Village Gate’s D’Lugoff given Music Legends Award


By Lincoln Anderson

Art D’Lugoff, the legendary owner of the Village Gate, was honored with a posthumous award for “his enormous contributions to the music culture of the Village” by the Greenwich Village-Chelsea Chamber of Commerce last Friday evening.

D’Lugoff died on Nov. 4 at age 85. His famed club the Village Gate, at Bleecker and Thompson Sts., ran for 38 years, from 1958 to 1996.

It was the chamber’s second Village Music Legends Award, Odetta having received the first one in November 2006.

Speaking to the audience before the award presentation, Elizabeth Butson, publisher emeritus of The Villager and the chamber’s vice chairperson, recalled waiting in line in 1968 to see crooner Jacques Brel at the Village Gate, and later seeing Odetta and Nina Simone. She said the club and D’Lugoff were on a level above.

“There was no better venue in New York City than the Village Gate,” she said. “There was no better impresario than Art D’Lugoff. Greenwich Village has lost one of its signature characters, a man who always looked for the next big talent, who always was after a dream, the last one being creating a folk music museum in the Village.

“It is people like Art that made you feel that Greenwich Village is like no other place in the world,” Butson continued, “a place where you could create  freely, discover and be discovered at any moment.”

Butson noted that journalist Jerry Tallmer and D’Lugoff created the Obie Awards, which were hosted by the Village Gate. She also recalled the time Tallmer drove Billie Holiday from Philadelphia to the Gate for an epic performance, and how Norman Mailer launched his candidacy for mayor at the Village Gate.

The award was accepted on D’Lugoff’s behalf by his son, Rafi D’Lugoff, and Sharon Blythe, one of his three daughters.

“My father made an impact, not just on Greenwich Village, but the world,” Sharon said.

Rafi said a key part of the Village Gate was its welcoming, unpretentious feeling.

“I live near the Minetta Tavern,” he said of the classic MacDougal St. eatery that Keith McNally recently renovated and turned into an instant hot spot. “There’s a big mook with a clipboard standing in front,” he said disapprovingly of the exclusivity such a doorman represents.

He said he hoped the corner of Bleecker and Thompson Sts. would get an honorary co-naming sign, quipping that it could be “Art D’Lugoff Drive” or “Art D’Lugoff Cul-de-Sac.”

The award presentation was followed by an installation of the chamber’s Village Jazz Alive series, featuring a performance by drummer Bobby Sanabria and Quarteto Aché. Sanabria shared his own memory of D’Lugoff and the Gate, remembering how, as a young man, he had come down to hear drummer Art Blakey and wound up flabbergasted that he was able to say hi to saxophonist Sonny Rollins on his way into the club.

Sanabria said two people did more than anyone to change American music, D’Lugoff and Bill Graham, and that Graham “learned all that he knew about music from Art D’Lugoff when they were in the Catskills.”

Drummer Bobby Sanabria and Quarteto Aché performed for the chamber members.