The better half of the Doo-wop group “Made In Brooklyn”, Lisa Howard had this to say about her Brooklyn childhood: “My mother dragged me kicking and screaming to Queens, but I kept going back to Brooklyn because that’s where my friends were, that’s where my heart was.”
By Palmer Hasty
Lisa Howard was born in 1950 and grew up at 431 Berriman Street in East New York, just south of New Lots Avenue where she and her parents lived in a three-family house with her grandparents.
“It was a tough area,” she said, “at the time I was growing up it was, well, let me just say that I grew up in the middle of a Martin Scorsese movie. There were gang wars and lots of fights for street turf and things of that nature, but we were a close knit group of kids and many of them are friends of mine to this day.”
She continued: “We were poor but we didn’t know it because as kids we had everything we needed. We entertained ourselves by hanging out in the park, playing handball, singing on the street corners, having parties in the basement, and until we were old enough to get into a bar, we hung out in the pizzerias, and that’s basically how I grew up.”
BE: Did you really sing on the street corners?
LH: “That’s partially an expression. We didn’t sing in the street for money. We did it strictly because we liked the way it sounded. Where I grew up there were some large apartment buildings and they had these wonderful lobbies…the echo was great. You could go into a lobby and often find a couple of guys or a couple of girls harmonizing. When I first heard them doing that I was mesmerized…I just loved the blend of the voices, it was totally acapella of course…I was so taken with it at such a young age…listening to the guys and the girls on the street corners or in the lobbies, that’s what got me interested, and passionate about music.”
BE: So you’re talking about Doo-wop, like “In the Still Of The Night?”
LH: “Exactly. That’s what we sang, the doo wop music. That’s what I grew up with and that’s the music I still love today. I do other kinds of music but that’s where my heart is. I’m a great harmonizer. I learned it at an early age. I’m known for that and lucky for Rick and I down here in Naples the people in my age group remember that music and love it, so we have a pretty good following.”
BE: You were a good handball player?
LH: “Oh yea, most of the girls were. We played handball in New Lots Park on Elton Street. That was our home turf, and we played just as good as the boys. It was during that time that we also hung out in the pizzerias, when you could get a slice and a soda for 25 cents.”
BE: Then you moved away?
LH: “Yes, I lived in that section of East New York until I was 13. Then my mother dragged me kicking and screaming to Queens. But I kept going back to Brooklyn because that’s where my friends were, that’s where my heart was…so in my mind and heart I never really left Brooklyn, and eventually, when I was 30, I did move back to Brooklyn.”
BE: When did you get involved with the New York music scene?
LH: When I was in her early 20s I started an all female band called Artemis. Artemis was a six-piece band and one of only two all female bands in New York at the time. In fact, the well known clinical psychologist Dr. Judy Kuriansky played bass for us.
“She was my base player…we put an ad in the Village Voice and she answered it. We played in 1974 for the first time at Trudy Heller’s in Manhattan…that was our first gig and we made $24 dollars each. I don’t remember precisely how often, but we played at Trudy Heller’s a lot. I remember we would play six sets till 3 in the morning.”
BE: Sounds like you made it big locally?
LH: “Artemis became a very popular musical act in New York during the 70s. We played seven nights a week. I think the fact that we were all female had a little to do with our popularity. (Howard laughed) But we were good, playing all over Manhattan. We played regularly in the Copacabana. It was a fun time, we had a ball. The only problem for me was I always had a day job.”
BE: What kind of work did you do?
LH: “I worked in the Air Freight industry at JFK Airport for 30 years. I refused to give up a great job with a pension and health benefits, so the rigorous schedule of a full time job and performing music gigs until the early morning hours eventually exhausted me.
We were in such demand, playing 7 nights a week. It was exciting, but it was bad for me and good for me at the same time.”
BE: So when did you meet Rick?
LH: “I met Rick in 1984. By then I was singing with another group called Mirage. At the time Rick also had a popular New York area band called Music Box. The two bands happened to have the same booking agent. A friend of mine insisted I hear Music Box, and that’s when I met him. Rick played guitar, keyboard, and bass. I liked his music. When Mirage needed a substitute bass player for a gig in Long Island I called Rick and that’s when the friendship began and then the romance started. All the time we were in New York Rick and I never worked together regularly, he had his group and I had my group.”
BE: You said you quit the music scene when you got married?
LH: “Yes I did. We got married in 1992. That’s when I stopped my involvement with the New York music scene. I knew that if I kept doing my music and working my day job…which had the pension and medical benefits, thank you very much, I wouldn’t have any time to go hear Rick. That’s what I really wanted to do.”
(She laughed) “At that point I stopped singing and basically became a groupie, I became the den mother for Music Box.”
BE: How did you decide to move to Naples, Florida?
LH: “We moved down here 8 years ago. Back in New York I was blessed…my job allowed me to retire at 48 and I knew I wanted to get back into music. Rick was somewhat burned out, he had been playing and travelling non-stop, doing the wedding circuits and private clubs. During the off-season, right after the new year the work was slow (and Rick had always wanted to live in a Tropical climate). At the same time a friend of ours who had a house down here kept telling us we should visit Naples.”
BE: So what happened?
LH: “Our friend suggested we come down and stay at their house and make it a mini-vacation…check out the area…and that’s what we did. Rick got a gig for Prudential at the Ritz Carlton and we came down during the winter of 2004. We stayed for a week and we fell in love with the area.”
BE: How did “Made In Brooklyn” come about?
LH: “Back in New York, before we moved to Naples, I had already told Rick that I would not be comfortable if he kept doing what he loved to do, and I would be left out of the loop, so to speak.”
BE: And so you wanted to sing again?
LH: “Yes, absolutely, I was ready to go back to singing. I thought it would be good for us, and down here there were lots of duos who worked with tracks. That’s not really what my husband wanted to do because he loves to work live with his musicians, and tracks were something neither of us had ever done, but we worked it out. Rick would play the guitar with the other music on tracks, and the two of them would do the vocals.
That’s very popular down here. So I suggested we do this duo, while on the side he could do his jazz and blues projects. I wanted us to have a little something for ourselves. I came up with the name “Made in Brooklyn” because, well, literally we were, if you know what I mean?”
The Howards were living in a house on Staten Island at the time. Before they moved to Florida they worked out the songs and laid the tracks in advance. They wanted to be prepared to start working right away, and that’s exactly what happened.
As Lisa recalled: “We got here on Wednesday and by Friday we were working. We got here in July of 2006 and worked steadily until March 2007. Everything came to a standstill that first summer, but we learned to make hay while the sun shines. We’ve been very blessed, except for the summer time Rick works 7 nights a week. We’ve been blessed to be able to make a very good living down here and be part of a great musical community.”
All photos Courtesy of Rick and Lisa Howard.