As we head into the weekend of romance, let’s pause a minute to remember the super song stylings of local jazz great Alma Fortez (Alma L. Johnson), who died Jan. 28 at age 81. My particular memory involves toddler-free dinner and dancing at The Plantation House with Alma sounding better (and looking better in sequins) than women half her age.
Memorial services are at 1 p.m. Saturday (Feb. 13) at Trinity AME Zion Church, 203 Oak St., Binghamton. Sympathy messages can be left at the obituary section of www.pressconnects.com, but we at BAMirror would also like you to share your memories here of Alma, Billy Fuster and other greats of the onetime stellar Binghamton jazz scene.
February 17, 2010 at 12:41 am
I am deeply saddened to learn of Alma’s passing. A glorious voice silenced!
I had the supreme pleasure of interviewing her for the Press & Sun-Bulletin in 2006. She enthralled me with stories of her long career, from touring with Billy Ford and the Thunderbirds on their USO gigs to being part of Alan Freed’s Big Beat tour with Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly. She remarked how there was this singer on the tour who’d always get in the way backstage because he was in love with one of the performers, Jo-Ann Campbell. That singer’s name? Bobby Darin!
She played the Apollo Theater (where she became good friends with comedienne Moms Mabley) and did the “chitlin’ circuit” as a solo artist. She sang with Louis Jordan, Dizzy Gillespie and Duke Ellington.
Here’s one of my favorite anecdotes from the interview:
“In Detroit with Louis Jordan, I had to dress in the basement of the club. Louis started playing my introduction. One of the guys came downstairs and said, ‘Hey, Alma, guess who’s in the audience? Ella (Fitzgerald)!’ Well, I tell you, I started shaking.
“They came back down for me, and I was just standing there. They went upstairs and told Louis I was frozen. Louis said, ‘C’mon, she’s a wonderful woman, and she just can’t wait to hear you sing.’ So they dragged me up there.
“I got up there and didn’t look at nobody. She was sitting right in front. I just froze. After they played the introduction, she stood up and said, ‘Come on.’ So I started singing but didn’t look at her. The audience started clapping and I got through it.
“When I finished, I sat at the table with her, her friends and her people. She kept talking to me, she was rubbing my back and saying, “‘ou’re gonna be all right. Don’t you worry about a thing. I was the same way, too, when I was young.'”
Alma was a class act and terrific entertainer. We were so blessed to have her living and performing among us.
— Mary Pat Hyland
February 18, 2010 at 11:37 am
I did not know Alma had passed. I first heard her about 1986 when she was singing with (Billy Fuster) I believe, at the Sheraton Inn. Wow — what a classy classy lady; the “epitome” of jazz and class. I loved her vocals and loved Alma. Does she have a star on the walk in Binghamton? If not,let’s get her one. The lady was so very special; Godspeed, Alma; you’re with the jazz greats now.