Columbia University

How A Few Crafty Harlemites Are Fighting Back Against Gentrification

After Harlem resident Pipi Birdwater had her lawsuit against the borough of Manhattan thrown out, many New Yorkers began to wonder how many shared her ire towards lifelong Harlem residents for “intentional cruelty,” as her suit stated.

Birdwater claims that New York residents purposely gave her wrong directions, led her towards areas of Harlem that didn’t exist, and feigned ignorance when she referenced areas of Harlem by their hip new colloquialisms. Borough president Gale Arnot Brewer called her claims that they cost her her $100,000 job (due to frequent tardiness) “farcical.” But after walking through Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park and talking to Harlemites, they have merit.

38-year-old Dominique Sampson recalls, “this cracker asked me the other day where RuPa is. I knew he was talking about Rucker Park, but we don’t call it no damn RuPa. Who ‘bout to be sayin, 'remember when Kobe and AI came in RuPa?’,” he says as family and friends double over in laughter in their beach chairs.

“So I said 'probably down in the village getting life.’ He comes back to me that night all red ready to fight sayin’ he wasted his day, I said 'I thought you meant Rupaul!”

Sampson says his neighbor was not amused. In his anger, he joins a growing group of new Harlem residents who feel they’re being deceived out of resentment.

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Today’s WCW is Wendy Carlos! An American musician, and composer who is best known for her contributions to electronic music, innovative film scores, and solar eclipse photography.

Wendy Carlos was born in Pawtucket, RI to working-class parents on November 14th, 1939. Her mother played the piano and came from a family of musicians, which led to Carlos beginning piano lessons when she was six years old. By the time Carlos was 10, she had created her first composition, A Trio for Clarinet, Accordion, and Piano. After years of exhibiting a wunderkind-like talent for graphic arts and the sciences, Carlos was awarded a scholarship for her home-built computer at the 1953 Westinghouse Science Fair for high schoolers. In 1962, Carlos graduated from Brown University with a degree in music and physics. Five years later, Carlos obtained an M.A. from Columbia University in music composition; while at Columbia, she offered informal music lessons and even assisted Leonard Bernstein in presenting a night of electronic music selections at the Philharmonic.

During her time at Columbia, Carlos met Robert Moog at the 1964 Audio Engineering Society show. Their partnership would change both of their lives forever when they joined forces with Vladimir Ussachevsky and Otto Luening. The quartet worked together on campus at first-of-its-kind-in-the-US-facility, the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center. While working with some of electronic music’s pioneers and becoming the grandmother of electronic music, Carlos gave advice and technical support in the development of the Moog synthesizer. To improve the musical mechanics of the keyboard, Carlos persuaded Moog to add a touch-sensitive device, still one of the Moog’s most desirable features. 

Shortly after graduation in 1968, Carlos came to prominence with Switched on Bach, an album of music by Johann Sebastian Bach performed on the Moog synth that popularized its use in the 1970s and garnered her three Grammys. The album’s commercial success led to several more original and adapted compositions from Carlos across genres. Following her success as a solo artist, she was invited to compose two Stanley Kubrick scores for A Clockwork Orange (1971) and The Shining (1980), as well as the Tron (1982) score for Walt Disney Productions.

Following counseling with famed sexologist Harry Benjamin in the late 60s, Carlos began hormone replacement therapy after finishing her M.A. Eventually her estrogen use necessitated public back-passing (the act of passing as one’s birth gender post-medical transition for safety or convenience) whenever she made television or promotional appearances. Luckily, the commercial success of Switched on Bach helped Carlos undergo sex reassignment surgery in 1972, which allowed her immense relief from the gender dysphoria she had experienced from childhood and lessened the discomfort she felt about being forced to wear fake sideburns and draw on facial hair for media appearances. After surgery, Carlos continued to release albums under her birth name until she came out publicly in a series of interviews that ran in the May 1979 issue of Playboy magazine.