Tiffany & Calvin: An Ode to the Harlem Renaissance in NYC

by Allison Micarelli

Following a midnight Mass on New Years Day, Tiffany hosted a party at her home for around 20 close friends and family eager to celebrate the prospect of a prosperous new year. It was there, in front of all their guests, that Calvin surprised Tiffany with a ring.

THE BRIDE Tiffany Ellis, 33, director of marketing and public relations
THE GROOM Calvin Otis Butts, IV, 33, advertising copywriter
THE DATE November 27
THE SCENE Ceremony: Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem; reception: Alfred Lerner Hall of Columbia University

THE INSPIRATION Insistent on having their event embody a celebration of Harlem -- its history, culture, and sense of community -- the pair chose sounds and traditions representative of African-American appreciation of the arts. From dinner tables named after significant persons or places that shaped their culture (Duke Ellington, Langston Hughes, and The Cotton Club, for instance) to live musical performances by jazz legends, Tiffany and Calvin's wedding resonated with the poetic nature of the Harlem Renaissance.

YOU'RE INVITED There were 600 people in attendance -- including Andre Leon Talley, editor at large of Vogue -- to witness Tiffany and Harlem-raised Calvin exchange wedding vows in a beautiful ceremony conducted by his father, Rev. Dr. Calvin O. Butts, III. The Abyssinian Baptist Church, which is located between Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. and Malcolm X Boulevards (named for two of our country's most prominent civil rights leaders), reverberated with sweet and sultry music. Imani Winds, an Afro Latin-influenced chamber group that includes the bride's sister Monica, a bassoonist, helped usher guests down the long aisle and to their seats. Once everyone was settled, the church organist, accompanied by the renowned jazz trumpeter Wynton Marsalis (he's also Tiffany's friend and former boss), set the tone for the Vera Wang-clad bride's big entrance.

EVERY LITTLE THING SHE DOES IS MAGIC "I had a very clear vision of what I wanted my wedding and reception to entail," says Tiffany, who earned an MFA in Theater Management from Yale School of Drama. The result: a dazzling celebration that was equal parts earnest and engaging. At the reception, there were heartfelt toasts (including one by New York City's mayor, Michael Bloomberg, that encouraged Tiffany and Calvin to embrace everlasting love with, "May today be the day that you love each other the least"); Southern traditions (a red velvet cake for dessert); and a performance-filled evening (the escort cards were crafted to look like theater tickets, and invited guests into a production titled, Tiffany & Calvin's Harlem Jam).

SCENE STEALERS The party, which nearly 300 guests attended, kicked off with cocktail hour that included 1920s jazz and viewings of famous Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee's work. As guests made their way into the ballroom, a warm and inviting color palette (copper, bronze, and other colors reminiscent of a fall harvest) became evident. Amber, red, and golden theatrical lighting warmed the space from above; four-foot-tall copper-wire candelabra were bursting with roses and calla lilies; and copper-color gobo lighting reading Tiffany & Calvin playfully punctuated the dance floor.

SHALL WE DANCE? The jam session got underway almost immediately, beginning with a clip of I Remember Harlem, and followed by poetry readings from Harlem Renaissance writers Langston Hughes and Georgia Douglas Johnson. There was a dance segment to "Baby (You've Got What it Takes)" by Brook Benton and Dinah Washington, which was partly performed by Matthew Rushing, principal dancer with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. Then, the Wynton Marsalis Quartet took center stage, and Tiffany and Calvin stepped out to "Embraceable You." Later, a DJ, who in true New-York-City-That-Never-Sleeps form, spun tunes into the early hours of the following morning.

MOMENTS IN TIME Though Tiffany and Calvin slipped out of their reception around midnight, many of their guests continued to celebrate in tribute to the wedding that simultaneously honored the past and welcomed the possibilities of the future.

-- Allison Micarelli
photography © Ray Llanos

For the ingredients that make up this wedding, see the right-hand side of the page.

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