Once the King of Harlem Hairdressers, Now Nearly Forgotten

'Sugar Ray Robinson inside his Harlem barbershop in 1951, having his hair done by Rogers Simon.' Courtesy of Sam Falk Via The New York Times

New York Times

Once the King of Harlem Hairdressers, Now Nearly Forgotten


March 24, 2013

“The man complimented Mr. Glenn G. Caldwell’s playing and introduced himself as Rogers Simon and began telling stories about all the musicians he had known, including Duke Ellington, Miles Davis and Nat King Cole.”

“Mr. Simon had made such acquaintances as a result of his talents. But he gained notoriety not as a musician, but as a hair stylist who at one time was the king of Harlem hairdressers. He served as a personal barber for the likes of Mr. Cole and Mr. Ellington. But he was best known for tending to the head of Sugar Ray Robinson, the legendary boxer known as much for his style as his fighting skills.”

“‘He was considered the best hairstylist in Harlem in his day,’ said Mr. Caldwell, a professor at McDaniel College near Baltimore. He remembered being transfixed by all the photographs and clippings that Mr. Simon pulled out of his car trunk that night in 1983 to back up his claims that he lived for decades among a who’s who of figures in Harlem and jazz.”

“That evening stuck with Mr. Caldwell, who wound up connecting with Mr. Simon and interviewing him just before the barber died in 2005. Today, Mr. Simon remains nearly forgotten, but Mr. Caldwell’s research has turned into a book he is writing on Mr. Simon, expanding a historical footnote into a fascinating portrait of a charismatic figure who used his barbering skills to cut a glamorous swath through Harlem in its heyday.”

“In 1953, Jet magazine credited Mr. Simon with inventing “the process,” a technique of straightening and setting kinky hair by flattening it and greasing it down.”

“Mr. Simon worked at Mr. Robinson’s well-known Golden Gloves Barber Shop in Harlem and became a vital part of the celebrated entourage that surrounded the champion welterweight and middleweight throughout the 1940s and ’50s. ‘Roger and Ray were very close — wherever Ray went, that’s where Roger went,’ Mr. Royal said, adding that the hair stylist would touch up Mr. Robinson’s coiffure during boxing matches.”

“‘In between rounds, Roger would be combing it, putting it right back in place,’ he said. ‘No matter how many times Ray fought, Roger would be in his corner. As fast as Ray would display his pugilistic charms, if a hair was out of place, Roger would jump up there and put it back in place.'”

'Glenn Caldwell, left, walked with Ray Robinson Jr. along a stretch in Harlem where Mr.Robinson's father once owned several storefront businesses, including the barbershop where Rogers Simon worked.' Courtesy of Yana Paskova Via The New York Times

“During his recent visit to New York, Mr. Caldwell met with Ray Robinson Jr., the boxer’s son, on the Harlem block where the elder Mr. Robinson once owned a string of storefront businesses, including the barbershop, Sugar Ray’s Quality Cleaners Edna Mae’s Lingerie Shop (named for Mr. Robinson’s wife) and the popular Sugar Ray’s nightclub.”

“‘Here’s this guy that was at the center of a lot of history because of a hairstyle, and now he’s nearly forgotten,’ Mr. Caldwell said. ‘I just want to help him leave his mark.’

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One Response to Once the King of Harlem Hairdressers, Now Nearly Forgotten

  1. Kathleen Galt October 21, 2022 at 1:52 am #

    Does anyone know a barber who allegedly worked at the “Golden Gloves” Barbershop named George Graves who was married to Imogene Graves? We are trying to track down any off spring., nieces nephews etc of George or Imogene Graves. Imogene was a nanny or child care worker or basically John and Allen Thorndike’s second mother in Westport Conn. Looking for any of Imogene or George Graves relatives.

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