Sunday, December 22, 2013

Doug Leblang: A Local Artist Who Rises Beyond The Canvas

by Michael Perlman, Perlman PR

Art Spiegelman, Evelyn Enola Rockwell, Joseph Cornell….and now Doug Leblang! Those are a few of the names of notable artists who came from Queens.

Meet four-year Forest Hills resident Doug Leblang, a commercial designer, illustrator, and art director who was raised in Middle Village, which was where his family first called home in 1912. Leblang is accredited with over 200 paintings which incorporate various forms of media, inclusive of pastels, colored pencil, collages, and the computer. Diverse audiences can take inspiration by exploring his online portfolio and acquiring a thematic painting which may range from nostalgia to nature and Judaica to portraits. All works are printed on fine paper, signed, and matted. 

Audiences can appreciate the craftsmanship of historic synagogues such as the restored “Eldridge Street Synagogue,” which first welcomed a new wave of Eastern European Jewish immigrants in the late 19th century, or venture internationally to the “Great Synagogue in Plzen,” which is considered the third largest synagogue worldwide. One can become a nature enthusiast by discovering his “Central Park Rainbow” or by experiencing his “Cape Cod Vision.” Longtime or newly transformed fans will want to acquire his vision of “Theodore Bikel,” who played Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, or encounter “Bob Dylan” who performed at the Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. 

Eddie's Sweet Shop in Forest Hills, 2005 painting by artist Doug Leblang

At the Queens Library in 2005, he coordinated the “Middle Village of Old” exhibit, which reflected his neighborhood’s simplistic charm he always embraced. He memorialized sites such as the famous trolley stop, Neiderstein’s, the Arion Theatre, and his father’s business, Leblang’s Pharmacy, which opened in 1924 and not only offered first aid, but ice cream sodas. Just beyond Middle Village, he painted other unofficial landmarks such as Eddie’s Sweet Shop and the NYS Pavilion.
Local volunteers joined Transportation Alternatives for a Winter Wander march along Queens Boulevard on December 14, calling for a safer and aesthetically-pleasing revitalization of a banal thoroughfare. That inspired Leblang, who will soon release a proposal. He explained, “Queens is one of the most diverse places in the world, and with at least 138 languages, there are more languages spoken here than in any other area in the United States.” He envisions placing signs on Queens Boulevard’s central median between Woodhaven Boulevard and Hillside Avenue, which would read “Welcome To Queens” in the most commonly spoken languages. He would then direct sculptors from those countries, who would carry out his vision, and an ethnic sculpture would stand alongside each sign.

 Leblang’s artistic skills made him a humanitarian, a lecturer, and a teacher, and he is applying his touch citywide. Some of his diverse accomplishments include teaching a painting class at FEGS in the Bronx, working with psychiatric patients in Queens, and directing a sixty-foot group painting depicting seasons at the Bronx’s Morningside House. Two of Doug’s works were selected by the City Health and Hospital Art Collection for the "JAZZ and the Visual Arts" exhibit at the Queens Hospital Center.

Leblang’s passion for art originated as a child. He said, “I didn’t want toys, but had an infatuation with paper and shirt cardboards. I wanted a pencil, so whenever my mom’s friends came over, I would draw their portraits.” He continued, “In day camp, I won a brotherhood contest where I showed different colored hands shaking each other’s in a square.”
He pursued his studies as an art history major at Boston University, and received a BFA from the School of Visual Arts. He expressed much gratitude to its president, Milton Glaser, a famous artist who he studied with. He recalled his teachings, and said, “In order to become an artist, you have to be really passionate about your work and take criticism.” After college, he became a professional musician for 5 years, but could not help himself from sketching portraits of his band. In 1974, he realized art was his calling. 

Art is therapeutic. “On Facebook, someone commented on my work, and said they see a light at the end of the tunnel. A good painting people will be drawn into, and escape their environment to be in the environment of the painting.” He believes everyone is an artist, and the artist within should be embraced. He explained, “An artist creates things that weren’t there before. Everyone decides what to wear each day, and if someone lives in a humble place, how they style it is their creation.”

In response to today’s graduates facing a harsh economy, he stated, “Keep your day job, and do your art after you come home. If you feel it, do it, but don’t expect to make a living as an artist right away.”

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Iconic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium’s Comeback With Mumford & Sons

by Michael Perlman, Perlman PR

Mumford & Sons under starlit skies
Forest Hills, synonymous with tennis and music history, regained a bit of its glorified musical past on August 28th, as the iconic Forest Hills Tennis Stadium, dormant and neglected since its last major concerts in the 1980s, reopened after undergoing eight weeks of repairs totaling an approximate $1.5 million. An estimated 16,500 fans began standing on long lines on Burns Street as early as 5 AM, eager to enter the historic stadium archways to see the U.K. folk rock band, Mumford & Sons, as well as opening bands, Bear’s Den and The Vaccines. They took center field on a newly constructed stage and the fans cheered, reminiscent of the days of Forest Hills Music Festivals. They picked up from where The Beatles landed in a helicopter and performed 49 years ago to the day, or when other musical greats such as Frank Sinatra, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, The Doors, and Donna Summer made summers memorable. 

Dating to 1923, the stadium is recognized as the first concrete tennis stadium countrywide and the first home of the U.S. Open. It is also noted for National Championships, and where tennis players such as Bill Tilden, Don Budge, and Billie Jean King made headlines, and Arthur Ashe and Althea Gibson broke racial color barriers when tennis was a segregated sport.

After the U.S. Open moved to Flushing Meadows Park in 1978, major music festivals gradually declined at the stadium. Neighbors then complained how music lingered all night and their properties were parked on and trashed. The stadium fell into disrepair with patchy concrete, and the wrecking ball narrowly missed what was deemed as “hallowed ground.”

Just three years ago, West Side Tennis Club (WSTC) members rejected a bid by Cord Meyer Development to purchase and demolish the stadium for a condo, which followed Rego-Forest Preservation Council’s grassroots preservation and creative reuse campaign, led by Chair Michael Perlman. WSTC President Roland Meier played an instrumental role in bringing the private club away from its wallflower status by looking outside the club for ideas for the stadium’s future. Notable 100th anniversary events recently transpired, including a flag raising ceremony and a tennis carnival. This played homage to the club’s past and influenced club members and the greater community to support the stadium’s rebirth.

Last winter, concert producers and partners Mike Luba and Jon McMillan began a dialogue with the club, and founded WSTC Events. Their shared vision was to hold 18 concerts over the next 3 summers and 1 this summer as a trial. “We want to justify the faith of the community. We had to earn the trust of everyone involved,” stated McMillan. Key stakeholders included members of City Council, Community Board 6, the Forest Hills Gardens Corporation, the 112th Precinct, the Mayor’s Office, and members of the West Side Tennis Club. The Department of Buildings approved a 17,000 seating capacity, and the producers worked with the 112th Precinct to approve an approximate 150 safety officers and street closures near the stadium.

To place a damper on neighbors’ concerns over noise and overcrowded residential blocks, WSTC Events set a 10 PM concert curfew and created a new stadium entrance on Burns Street. Tickets were $74 with no additional fees, and patrons were advised to take mass transit, in order to ease congestion and the stadium’s lack of parking.

Engineering assessments proved the stadium was sound. It withstood hurricanes, an earthquake, and a macroburst. “Based on historic drawings, surveys, and meetings with the DOB, we’re doing everything we can to make the stadium safe,” said McMillan. Luba’s first observation of the stadium was “a crumbling mess, which could turn into a priceless jewel.”

From June 20th through August 17th, Construction Manager Carl Dogali had the feat of completing structural work on a site he newly encountered. He explained, “We removed the weathered wooden benches from the grandstands. Then I power-washed the stadium’s topside and patched the concrete. Phase two addressed falling concrete on the bottom side and the archways. Phase three was the new entranceway.” The producers also financed new flagpoles above the eagles overlooking the stadium, replicated portal signs, and removed the windscreen from the stadium’s base to reveal roundels and pilasters. During the restoration, a 1923 Coke bottle and a safe was uncovered.

“We have a history of coordinating shows in small communities, and part of our vision is to drive local economies,” said McMillan. Increased business was witnessed before and after the Mumford & Sons concert along Austin Street. That held true for the newer businesses such as Forest Hills Station House, Banter, The Flying Pig, and Martha’s Country Bakery, as well as old-time favorites such as The Irish Cottage. Some increased their hours and offered live music and specials. Forest Hills Station House served English pub fare and played Mumford & Sons’ music.

Mumford & Sons energized their fans who sang along and danced to multi-platinum numbers such as “I Will Wait,” “Little Lion Man,” and “The Cave,” while colorful lasers and dangling lights enhanced the mood. Marcus Mumford stated, “This has been a unique day for us. We are really proud that we got to revitalize this venue with you all.” Ben Lovett on the keyboard said, “Yes, Forest Hills, Queens, New York. We just can't believe you all came. This is amazing. Are you sure you can invite 17,000 people to a tennis court? It hasn't happened in a long time!” Mumford & Sons commemorated the stadium by throwing tennis balls into the audience, and alternating between a racket, a banjo, and a guitar.

Patrons explained their experience. Patrick Lannan of Forest Hills stated, “The stadium is the jewel in the crown of Forest Hills, and to tear it down would rip the identity so closely associated with tennis and this historic neighborhood. Mumford & Sons fully understood the connection, which they referenced throughout the show. Mumford and Lovett are from Wimbledon, where tennis is also prevalent.”

All the way from Connecticut was concertgoer Cheyenne Kerekes, who explained, “You could feel the history in the stadium. It was even more powerful because the bands have such respect for the greats that came before them. Someday people will be talking about Mumford, Vaccines, and Bear's Den, the same way they did for Dylan, Hendrix, and The Beatles.” She continued, “When all the bands came on stage for ‘Awake My Soul,’ that was one reason I adore Mumford & Sons so much. Everything they do music wise becomes a community experience, and we're all there to jam along with them.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

Songs of Love Heals Our Youth

by Michael Perlman, Perlman PR

A harmonious chorus echoes from Forest Hills, and resonates in the hearts of children and their families countrywide.  This chorus has played an influential role by healing and boosting the emotions of children and teens with some chronic and terminal diseases.  One man’s heart pumps in the direction of our youth, to instill their hearts with hopeful visions of tomorrow. His name is John Beltzer, a Forest Hills resident who founded the Songs of Love Foundation in 1996.

As of June 2013, 23,900 children spanning age 1 to 21 have received their Song of Love, which is an original composition orchestrated by diverse songwriters and singers, commissioned by Songs of Love. Most often, brochures are mailed to hospitals nationally, and a child’s parents complete a profile sheet with their child’s name and information on their hobbies, special interests, pets, friends, and family members. Then the child receives the gift of a personalized song to rejoice their life. Songs are composed in the child’s favorite genre, such as pop, kids, R&B, rock, alternative, rap, classical, or jazz.

Songs of Love is situated at 107-40 Queens Boulevard, and consists of three full-time staff members who work with 40 songwriters nationally. To date, songs have been composed in at least thirty languages, so every culture can be included. As a result of Songs of Love’s great success locally and nationally, Beltzer expanded his operation to Brazil, where hundreds of children have received their Song of Love.

A native of Sao Paulo, Brazil, Beltzer settled in Brooklyn at age 8 and moved to Forest Hills at age 15. He convinced his father to buy him a drum set, and taught himself how to play the drums, followed by piano and guitar. His fraternal twin brother Julio played guitar. They collaboratively composed songs and then formed the top 40 band, “Cameon.” In 1984, 2 months before Julio died at age 24, he composed a song called “Songs of Love.” In January 1996, after John Beltzer came off a record deal which did not materialize, he experienced “an epiphany to create a national non-profit organization,” which he named “Songs of Love” in his brother’s memory. 
Songs of Love inspires children experiencing diseases such as Leukemia, brain tumors, heart conditions, Cystic Fibrosis, Autism, Liver Disease, as well as physical disabilities. “We use songs as tools of healing on a mass scale,” stated Beltzer, who estimated that 70 percent of children who received their Song of Love are alive today. If a child dies, their song is played at their funeral. “This keeps the beauty and spirit of the child alive forever in song,” he added.

Throughout history, music has proven to be therapeutic. Songs of Love has received thousands of letters of gratitude. Beltzer explained, “A typical story involves a child undergoing chemotherapy and hearing their song during the treatment. This helps alleviate their pain, fear, and trauma, and builds self-esteem. When you hear a song you like, it promotes feelings of wellness, and the brain releases feel-good chemicals such as serotonin and endorphins.” He further explained, “Parents tried to share many things with their child, but nothing worked. Only a ‘Song of Love’ made them smile.”
Songs of Love receives many letters of gratitude from children and their families. In an October 2012 interview, 12 year-old Makayla Redmon of Arverne, NY explained how Songs of Love serves as her beacon of hope. She was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s Lymphoma in January 2012 and underwent chemotherapy and radiation. “I got my Songs of Love disc during Chemo in March 2012, and each time I listened to it, I felt happier and better. It made me feel like people actually cared. On all the long trips to and from the hospital, my family and I would sing along. The song was a rap, and I called it ‘Makayla's Song.’ It was sung by a church choir in Texas.”

 Redmon explained how she played it for her family in California and North Carolina, and her friends. Her mother posted it on Facebook. She skyped with her Grandma Sherry, Aunt Aimee, and Cousin/Best Friend Hailee. At Long Island Jewish Hospital, she also shared it with her social worker Ingrid, her doctor Sandra Cohen, P.A., her child life specialist Faye Brick, and nurses in P.A.C.T 4, where she received her treatment. Makayla also starred in a Songs of Love commercial. Redmon received her PET and CAT Scan, to determine if she has fully recovered. With utmost gratitude, she stated, “I hope that any kids that Songs of Love helps after me gets at least half the enjoyment that I did.”

Recently, one letter read, “Music is one of Keely’s greatest pleasures. Her face lights up when she hears music, and while listening to certain songs, she vocalizes in her own special way.” The parents of Nicky Lesniak wrote, “To think that other people know of our son and wrote a one of a kind song makes us feel comforted and not so alone.” The mother of Dominic Ayala explained how her son’s personalized song made him grin from ear to ear. “What great natural medicine of love for a child to hear and sing along,” she wrote. 

Songs of Love’s success is evident in media coverage including EXTRA, CBS News, 60 Minutes, The Today Show, Dateline, NBC News NY, ABC World News, BBC, CBS Early Show, Hallmark Heroes with Regis Philbin, NY Times, People magazine, and USA Today. In 2001, Britney Spears attended a special performance at her Massachusetts camp, where her campers wrote, recorded, and performed a Song of Love for a sick child.
Songs of Love engaged thousands of Black Eyed Peas fans at their concert to mark the 10,000th recording. Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath and 15,000 Mets fans recorded the 12,000th song at Shea Stadium. For their 20,000th song, Jason Mraz recorded “Love Is All Around.” Other celebrities 
included Billy Joel, Nancy Sinatra, and Jamie Lynn-Sigler.

Most recently, Songs of Love developed a Bitcoin page on their website. Bitcoin is the first form of currency which uses cryptography to control its creation and management. “The Songs of Love Foundation is proud to be the first nationally recognized 501(c)(3) to accept donations of Bitcoins, which is the currency of the future,” stated Beltzer.

Beltzer explained his vision for the future. “We want our organization to grow, so we can reach out to as many children as we can, to help alleviate their stress, fear, and pain through our medicine of music. Now we are producing songs for 1,000 children annually, but before the economy crashed, we were helping 3,000 children annually.” Beltzer established a goal of assisting another 1,000 children with their “Song of Love.”  
Songs of Love has a wish list of artists they hope to collaborate with. “It would be fantastic to have American Idol’s Adam Lambert work with us,” said Beltzer, referring to Lambert’s multi-octave range, charismatic performances, and congenial nature. “His stardom would bring greater awareness and funding for our charity to help more children,” he added. Lambert has a history of fundraising for charitable causes such as classroom supplies through, Red Cross, The Trevor Project, and Charity:Water.

Beltzer also visualizes turning Forest Hills’ MacDonald Park into a live recording studio through their program, “Raising Funds, Raising Voices.” He stated, “We would teach our audience a song over a pre-existing track and record their voices. I would like to invite all businesses, politicians, and the public, since it would be wonderful to have the whole community behind our cause. Let’s cover Forest Hills with a blanket of healing melodies.”

Last February, Songs of Love raised $10,000 at the Jackie Greene Band Charity Concert Series, which was held at MexiCali Live in Teaneck, NJ. Also in February, “An Evening With Ben Taylor” took stage at Symphony Space in Manhattan. Ben Taylor, the son of James Taylor and Carly Simon wrote and recorded a Song of Love for 8 year-old Greta Halton, who has a rare disease. Beltzer then explained a success story. “We showed a video of 8 year-old Danielle Duggan in Central Park in 2004, as 400 park-goers sang along with her pre-recorded Song of Love. At that time, she had stage 4 cancer. After showing the video, I proudly introduced a very healthy 18 year-old, Danielle, who stepped out on stage to say a few words.”

The public can anticipate more fundraisers. The 15th Annual Swing And Sing Golf Outing will take place on September 16th in Wayne, NJ, and another golf outing will follow in October. Songs of Love is also offering sponsorship opportunities. On November 2nd, Lynn Hoffman of A&E Private Sessions will host a benefit concert, “An Evening With Blues Traveler” at Manhattan’s City Winery.

To help a sick child, the public can donate to Songs of Love and purchase event tickets by visiting The public can also call 1-800-960-SONG or “Like” their Facebook page,