Count Basie was a customer at the barbershop where I worked in the ‘60s. My barber chair was next to the owner’s chair. This man was a genius in putting in “The Perm,” he put in waves with the technical precision of an engineer! His hands seemed to float over the heads of famous people magically. I would look at him perm Count Basie’s hair with awe. It was like a movie with one of our two manicurists working on his fingernails and the shoeshine man working on his shoes. The Count was dapper, dressed to perfection.
The barbershop was on East 47th Street and South Park (which has been changed to Dr. Martin Luther King Drive) across the street from the famous Regal Theater, the Fuller Building, which housed Terry’s, a clothing store, and other small businesses. The Palm Tap, The Brass Rail, and other popular Lounges were in the conglomeration of companies on E. 47th Street. New cars, Cadillacs, Lincolns, Rolls, and other luxury cars were mingled in the heavy traffic with CTA Buses on E. 47th Street.
There were restaurants serving fried fish, chitterlings, chicken, and Chinese food. All kinds of shops from pawnshops to fancy clothing stores, taverns and liquor stores, hotels, and barbecue joints. The pedestrian traffic was clothed in the latest styles. The natural hairstyle was coming in favor and the higher and wider the bushy cut, the more popular. E. 47th Street was the in place! Smack dab in the midst of all that Jessie Jackson was opening Operation P. U. S. H. upstairs over our barbershop and other stores which included a popular restaurant, “Chancelots.”
It was an amazing time. I was learning my profession, and the Civil Rights Struggle was mingling with protesters against Vietnam. Feeling militant about racial injustices, I went upstairs to join P.U.S.H. on my lunch hour one day, but Jesse Jackson wasn’t there. I never went back. Jessie used to look in our storefront window on occasion. All the Barber’s had customers those times, and he moved along. He eventually settled on a popular barbershop out South.
I, too, eventually moved on to another barbershop with very interesting customers and a fantastic owner whose wife was a model and a close friend of the wife of Muhammed Ali. That, my friends, is another story!