Legend, Al Stiles crosses over

| January 11, 2014

FORT WAYNE—Last week marked the end of an era for Fort Wayne and the nation.

On Jan. 2, legendary performer, entrepreneur and community advocate Al Stiles made his transition at age 91. He was one of the last survivors of an era that could only be called the golden age of jazz and entertainment.

Stiles’ story is the stuff of legend. He initially left his home in Tampa, Fla., without his parents’ knowledge at the age of 12 to

Al Stiles

Al Stiles was presented with the Fort Wayne Urban League’s Honoring the Lions Award in 2006 for his many extraordinary contributions to the community. (File photo: Anita Dortch)

pursue his dream of performing in New York. He and his nine-year-old “band partner” Nathaniel Reese succeeded in securing an audition for the then-famed Major Bowles Amateur Hour radio program, subsequently winning the competition, thus beginning Stiles’ long and storied entertainment career. Throughout his travels as a dancer, singer and songwriter, he performed and shared strong friendships with some of the world’s greatest entertainers including Lionel Hampton, Josephine Baker, Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Sammy Davis Jr., Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holiday.

In 1971, Stiles relocated to Fort Wayne, where he and his wife began raising a family. While he curbed his itinerant career, Stiles kept busy in the music business, owning a record shop and a record company for which he wrote and produced songs and recordings, hosting a radio program and later founding the Talent Factory—a training facility and program for budding entertainers, with Stiles sharing the benefit of his knowledge and experience. Additionally, he worked as a labor leader, being perhaps the first black man to head the local level of a national labor union, and eventually put his entrepreneurial spirit to work with his longstanding business, Al Stiles’ World’s Best Shoeshine—a long familiar fixture and gathering spot on the corner of Anthony Boulevard and Wayne Street.

He also served on a number of boards and commissions, always advocating for the “everyday person’s” position. In an upcoming edition, Frost Illustrated will chronicle Stiles’ life and work in the community and gather comments from just a few of the thousands of people upon whom Stiles’ life had a positive impact.

This week, renowned poet and community Elder Brother Omowale-Ketu Oladuwa pays tribute to Mr. Stiles:

Lite of the Talent Factory

For Elder Brother Al Stiles

By Omowale-Ketu Oladuwa

 

Legends are with us only for a season

And then, like smoke

They vanish leaving behind the essence of their lite

Those bright sunbeams of inspiration

That touch hearts and inform our education.

 

That lite developed during the real hard times

Al Stiles

(File photo: Mel Johnson)

When Jim Crow reigned, and Strange Fruit hung

And our people learned to hold one another with a fierceness

To which their artists bore witness

And our identity was a lesson in principle

That challenges us today

To be the very best that we can be.

 

Our Elder Brother

You rode The A-Train with the wave of pre- and post-war stars

Glittering in the heaven defined by our experience

You not least among artists

Whose warmth and enlivened brilliance still bedrock our culture

With god-given resilient grace.

Culture that’s grown unto this fourth and fifth generation

And if we are judicious, we will pass on to our progeny.

 

The Lady Days and Lionel Hamptons

The Apollo stage in the heart of Harlem

That you brought back, planted and grew at the Three Rivers

Where understanding who you were gave rise to the first note

The first dance tap, the first word

That told the story of what we’ve been thru

And to where we must journey to be

In these latter days of challenge.

 

Your Talent Factory, Elder Brother, never promoted despair

And always had a helpful word and a healing hand.

 

You journeyed over 90 years

To be a man who saw and served

And gave his gifts to raise up others

 

We beat the drum now and give heart to sing

In praise of your years and your life

And our legacy.

 © 2014 Omowale-Ketu Oladuwa all rights reserved

Click here to read the full obituary

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Category: Local, Obituaries

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Frost Illustrated is Fort Wayne's oldest weekly newspaper. Your Independent Voice in the Community, featuring news & views of African Americans since 1968.

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