A frenetic drum and cymbal riff establishes the beat, followed by pulsating piano notes and warbling saxophone…
“Ol’ black magic has me in its spell,” he cries, raspy and high-pitched.
“Ol’ black magic that you weave so well,” she joins in, sultry and smooth. Then the Tidewater accent kicks in... “Well, ah should stay away but what can ah do…?”
There they are in a sound clip on youtube.com, Louis Prima and Keely Smith, in a recording that earned a Grammy award 50 years ago and, along with other hits, locked them into the memories of a generation.
Especially those who knew her as Dot Keely, a member of the Maury High class of 1946.
Answering a recent request for memories of old Hampton Roads, Leonard Frieden, a schoolmate of hers, wrote that Prima and his band came to play at the Surf Club at the Oceanfront. At the time, he said, the bandleader was searching for a vocalist because the one he recently hired turned out to have stage fright and quit. It was a Sunday tea dance.
“There were about a dozen or so of us guys and girls sitting at a long table enjoying the tea dance. We started to encourage Dot to go up and ask Louis Prima if she could sing for him since he had no vocalist. She finally mustered up the courage to go to the bandstand and offer to sing. As the old adage goes, the rest is history.”
Smith remembers the meeting differently, saying she was out on the beach and had to borrow a skirt and blouse to wear over her bathing suit when called to audition, but the time and place were the same.
Dorothy Jacqueline Keely, part Cherokee and part Irish, was born in Norfolk in 1928. (Official biographies put the date at 1932, but that would have made her a 14-year-old senior at Maury. She gave the later date in a recent interview.) She began performing at an early age, winning a spot with a local program, “Joe Brown and His Radio Gang.” By 14, she was singing for a Naval Air Station band. A school program for the “Maury Merry Minstrels of 1945” has her belting out a solo, “The Man I Love.” She didn’t have the stylish flip hairdo then, the one she became known for. A yearbook junior photo that same year shows a mop-haired girl sitting with her classmates.
“I always thought I’d grow up and have babies and I’d never leave Norfolk,” she recently told a radio interviewer.
But that all changed that Sunday afternoon in Virginia Beach.
When Prima, a wild, high-energy, performer, asked her to audition, she said, “I’m not your kind of singer.” But after she sang “Embraceable You” and “Sleepy Time Gal,” he hired her on the spot and they went on the road together. Eventually, after he divorced his third wife, they married.
At first, Prima and Smith – she changed her name after her mother remarried – had a rough time. They worked the Las Vegas night club scene, belting out songs from midnight to dawn. She did have babies, two daughters, and spent daylight hours raising them.
But their act, with him constantly clowning, and her straight-laced and reserved – began to catch on. They won their Grammy in 1959, the first ever for a vocal group, and had several other hit songs, including “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” and “Bei Mir Bis du Schon.” At their height, they were undisputed king and queen of the Vegas night club scene and were tight with Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and the rest of the “Rat Pack.” They hobnobbed with the Kennedys and she sang at his inauguration.
Smith and Prima split up in 1961. She credits Dinah Shore with helping restart her career. There followed several major albums, including the Grammy-nominated “Keely Sings Sinatra.” She’s still making appearances, most notably last year when she sang “That Old Black Magic” with Kid Rock at the Grammy Awards.
OK, now, all together:
…”In a spin, lovin’ that spin that ah’m in…”
From the CD Keely Smith, The Essential Capitol Collection
The Maury High School 1945 yearbook shows Dot Keely, center, with other home room juniors.
In mid-October 1609, George Percy, the hapless and sickly Jamestown leader, sent Captain John Ratcliffe and a contingent of men to Point Comfort “for to build a forte there” to guard against possible Spanish attacks. He named it “Algernourne Fort” in honor of a long-distant relative.
At first just a simple earthwork, but soon a sturdy, heavily armed wooden bastion, the fort endured. It was destroyed by fire and storms on numerous occasions, but its rebuilt ramparts presided over the entrance to Hampton Roads for decades.
That presence, 400 years ago this week, marked the real beginning of the city of Hampton, some contend. And more importantly, they believe, it established England’s maritime and commercial power in the new world. Not Jamestown, mind you, not that hellhole of pestilence and death, but this long-forgotten fortress.
This has been the theme of an ambitious symposium going on this weekend at Fort Monroe, the successor of the original outpost. Prominent scholars and archaeologists from around the region and beyond are there to share conclusions about the significance of this spot as the Army prepares to finally abandon it. Fittingly, the conference is sponsored by the Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority, the entity that has been shaping the plan for Fort Monroe’s future.
One of the most intriguing questions is whether any traces of the original fort can be found, and the more experts pronounce this impossible, the more William Kelso is convinced it isn’t.
Kelso, the director of archaeology for Preservation Virginia’s Jamestown Rediscovery, is credited with finding the remains of James Fort, which was assumed to have been lost to the James River. To those who say that Fort Algernourne (aka Algernoune and Algernon) can’t be found because Fort Monroe was built there, he laughs. “That sounds familiar. People said that about Jamestown. It’s not necessarily true that it’s gone.”
He assumes that, since the fort was built by the same folks who build James Fort, that it might be a similar three-sided structure, although smaller and not as elaborate.
Kelso believes there should be systematic excavations in likely places on the grounds of Fort Monroe that might lead to artifacts or signature markings by fort timbers. But before the first spade goes in the ground, there would have to be a thorough document review. “At the very least,” he adds, “I could prove it isn’t there.”
The importance of the fort, conference participants stress, is that wasn’t Jamestown. Dorothy Rouse-Bottom, a self-described “conference junky” who spearheaded the gathering, writes that it “introduced to the New World English maritime law, imposed the nascent customs system, regulated commerce, and enforced allegiance to the British crown. Most importantly, it created a visible symbol of England’s bid for sovereignty over vast stretches of the Atlantic shoreline.”
Karen Ordahl Kupperman, a New York University scholar who has written extensively about Jamestown, calls Algernourne “Virginia’s gateway to the Atlantic.”
One of the odd things about Jamestown, she says, is that many Americans still don’t see it as the beginning of their country, preferring the story of the pilgrims at Plymouth Rock. That’s because, aside from the period when John Smith was in charge, Jamestown was a dismal failure. “We focus so heavily on Jamestown, but if you start to look at places like Kecoughtan [the village near the fort]…what you see is the beginning of real communities.”
Fittingly, when Percy sent a detachment to build and occupy the fort, Jamestown was about to enter “the starving time,” the winter of 1609-10. Of the 500 or so men and women under his care, only about 60, mostly near cadavers, survived.
When the clueless Percy went to visit Point Comfort, he was amazed – and then outraged – to find the 40 or so men who occupied the fort were fat and healthy, living on fish, crabs and oysters, that they had used this bounty to feed their hogs and were hoarding the rest so they could escape and sail back to England, “not regarding our misery and wants at all.”
Instead of stringing them up, he announced that he’d send the Jamestown survivors to the fort – half at a time – to feed and cure them. If that didn’t work, he’d send them all at once.
But on the next tide, relief ships began arriving. And, although they almost pulled up stakes immediately to return to England, Lord De La Ware showed up and whipped the colony back into shape.
Percy then goes into a long description of how one of the starving colonists confessed – after being strung up by the thumbs – to killing his wife, chopping her up and eating her.
See what I mean about how unfun the Jamestown story is? Give me Fort Algernourne any time.
Illustration: Artist’s sketch of what Fort Algernourne might have looked like. Courtesy of the Casemate Museum.
The parchment version of the Declaration of Independence, handwritten and boldly signed, draws thousands of tourists each year to the National Archives in Washington. And rightly so. It is the official engrossed document that declared to the world that we were a free and independent people.
But look, if you have a chance, at the seemingly humble version of the Declaration that rests in a frame at the back of the entrance gallery of the Yorktown Victory Center. This is actually an earlier expression of our liberty, a media version, if you will, that spread the news among the people.
I didn’t realize this until last week when I went to look at what they call a broadside copy of the famous document, recently obtained by the Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation with the help of anonymous donors. There are a couple of other acquisitions, a French terracotta plaque of Benjamin Franklin, in fur cap, and a 1784 portrait of rosy cheeked Louis XVI whom Franklin persuaded to join the American cause.
But the riveting attraction, as we prepare to celebrate the 228th anniversary of the British surrender at Yorktown, is this “Declaration by the Representatives of the United States of America, in Congress Assembled.” It is printed in two columns on laid paper that is watermarked, with fine lines running across the grain. It’s slightly mottled, as you might expect, but remarkably well-preserved for a paper document that’s two-plus centuries old.
It was printed in Boston on about July 18, 1776, pretty fast when you consider how news was spread at the time, and way ahead of the official Declaration.
Here’s the sequence of events, if I’ve got this all right:
The delegates to the Second Continental Congress, meeting in Philadelphia, declare independence on July 2, 1776 and, two days later, approve the formal Declaration. That evening, a Philadelphia printer publishes dozens of copies and the next day these are rushed by currier to the legislatures of the 13 states.
Several newspapers reprint the Declaration and at the same time publish broadside (single-sided) copies that are posted throughout their cities. It is not until August 2 that the delegates in Philadelphia sign the handwritten version, pledging – no doubt with hearts in their throats – their lives, fortunes and sacred honor.
But by this time it is old news. General Washington has already had the document read before his army in New York. Large contingents of British troops are arriving to put down the rebellion. Colonists in every town in America have read, reread and debated just about every line of the provocative statement.
Its contents, denouncing the King of England and severing the bonds with the mother country, are inflammatory.
“It’s a lightning rod,” says senior curator Sarah Meschutt as we stand in the subdued lighting that shrouds the gold-framed document. “It was a voyage to an undiscovered country. It was tantamount to treason.”
OK, there’s the official Declaration of Independence in the nation’s capital. Only the signers, and a few others who witnessed the signing, saw it then. These copies were what We the People saw. And fled the country, or trembled and stayed.
The first definition of broadside is a sizeable sheet of paper printed on one side. But in revolutionary terms, it has another meaning that is equivalent to a warship presenting all of its guns on one side to an adversary and opening fire.
Illustration: Broadside copy of the Declaration of Independence on view at the Yorktown Victory Center. The Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation.
ONE OF THE MOST EXCITING FOOTBALL GAMES ever played by Old Dominion University or its distant relative, the Norfolk Division of the College of William and Mary, was the result of a misunderstanding.
The story begins with William and Mary, the parent school, fielding a pretty respectable team in 1929 and 1930. This doesn't go unnoticed by coaches at the University of Miami, who are looking for intersectional opponents.
They decide to invite the W&M Indians – now the Tribe – to play under the lights on Oct. 14, 1932. The problem is they send the invitation to the wrong address, Norfolk instead of Williamsburg, and the fledgling team responds enthusiastically.
I found this in the 1997 book, “Goal to Goal: 100 Seasons of William and Mary Football,” by Wilford Kale, Bob Moskowitz and Charles M. Holloway:
“According to school records, the invitation was mistakenly mailed to the William and Mary Norfolk Division. The division opened in 1930 and began playing football that fall under the nickname ‘The Braves’ to distinguish them for the Indians on the main campus and the Papooses, the W&M freshman team.”
The Norfolk team, essentially a two-year junior college, had done well in its first two years, although the Braves played mostly high school teams and squads of college freshmen. In fact, they had beaten the William and Mary frosh earlier that season, 13-0. But they hadn’t entertained the idea of playing a team from a four-year college.
“With the invitation from Miami came a contract already signed by the athletic officials there,” the book continues. “The W&M team in Norfolk was elated to have an opportunity to play a varsity squad from a big ‘name’ university and quickly accepted. It was not until later that anyone noticed that the letter had been misaddressed.”
In their new book on ODU football. “The Legacy Renewed,” Peter C. Stewart and Thomas R. Garrett note that Virginian-Pilot sports columnist W.N. “Bill” Cox, “thought (coach Tommy) Scott’s decision to play such a prestigious school ‘must be the exuberance of youth, the fitness of good health and other traits that go with being young and strong.’ While a more experienced coach might have balked at the idea, Scott readily accepted the invitation to journey with his youngsters to Florida by special train.”
They point out that the Miami Hurricanes were “a pretty low-level storm” at the time, not the powerhouse they are today, but still the product of a four-year university going up against a brand new junior college.
In any case, it was a great game.
The ‘Canes got off to a fast start, scoring in the first quarter, but the visitors blocked the extra point attempt. Then, the young upstarts “fought like tigers,” according to an account in The Miami Herald.
Mike Cavish, a 180-pound halfback, frequently broke through the Miami line, threatening to score. Then, as the story in The Pilot put it, the visitors “threw the Miami University eleven into panic with a sensational pass attack.” It was the third quarter when Junie Wilson connected with Terry Maxie on five successive passes, reaching Miami’s 20-yard line before an interception ended the threat at the Miami 10.
There was another chance to score late in the game when Jack Hawkins launched a 52-yard punt deep into a corner. The receiver avoided being tackled virtually on the goal line by stepping into the end zone and accepting a 2-point safety. That ended the scoring and the game ended in a squeaker: Miami 6, Norfolk 2.
The next day, the William and Mary Indians lost to Virginia Tech, but not by much: 7-0, as I recall. That started me thinking: Just a week ago, the Hokies clobbered Miami, didn’t they? And the Monarchs have started off by playing gradually stronger teams.
So ... how long will it be before the rematch?
Photo: Tommy Scott, a standout athlete at Maury High and VMI, was the Norfolk Division's first athletic director and coach of the football team. Sargeant Memorial Room, Norfolk Public Library.