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Knee-High to a Grasshopper

A Waldorf Story by A. Rosalie Chandler

My grandmother developed Alzheimer’s later in life, which was sad and frustrating for her family at times. As a result of the disease, she had a story that she would tell in a loop. To be fair, it is a good story.

She would usually start by asking if she had ever told you that she had been a singer in New York.

“You see I had never been to New York, but I always knew I wanted to be a singer. Even when I was just a little girl, knee high to a grasshopper, and Papa used to call all of us around the piano and we’d sing. So, I knew I had to go to New York to be a singer. Did I ever tell you this?”

After graduating high school in North Carolina and briefly studying to become a secretary while living with her brother in St. Louis, she made her way to New York as a single, young woman in the mid-1930s.

I can still hear her voice in my head:

“Here I was, this young girl, never been to New York before, and I got into this taxicab. The man asked me where I was going, and I told him I wanted to sing. He said, ‘I know where you need to go.’ And he took me to this nightclub where they were having an amateur night. Have I told you about this?”

She had told us, but she told us again anyway.

“Well, I entered the contest and afterwards the owner came up to me and said, ‘You didn’t win but you have a job here if you want it.’ Isn’t that the most incredible thing? And I found an apartment right around the corner on 52nd street. That cab driver took me right where I needed to go. Isn’t that incredible? Have I ever told you that story?”

I am named after my grandmother and came to New York in 2011, by way of South Jersey and Philadelphia. I was chasing a boy, not a dream career, but ended up working for a non-profit that held three events each year at the Waldorf. Between the work events, a few events we were invited to as Waldorf customers, and a tour with the New York Adventure Club I felt like I had become pretty familiar with the Waldorf.

I was shocked and delighted to find this photo, in a Waldorf-branded paper frame, of my grandmother singing when I was visiting my aunt several years ago. My grandmother never talked about performing at The Waldorf as far as I know, and no one is sure exactly what year the picture was taken.