This week the nation celebrates the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the moon. Big kids and little kids waved the American flag and cheered as astronaut Neil Armstrong uttered those famous words: “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But another Apollo was celebrated last Saturday night at Union Chapel, when the Martha’s Vineyard Film Festival screened an amazing two-hour-plus documentary on Harlem’s storied Apollo Theater. Directed by Oscar-winner Roger Ross Williams, this film covers the early fortunes and misfortunes of the theater, before drilling down from 1934 to today.

On November 21, 1934 Apollo hosted its Amateur Night, where unknown and hopeful performers were judged by the audience in a gladiators-in-Rome environment. The winner that night was the immortal Ella Fitzgerald, who forgot her words and began to scat to fill in. This creative response became part of her distinctive style for the rest of her career.

Nola Whiteman, Hobart and Ernestine Price, Walter and Cheryle Lowe, Lynn and David Edmonds, Revs. Ray and Gloria Hammond, Ed and Claudia Swan, Hank Bell, Donald and Deb Reeves and Leon and Brenda Braithwaite joined Flash and Bennie Wiley and so many others for this must-see film. The screening was preceded by music from Sabrina, George Davis and others.

Charlayne Hunter Gault guided the post-film feedback with the director and producer. An ebullient eight year old from the audience wondered why it was named the Apollo, which stumped the panel. The audience learned that the Greek god Apollo is the god of music and dance as well as sun and light, merging the legacies of the astronauts and the legions of entertainers who began their careers on that famous Harlem stage.

Less than 24 hours later Union Chapel hosted its Sunday services, with Rev. Liz Walker from Roxbury Presbyterian Church in the pulpit. Rev. Walker spoke on her front line ministry, serving families who had lost loved ones in street violence. Her work both in her church and in her broader community endears her to many here on the Vineyard. Close friends Lynette and Skip Griffin hosted her on-Island.

Grandkids are heading home after celebrating the Fourth with friends and family. Hudson and Austin Jackson, Ryan Shannon, Kendall Bowen, Cece and Margot Venable, Walker and Ronan Hornsby, Jackson Hornsby, Mark Allen and Zion Couch, Mia Russell and Logan Taylor Ellerson played on the Inkwell beach, following in the footsteps of their parents and grandparents. Legacies and new beginnings keep giving life to the beach made famous by the Shearers, Colemans, Evans and so many others. Missed this summer season was Tyler Jackson Ellerson, off at a hiking and survival camp in Washington. Charlene and Ronald Carroll took their grands to London and Paris.

We’re thinking also of those not able to step into this history. Jillian Slatas died in 2016, at the age of 26, from an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl. Her addiction started after being prescribed with tramadol for abdominal pains. Her father Alan has launched the nonprofit, Jillian’s Angelic Dreams, promoting and raising money for alternative treatment programs on the Cape and Islands. All are encouraged to support the fundraiser on July 28, with a dinner, auction and concert at the Tabernacle. The tastings will come from restaurants like Atria and the Red Cat Kitchen among others. Tickets are available through

My nephew, Edward Taylor Coombs, passed in 2011 at the age of 19, when a car driven by one of his friends crashed. A rising sophomore at Marist College, Edward is now celebrated through the Edward Taylor Coombs Foundation, through which over $250,000 of scholarship funds have been awarded to student athletes. On Monday, July 22 we will tee off at the Commonwealth Club in Horsham, Penn. to remember his days on the Vineyard and the promise of so many young people.

Paradise on earth is living the Vineyard experience. Enjoy it, as life is fleeting!

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