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Charles and Sue Mingus

Sonny Rollins and Sue Mingus in the Mingus home
Charles Mingus at home with Sonny Rollins
Charles Mingus at home with Dexter Gordon
Charles Mingus and his wife Sue at home

Charles Mingus didn’t die in his apartment at 10th Avenue and West 43rd Street in New York City, but he did begin to wither away there in 1978, suffering from the effects of ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s disease). But because Mingus was a fighter, his widow, Sue Graham Mingus, says he “was active in his wheelchair, as he was in all other occasions. We went out constantly. There was a van that could accommodate wheelchairs, so we would go up to the Cotton Club and down to Bradley’s and events in Central Park. He could no longer perform on his bass, or even compose at the piano, so he used his voice and composed into a tape recorder. Charles found a way up until the last minute to do whatever could be done.”

That included planning a party for his wife’s birthday. “Charles, from his wheelchair, organized this tremendous surprise party for me with 50 or 60 people, and this huge cake, without me knowing,” Sue says. “So I turned around and planned a surprise party for [his 56th birthday] three weeks later. His favorite snack at that time were grapes, so I ordered 70 pounds, and we decorated the apartment with big black grapes, green seedless grapes, all over the living room. It was like a living jungle with grapes hanging everywhere. When he came in he laughed out loud and ate grapes for an hour, telling the nurse different bowls or platters or plants he wanted grapes from next, even though they were all the same,” she says with a sweet, heartfelt laugh.

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