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Freedom Fund Banquet Honoree: Lillie Howard


Lillie Bryant Howard was born on February 14,1940 and was raised in the City of Newburgh, NY. Lillie had a love for music at an early age and as an only child would often entertain herself by listening to the various forms of music played on the radio or on television at the time. This love for music led her to start singing, which led to her first solo performance in church at the age of six years old! By the age of twelve, her mother Aurelia, affectionately known to all as "Ms. Snookie" was managing the day to day operations of a local club/bar called The Golden Platter, located in downtown Newburgh on Water St.


This would become the location and venue where Lillie would receive her exposure and introduction to live entertainment! Her mother was responsible for bringing in to town musicians and singers, from NYC who were some of the hottest talent in the industry at the time! Because of her love for music, her mom would allow her to sit in the back room or listen from upstairs to observe the "live" performances, this was the fortuitous moment in Lillie's early life that set the tone for what would eventually lead to fame! It was at that time that her grandmother, also named Lillie, played a very important and instrumental role in helping her fulfill her dream of one day becoming a performer.


Her grandmother would often take Lillie to NYC to visit with her brother and while there she would take Lillie to the world-famous Apollo Theater where she would see all of the top-notch singers and musicians and this would put a spark in her mind to one day have her own chance to sing on the Apollo stage! When she turned 14, she built up enough confidence in her singing ability to perform at the well-known "Apollo Amateur Night", where she went on to win the Second-Place prize, performing Ruth Brown's popular song "Mama, He treats your daughter so mean"!


The success at the Apollo led to her performing at various clubs and venues in NYC, on one of those nights, a friend would introduce her to Billie Ford, a very popular singer at the time, who was looking to audition singers for his group, "The Thunderbirds". When she went to audition for Mr. Ford, it turned out that he was also auditioning for the famous producers, Frank Slay and Bob Crewe. While listening to Lillie's audition, the two producers decided to cast the Two singers together to form the duo "Billie and Lillie". This new duo proceeded to record a series of singles for Swan Records in the next two years, "Lah Dee Dah" in 1957 and "Lucky Ladybug" in 1958, which would become national hits and chart toppers. Off of the success of these two hits, they would become a part of the famous "Allan Freed" traveling show, which included a six-week tour with Chuck Berry and Frankie Lymon, and also appeared on Dick Clark's "American Bandstand"!


After becoming a chart-topping Duo, "Billie and Lillie" returned back to the famed Apollo Theater, this time as one of the top Duo's in the music business. They would hit the stage and compete in the "Battle of the Duo's", which was a very popular genre at the time, to walk down Harlem's 125th St and see her name on the marquee as "Billie and Lillie" versus "Mickey and Sylvia", this was a dream come true for this young girl from Newburgh, NY! It was only three years prior that Lillie had won second place on this same stage as a 14-year little girl during Amateur Night, but this time there was a different outcome, as Billie and Lillie were victorious as they won "The Battle of the Duo's"!


Although Lillie was a part of a Million selling recording Duo, with there music being heard and played all over the world, this was a time that she witnessed first-hand, the cold reality of racism. While they were performing to large crowds and audiences at clubs and venues everywhere, the reality of what this country was in the midst of at this time was cruel and mean, this was evidenced by the fact that they could not eat or stay at these locations because they were black performers and this was not allowed at this time in America! This is where her passion for activism was born!


Upon returning back home to Newburgh, Lillie decided to start her family and becoming active in the Newburgh community. She saw a need for black woman to be aware and active in the community, being the outspoken woman that she was, she was not comfortable with what was happening in the country, with the Viet Nam War and the Civil Rights movement, nor was she happy with influx of drugs into the Newburgh community. She, along with some other strong and powerful black woman decided to start the "Black Woman’s Community Service Club" an organization that changed the narrative of what Newburgh was at the time!


These women were about their children and their community, they were responsible for starting the first "free breakfast" program in the Newburgh community and also encouraged and empowered single black woman to be strong advocates for their children! They started a protest at Bob's Store on South St, because they felt that the business was taking advantage of the community by charging outrageous prices and had no regards for the impoverished residents in the community. They also waged a battle against the slumlords who were renting deplorable apartments to our people, and these black women said, “Hell no"!

Lillie also was the first African-American women in 1970 to run for City Council in the City of Newburgh. Although, Lillie did not win a seat on the council, she did not let this deter her from fighting for unjust and unfair causes that would negatively impact her people and her community. Lillie also had a radio talk show on WGNY called Let’s Talk with Lillie Howard which would encompass various subject matters going on in the community. Lillie’s most recent form of advocating for the voiceless is through her column with the Hudson Valley Press entitled Lillie’s Point of View.

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