- Special Projects
Isaiah Owens’ curiosity about funerals began at age 5 when he helped bury animals on the South Carolina farm where he grew up. The first time he saw a human corpse was during the funeral of his aunt.
After touching her head, he knew his calling was to become a funeral director.
Owens attended New York’s American Academy McAllister Institute of Funeral Service, from which he graduated in 1969. He went on to build his Owens Funeral Home in Harlem, billing it as the place “Where beauty softens grief.”
“I make people look like they are all in heaven,” said the funeral cosmetologist.
As a young musician, Calixto Rivera couldn’t find the sound he was looking for in a cowbell. So he came up with a solution that would change his life – and the course of salsa music: “I decided to just make it myself.”
For the last 40 years, Rivera has reigned as the cowbell king of the Bronx, drawing musicians from around the world to JCR Percussion, his modest storefront shop on Odgen Avenue. He specializes in the production of three bells: the cha-cha bell, the timbale bell and the bongo bell, which vary in size and sound. Cowbells of different pitches are custom made to order.
With the help of his wife, Lilly, and his apprentice, Greg Askew, Rivera produces up to 200 cowbells a week. According to Guitar Center, his biggest client, competing cowbells are manufactured in bulk at factories.
Rivera, who is in his 70s, is proud to say that he’s the only one still making them by hand.
After graduating from NYU in 2007, April Brucker was miserable: She wanted to find a career where she could use her training as an actor and a singer. But long-term employment proved elusive for the Pittsburgh native.
One night, after she’d all but given up, Brucker watched the movie “Beaches” and found herself inspired by Bette Midler’s character delivering a singing telegram in a bunny suit. She Googled “singing telegram NYC” and got her first gig the next day.
Brucker, 30, is convinced that she will use her talents to take over the world – or at least to become an Internet sensation, clad in a pink gorilla suit while singing show tunes.
She also believes music and comedy can unite the world. Now she practices her creed, one singing telegram at a time.