By Journalist Ms. Jones
NEWBURGH – On Monday, December 11, songbird Lillie Bryant Howard was presented with the ceremonial “Key to the City” of Newburgh at the city council meeting.
“A ‘Key to the City’ is a special gift conferred upon someone who has done so much and had so many achievements that you’re saying, symbolically, that ‘they own the place’… just like having the key to your own house,” said Councilmember Genie Abrams, who read the resolution that was passed unanimously by the city council.
The resolution included highlights of Howard’s life and her contributions to Newburgh. Howard began singing at Ebenezer Baptist Church. She was part of the pioneering million-selling ‘50s duo Billy and Lillie whose songs “Lucky Ladybug” and “La Dee Dah” were chart-topping hits in the first decade of Rock ‘n Roll. She toured with Chuck Berry, Frankie Lymon, Buddy Holly, and more.
In 2000, Howard became the first Commissioner of Cultural Affairs in Newburgh. She then began bringing world-renown musicians to Newburgh.
When Abrams asked Howard if she would like to say a few words after reading the resolution, the crowd yelled “Sing!”
“It’s been a long, long time coming, but it’s finally here. Thank you, Lord!” sang Howard.
“I just want to say to my community that I was born in St. Luke’s Hospital… 1940… resided here all my life, except when I went into show business. I wanna say to my city, let’s come together… George Washington… was here… We have the highway. We have the water way. We have the roads. But, what we don’t have is the love that we need between us.
Regardless of what color we are, we’re all human and we need to start working and striving together, making our city truly become what it can be so the nation can look at what’s going on in Newburgh, New York,” said Howard.
She then belted into song again, saying thank you and her plans to form a community acapella choir for the young children so they can understand the significance and beauty of music.
“I feel honored… It brought tears to eyes… I feel that the young people in our community, if they knew that there was someone from their own community that did it nation-wide… Apollo Theater, Dick Clark [American Bandstand] Show, Patti Page TV show… that would have been an incentive to them to say, ‘Wow! She did it. So can we.’… It was much harder back then, than it is now…. We didn’t have as many record companies and things that you have now… the accessibility, the Facebook,” said Howard.
Howard is also a community activist and ran for mayor in 2007.
“She’s been attached to this city for her entire life… She’s been an integral part of what’s happening in this city from a musical perspective and also from a civic perspective,” said her son Phil Howard, member of NECSD Board of Education.
Howard still performs at the Newburgh waterfront and in various venues bringing joy to audiences. Be on the look out for her next performance! “La Dee Dah!”