The lights on stage are low. The five singers
stand with their backs to the audience. As the music hits a
certain key, the singer’s turn in unison to face the
audience and the lights go up. The crowd goes wild. Women
rush the stage. The whole audience stands up, cheers, and
claps. The lead singer hits the first note, and the show
I recently had the pleasure to speak with "Charming" Charles
Hardy, member of the legendary R&B [rhythm & blues] group,
The Manhattans. Hardy is used to the applause and reaction
of the audience when they appear on stage. Hardy says it is
hard for him to believe that he is a part of this famous
group. He always makes time to sign autographs or talk with
fans, because he feels like a fan too.
As we settle in to talk, I can tell he is
comfortable with giving interviews. There is no stage
persona, what you see is what you get. His voice is soft,
and his style is laid-back. He talks as if he's known you
all his life, and you find yourself relaxing too. His smoky
brown eyes and easy smile are just some of the things women
especially love about this singer. He tends to talk faster
when the subject excites him, and he blinks a lot because of
his allergies. Hardy says he is teased constantly by members
of the group, "They call me the bubble boy, because of all
the medications I have to take." Hardy says he doesn't let
that bother him because that's a small price to pay.
"Entertainment," says Hardy, "has been a part of my life for
as long as I can remember."
Hardy was born and raised in Mt. Vernon, New
York. He is the youngest of the children in his family.
Hardy's parents re-married, and had other children. Hardy
remains close with all of his brothers and sisters. He
credits his upbringing to all the women in his life. He says
his mother, godmother and sisters made sure he stayed in
line. "They didn't take no stuff from me. They made sure I
did what I was supposed to do." Hardy's godmother, Mary
Ballard, was the sister in law of Florence Ballard who was a
member of the legendary Supremes. Hardy spent a lot of time
with his godmother during the first four years of his life,
but because of his age doesn't remember meeting the singer.
He was also named after Florence Ballard's brother, Charles.
Entertainment is a family legacy. Hardy's mother, Dorothy
Sebastian, was born in 1915 and was a dancer at age 17. She
was one of the original members of the chorus line at both
the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater during the late 1930s
and early 1940s. He also has strong ties to his Indian
ancestry. His mother would take them all "home" every year.
Home was actually a reservation in Connecticut now called
Foxwood. Hardy remembers attending reunions or "pow-wows" as
a young child. These pow-wows are also known as the
celebration of Green Corn, or Schemitzun, and include
dancing, traditional foods, and the display of special
jewelry and artwork.
His family belongs to the Pequot Indian tribe
located along the eastern seaboard. There are over 200
Indian reservations in the United States, further west. Only
a few remain along the East Coast. The Pequot settled a land
claim in 1863 and opened a gambling casino in Ledyard
Connecticut in 1992. The revenues from the casino helped to
fund many improvements, including a museum, and research
center. The museum is located near Mystic, Connecticut. It
features the history and culture of the Pequot Indians.
Many Native Americans still retain tribal languages and
ceremonies. Hardy stays grounded by focusing on the strength
and the courage from all of his ancestors. He visits the
reservation as much as possible. He has a summer home on the
Fox wood Reservation, and sometimes goes back to relax and
Hardy is also married and currently living in
North Carolina. He first met his wife when she was 14, and
he was 18. She was a dancer and singer with the Ebony
Essence Dancers. Family members knew the two of them were
destined to be together well before they did. Even though
they were young, they both realized they had something
special. They dated briefly and their lives moved in
different directions, they remained friends and kept in
touch through family members and other friends. They were
married in 1999-a little over 20 years after that first
meeting. When asked how living in North Carolina compared to
living in New York, Hardy says, "I visit New York often
because my family is still there. I found myself in the
middle of the Avenues of Americas in New York City when the
light changed. People were saying I must not have been from
there because I didn't know what I was doing. I had lived in
New York all my life before moving to North Carolina, and
already I forgot how to cross the street."
A typical day for Hardy might include cooking
dinner and helping his daughter, Siarah, with her homework.
He also has a daughter, LaToya; a grandson, Aquilla; and a
granddaughter; Jonea, all still currently residing in New
York. Hardy says he does whatever needs to be done to help
out, and he doesn't mind cooking because he loves to eat.
Some of his favorite foods are potato salad, fried chicken,
homemade rolls, and butter cake. He also likes seafood,
especially Cajun catfish. His wife now has the job of trying
to help him eat healthier.
Hardy is also very loyal to his friends. He
met his long time friend Harsey Hemphill when he was 7
years-old and Hemphill was 5, and over 30 years later-they
are still friends (Hemphill is also a member of The
Manhattans). When he was 14 years old, Hardy met one of the
original members of The Manhattans, Edward "Sonny" Bivins.
Hardy's friend was a valet for the group, and Hardy would
sometimes help out. His earlier training prepared him to be
able to take care of himself, and that came in handy when
one of the members needed something sewed or pressed. He
also learned a lot from being backstage and watching the
other groups. He learned the art of showmanship, discipline,
and how to follow the rules. Bivins learned of Hardy's
singing ability when he assisted his friend as a valet.
Hardy would sing while working and was a member of several
groups during that time. When the Manhattans went through
some changes in personnel-Bivins called Hardy. At the time,
Hardy was singing with a group called Ember. They were
mostly working on original material and doing studio work.
Hardy was frustrated with the direction the group was going
and was more than happy to go on the road with the
Manhattans. Hardy says he has never regretted his decision.
Hardy is also an avid reader and spends his
time researching his family history and anything related to
the music industry. One friend, Robert, says that Hardy is
the person to go to if you need some background on almost
any band or group. "Charles can name songs by groups that
were in existence way before he was even born." His
collection of memorabilia has earned him the title of "group
historian." Hardy has a knack for collecting. His collection
is legendary in the industry. He has photos, recordings,
fliers, and even handbills from some of the plays The
Manhattans have appeared in. Some of the other entertainers
often come to Hardy to get facts, not only about The
Manhattans, but also, about other R& B groups from the early
60s and 70s.
He has always been fascinated with the groups from the
1960s. Many of the older groups he has actually traveled
with have been in existence for over 40 years, and being a
part of that has been an awesome experience for Hardy. He
says being able to have conversations with some of the
people he has listened to for years is a humbling
experience. Hardy understands the dynamics of working with a
group. There are things about a singing group in performance
that cannot be duplicated in a studio. Even with the new
technologies, there will always be a place for live
musicians and singers. It is something about seeing a
recording brought to life. When asked if he would ever
consider going solo, "Never," says Hardy. "I love being a
part of a group, especially this group."