A reader sent in the sad news that Harlem legend Bobby Robinson passed away last Friday. "He was 93," reported the Daily News, "and had been ill for several years--though he regularly went to work at his shop until it was forced to close in January 2008."
That shop was Bobby's Happy House. It closed, ironically, on Martin Luther King's birthday in 2008. It was quickly stripped and boarded up, readied to be razed, along with its neighbors, to create a new shopping mall.
The Happy House had been going strong for more than 60 years before it was felled. As the Times reported in Mr. Robinson's obituary, the shop "became a treasured Harlem institution for a half century. The store spawned a remarkable recording business that helped launch artists from rhythm and blues giants like Gladys Knight and the Pips to the rap stars Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five."
It was also "one of the last old-time stores to battle the neighborhood’s relentless gentrification, albeit unsuccessfully."
When I visited the store soon before its closure, after the neighborhood rallies and petitions could not save it, I found a place with a window full of memories--trophies, awards, autographed photos--with a television playing a 1980s video of Michael Jackson to a group of men who had gathered out front to dance, mirroring Michael's moves on the sidewalk, moonwalking and leaping to their toes. The place was alive.
I don't know what's there now. If the shop is still standing, boarded up, waiting for the economy to change, or if it's been demolished and replaced already with a big, glass box. Either way, the aliveness of the place is gone.
Places matter in people's lives. I think of elderly couples--how, oftentimes, when one dies the other soon follows, as if they cannot bear to be in the world without that person. And I wonder if this happens with people and the places where they have spent much of their lives, if the loss of these places accelerates sickness, hastens death.
Of course, Mr. Robinson's life goes on in the music and musicians he discovered, produced, and promoted. The shopping mall people can't take that away.
To pay your respects, Stupefaction gives us the details: "A memorial service for the legendary Harlem music entrepreneur Bobby Robinson will take place this Thursday, January 13, at the United House of Prayer for All People, 2320 Frederick Douglass Boulevard (Eighth Avenue) @ 125th Street. The viewing is from 3:00 - 6:00 pm, with the service to follow."