw down his guitar and exited Monkeemania, leaving tour promoter Dick Clark speechless.

During one of his performances, he urged concertgoers to sing along with “Foxy Lady,” but instead they screamed “Foxy Davy,” referencing Davy Jones of the Monkees.

Hendrix left the tour amicably. It was not a total loss, since his hit “Purple Haze” climbed the U.S. singles chart.

Pop singer Nancy Wilson and the 5th Dimension opened the ninth season of the Forest Hills Music Festival on June 22, 1968. They were recognized for their repertoire, ranging from soul to pop, and their rich harmonies. The group also performed on August 16, 1969.

Diana Ross and the Supremes appeared with Stevie Wonder and Shorty Long on August 3, 1968. Ross served as hostess and gave the stage to Long, performer of “Here Comes The Judge” and “Never Going To Give You Up.”

Wonder followed with a routine noted for its groovy pace, followed by Ross and the Supremes, who performed a medley consisting of “Stop in The Name of Love,” “Come See About Me” and “Love Is Here.”

Dionne Warwick appeared with Sam & Dave, a soul and R&B duo, on July 12, 1969. On July 23, 1977, concertgoers were greeted with a large package on stage. When it was torn opened, Ross emerged.

“She asked a young man in the audience who was wearing a ‘Diana is Dorothy in the Wiz” sweatshirt to dance with her, and he, overwhelmed and willing, did just that,” read a review of the show in the NY Amsterdam.

A fan could purchase a $20 ticket for a box seat for “A Summer Night’s Dream” on July 27 and July 28, 1979, featuring “Queen of Disco” Donna Summer and special guest Brooklyn Dreams. The sold-out concerts featured her hits “I Feel Love,” “Last Dance,” “Hot Stuff,” “Love To Love You Baby” and “Bad Girls.”

That same month, the five-time Grammy winner topped the Hot 100 singles chart, Billboard 200 albums chart, and the Soul singles chart.
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