Growing up, I only thought of Queens as the place where the planes land before catching the first taxi out of there to New York City. Fast forward many years, I know find myself living in the borough of Queens rather than New York City. I wanted to share with you some things about Queens that my friends from The Queens Economic Development Corporation shared with me this week. You just might find that you won’t be just spending time at the New York airports on your next visit to Queens. In fact, I have not even discovered some of these facts and I’ve lived in Queens almost 10 years.
Louis Armstrong traveled the Wonderful World, but there was no place like his Corona home. For those who have not been to the Louis Armstrong House Museum, you’re missing out on some great music and Jazzed-up wallpaper. Astoria native Tony Bennett might have left his heart in San Francisco, but now that he’s in his 80s, his hometown is No Stranger to Paradise and he’s one of the biggest supporters of the Frank Sinatra High School, whose auditorium bears his name.
And I just can’t resist, the high school is only three blocks from Steinway Street, former hatchery of the world’s best piano, as Billy Joel and Harry Connick Jr. might tell you. Astoria is clearly a musical incubator as the late great icon Ethel Merman grew up in the neighborhood. I suspect she’d be proud to know that No Business Like Show Business has put Western Queens on the map with two of the greatest East Coast studios, Kaufman Astoria and Silvercup, pumping millions of dollars into the local economy.
The world’s most prolific Salsa band, Grupo Niche, hails from Colombia, but the ensemble has played in Queens nightclubs so many times that one of their hits, “No Muero Mañana,” describes Jackson Heights streets. Los Niches, as they are affectionately known, have also filmed music videos featuring the 7 Train.
In the Kew Gardens area, two guys named Simon and Garfunkel — which sounds more like an accounting firm — made history with their groovy tune highlighting Our Most Famous Bridge before Ed Koch crossed it. On a wonderfully subversive note, the Ramones, who met at Forest Hills High School, showed us another side of Queens — most notably the one you find if you Hitch a Ride to Rockaway Beach.
Many years ago, I had privilege of helping organize the first ever Hollis Avenue Street Fair. Who knew that a few guys at that event calling themselves Run DMC would become the pioneering masters of a genre and rap about Christmas in Hollis? In Woodhaven, little Cyndi Lauper grew up and made a big name for herself, reminding all of us that Girls — actually, all of us — Need to Have a Little Fun. Last but not least, Sri Chinmoy left this world in 2007, but the Indian spiritual teacher still relates to students in some 60 countries around the world through music, meditation and poetry from his cultural center’s Jamaica headquarters.