Concert series recalled glory days of old Peppermint Lounge

Photo by Chris Sykes Former Orange at large Councilman Rayfield Morton, left, stands with Emmy Award-winning performer Hunter Hayes on Thursday, July 21, at the second installment of the three-part Taste of Irvington Jazz in the Square concert series. Morton and Hayes are friends who attended school together and went on to work in the entertainment industry as a promoter and manager and a world-class singer. They are both still in the industry — Morton promoting shows such as the one scheduled for Orange Park in the coming weeks and Hayes writing music and performing live.
Photo by Chris Sykes
Former Orange at large Councilman Rayfield Morton, left, stands with Emmy Award-winning performer Hunter Hayes on Thursday, July 21, at the second installment of the three-part Taste of Irvington Jazz in the Square concert series. Morton and Hayes are friends who attended school together and went on to work in the entertainment industry as a promoter and manager and a world-class singer. They are both still in the industry — Morton promoting shows such as the one scheduled for Orange Park in the coming weeks and Hayes writing music and performing live.

IRVINGTON, NJ — Emmy Award-winning musician Hunter Hayes headlined the second installment of the three-part Taste of Irvington Jazz in the Square concert series on Thursday, July 21, and attendees agreed he’s still “got it.”

“I have seven Emmy Awards. I wrote a TV theme song for a show called ‘Due Process’ that comes on every Tuesday and Sunday morning; they won seven Emmy Awards and I have seven at the house. And I had a couple of hit house music records, back in the day,” said Hayes on Thursday, July 21.

“I’d like to do this every week. This was like a nightclub setting, but outdoors. It’s really cool. And then I had my club lights out here with it. DJ Qua was playing and he’s one of the best DJs in the world. With me and him here, you can’t lose.”

Hayes praised the event, calling the audience that evening “grown and sexy.”

“The kind of people that came out — classy, classic people who are upwardly mobile, progressive people who like old school jazz, (rhythm and blues), Marvin Gaye, Nat King Cole, Al Green — they love all the classics,” said Hayes, who also celebrated his birthday on Thursday, July 21. “Grown and sexy is exactly what it is. From the Peppermint Lounge days, back in the day.”

Peppermint Lounge was once an internationally known nightclub on Central Avenue in Orange that attracted such famous performers in the 1970s and 1980s as Eddie Murphy, Whitney Houston, Dionne Warwick, Kool and the Gang and more; and in the 1990s, Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, Naughty By Nature and others.

“Me and Hunter Hayes was in the eighth grade together, back when I could almost sing as good as him,” said Rayfield Morton, an Orange native who is a concert and music promoter and former councilman, at the concert. “Lauryn Hill, Queen Latifah, George Benson, Bill Cosby; the list goes on and on. Even the girl that played Martin Lawrence’s wife on his TV show, Tisha Campbell, her mother, Mona Raye, used to come through. We had it going on in Orange and Essex County back in the day and it’s always good to be reminded of that and to see it again when you come to events like this Taste of Irvington. That was a great event.”

Peppermint Lounge was torn down in 2015 to make way for new development in Orange, but according to Morton, Hayes and others, the spirit from those glory days was on display at the recent concert.

“You know it’s not just me; what’s really incredible about that is we’re on the right track,” Daniel Frett, the owner of the New Irvington Manor concert hall, which aims to be the entertainment successor to the Peppermint Lounge, said. “The area has preserved the original house (music) culture, so you’re getting the real deal, when you come to events like this. What we’re listening to right now is the real deal. They say there’s a lot of fakers and imitators, but you can’t plagiarize this thing, because you can’t get away from the roots of what this thing is.”

South Ward Councilwoman Sandy Jones said hosting summer concert events, such as the second Taste of Irvington, is something the town is used to.

“It’s important to have events here in Irvington, because everybody goes down to Newark to their Thursday night thing, which is a lot of fun, I’m sure,” said Jones on Thursday, July 21. “Tonight, they have some hip-hop guy and, unfortunately, I don’t understand what they’re saying, so I’m at a Taste of Irvington, because I know what Hunter Hayes is saying.”

Jones said it’s been “so far, so good” this summer in Irvington. She said the council is working hand-in-hand with Mayor Tony Vauss and together they’re “trying to work with all of our community folks to just move the town forward.”

“Irvington is strong and it’s just showing that the mayor has brought everyone together,” said local district leader Rasheed Williams on Thursday, July 21. “I’m grown and sexy and we work hard, but we relax together, too, and this mayor is doing good.”

“This is comparable to what we did last year in the West Ward, with our first annual festival,” said West Ward Councilman Vern Cox on Thursday, July 21. “It’s very important to have events like this, because it gives the people in the community the chance to interact with each other and that’s what we need in Irvington. We need more social interaction because, when we interact socially, it cures a lot of other problems. I think this is great and it’s a good turnout, too.”

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