How it’s New York: Jacquie Murdock is a native New Yorker
How it’s (Irish) Scottish: She’s Scottish
Yahoo is currently featuring an article called “Awe-Inspiring Women of 2014.” But my choice is Jacquie “Tajah” Murdock, featured in the documentary Advanced Style, and a Face of Lanvin 2012. In two generous interviews, Murdock impressed me as being one of the most dynamic and courageous women I have ever known.
Murdock, a former dancer with the Apollo Theater, had always known who she was. After church in 1930’s Harlem, her cultured, middle-class family (Her father was a restauranteur.) attended salons at inspiring hosts’ beautiful homes that were filled with wonderful music and conversation. One day, at the age of 5, this youngest of three daughters announced to her family that she wanted to be a ballet dancer. This would not be exceptional by today’s standards but back then, it wasn’t an considered an acceptable occupation for a well-brought-up young lady – or a lucrative career choice. So her parents – Scottish, Jamaican-born Edward Templeton Campbell and his Jamaican wife, Izilda Fyffe Campbell (childhood sweethearts who grew up and married in Jamaica, lived in Cuba, then emigrated the United States in the 1930s) – gave her piano lessons. This did little to deter Murdock’s ambitions, for she was born to stand out.
I was always a fashionista
Her dancing was never far behind, though. This was the time of Cafe Society, and Murdock performed at famed NYC ballrooms when she was 15: the Renaissance, the Savoy, the Audubon. But she “grew up at the Apollo.” Frankie Manning and Norma Miller were
She grew up at the Apollo
Murdock took ballet lessons with a Russian teacher. Then, in her 30s, she was invited to see a belly
She signed up for the first belly dancing school in NYC, Stairway to Stardom
Between then and now, Murdock married, then raised their two children by herself. She took a job in her 40s as a administrative assistant in the New York University (“NYU”) Computer Science Department, using computers when most people had never heard of them, and earning three degrees (liberal arts, communication, and media studies). She eventually retired from NYU.
One day, about four years ago, Murdock was taking a walk in Union Square and a young man stopped her. “Miss, can I take your picture,” Ari Seth Cohen, the photographer and author of Advanced Style, asked. “I have a website for stylish elders.” She agreed, and the rest is herstory. [Read more about Advanced Style, the fashion blog, book, and movie here.]
The blog begot a book and a movie, both entitled Advanced Style. There were London, Canada, and NYC premieres of the movie, and Murdock and the other women in it were there. The New York Times did a story on Cohen and used Murdock’s picture.
I got more hits on Ari’s site than Mrs. Obama
When Alber Elbaz, a designer for Lanvin, wanted to feature “regular” people in Lanvin’s ads, he sent his reps to interview Murdock. She was chosen, fitted for a dress, and went to Chelsea (NYC) for a photo shoot. “Ah, I was dressed like “chercher la femme,” she remembered. Murdock’s fame really went global: photographs of her appeared in Marie Claire (fashion magazine) in Hong Kong on Mother’s Day 2014, and she was interviewed on German radio, by the British press, and by a Russian internet site for elders.
There’s just no stopping her! Murdock still takes dance, working out with the Jazzy Randolph Dancers. She has been interviewed for the Duke Ellington Society’s archives, and they invited her to join their education program at Frederick Douglas Academy, the Kennedy Center, the Museum of the City of New York, and in Scranton, PA.
I wanted to go to Paris when I was 18…now you can exchange the numbers and make it 81
I have to say that she is one of the most fascinating and personable people I have ever met. But her life has been so huge and intricate that, unfortunately, I’ve had to edit our interview quite a bit – even this sizable article. Joey Reynolds, one of the biggest names in radio (WOR in NYC) who kick-started the Four Seasons’ career in 1962 by locking himself into his WPOP studio in Hartford, Connecticut and playing only their first big tune “Sherry” for four hours, interviewed Murdock. When she told him that she was writing a book about her life, he challenged that if she wrote the book, he’d publish it.