While most who know her would describe Bevy Smith as a woman about town, the radio host and TV personality admits that she rarely leaves Harlem. Born and raised in the northern Manhattan neighborhood, Smith credits growing up uptown with everything from her career courage to her love of a stiletto heel and wrap dress. When she left a thriving career—and big paycheck—doing fashion ad sales for magazines to become an entertainer, Smith knew she could do it. And this was from day one, before she landed countless media appearances, a three-season Bravo series (Fashion Queens) and her brand-new show, Bevelations, on Sirius Radio. What gave her all that confidence? Harlem, of course. Here, Smith talks about the neighborhood’s gravitational pull.
When did you fall in love with Harlem?
Since I was a kid I knew it was one of the great places of Manhattan. And as an adult, I can really appreciate how the community is rich with a legacy that belongs to me and mine. When I’m on Lenox Avenue, I’m on the same avenue that Langston Hughes and Zora Neale Hurston walked. It’s where Malcolm X became a magical orator. I can stand on 140th Street, where Sammy Davis Jr. used to tap dance on the corner for money. Then, I can get on the subway at 145th Street, and two stops later, I’m in midtown, on 59th Street—it’s a no-brainer that it’s wonderful.
Imagine you could only spend 24 hours ever again in Harlem. What are you doing that day?
I would go to the Schomburg, then to the block where I grew up on 150th and 8th Avenue. Next, I’d hang out with neighborhood kids at the public pool down the block from my house—the pool is next to the projects. It’s not fancy and the kids love it; it’s a real reminder that happiness doesn’t have to mean money. Afterwards, I would go to the Apollo—hopefully it’s a Wednesday night, so I can see Amateur Night.
Then [Marcus Samuelsson’s restaurant] Red Rooster. I would have to reopen the [recently closed] Lenox Lounge so I could head over there around 2 o’clock in the morning. There are so many things I would reopen, including M&Gs, where I’d play the jukebox and have scrambled eggs, cheese, salmon croquettes and grits at like 5 a.m. Lunch would be barbecue shrimp and a mai tai at Sylvia’s. I’d walk through St. Nicholas Park and take the stairs three at a time. I would definitely go to the vista of City College where you can overlook all of Harlem and take the river walk at 125th Street.
Other than your love of Harlem as a place to hang out, how has it affected the rest of your life?
Harlem is all about peacocking, and that’s how it has influenced my style. I love a bright color and a body-con dress. This place on Lenox Avenue, The Cove—there you’ll see women enjoying themselves dancing and having fun. These are women who maybe mainstream society wouldn’t deem attractive. But they are all that, with this real joy and confidence that inspires me.
It’s quite interesting: People try to compare Harlem to Brooklyn, and you can’t compare the two. Brooklyn is a borough, Harlem is a neighborhood. Harlem folks have such a leg up from people from outer boroughs because we are a part of Manhattan, which is the epicenter of the world. And I’m already here—I didn’t have to go anywhere to make my dreams come true.
How does that translate to your work?
Everything I do professionally is connected to who I am as a black woman from this vibrant community. When I host a Dinner with Bevy (an invitation-only event where I connect people from art, entertainment, fashion and philanthropy), it’s what I saw barmaids do as a kid—entertaining the guests, remembering their cocktail, introducing them to people who I think might be interested in each other, like sitting Nelson George next to Misty Copeland and two years later he makes a documentary on her [A Ballerina’s Tale]. That’s just being a barmaid at the Dunbar on 150th Street!
My podcast, Bevy Says, is all about women’s empowerment and finding the power to express who you are. And that is all Harlem women, having an authentic voice and a swagger and an approach to life that is fearless. It’s about being an explorer and experimenter.