Samuel Hargress Jr. is the owner and manager of the Paris Blues bar in Harlem, New York. Paris Blues is one of the few remaining old bars in the neighborhood. On Saturday nights, the bar attracts a cast of characters that could have come from Cheers, Harlem-style. Customers don their godfather hats, snakeskin leather shoes, and 1940's styled zoot suits. From 20's jazz to 90's funk, the customers get down on the small dance floor.
The regulars consider themselves family. Enrique "Henry" Justiniano is a fixture at the bar from where he watches the action on the dance floor, goblet of rose wine stacked with ice in hand. A former shoe shine and repair man, Enrique has been Sam's close friend for 35 years.
Sue Kelly, the bar manager, keeps customers in line when they try to take advantage of Sam's good nature. Sam's "adopted daughter," Gilda Courtney always attracts a large crowd to the bar. You'll have to watch to see why.
In a neighborhood where rapid development is underway and condos now sell for $2 and $3 million dollars, Paris Blues is one of the few places to weather the change. Sam's personal history parallels many of the changes throughout the past 50 years. Growing up in Hale County, Alabama, he witnessed everything from the civil rights movement to the looting and rioting in Harlem after Martin Luther King Jr. was shot.
While experiencing dramatic changes around him, Sam created a timeless place where people could seek refuge and unwind amongst friends. That's why they call him Mr. Blues.
Mr. Blues is a product of the MediaStorm Storytelling Workshop, where participants work alongside MediaStorm staff to create an intimate, character-driven documentary in just one week. Learn more about upcoming MediaStorm workshops and online training at mediastorm.com/train.Published:
November 29, 2010