At the beginning of the 1970's The Raphael in Montreal was a seedy motel with a piano bar in the small lounge. It was frequented by Runyonesque characters - often harbouring weapons of potential destruction. But to me, it was a landmark that changed my life - a sacred place.
I first met Cliff when he came to Montreal for a short gig at the Clover Cafe across from the Montreal Forum circa 1947. I was just eleven. I met him in my family's store, Metropolitan News on Peel Street where he, like thousands of other interesting people, came to buy his newspaper.
I listened, enchanted, to his radio show and followed his lounge performances as a little girl staring in the window of the club next door to our store. I was too young to go inside. After that, Cliff was in demand in the Montreal area and he decided to stay. I followed his career, dreaming that one day, he would somehow hear me sing and invite me to sing with him. I don't think I ever really imagined where my dream was going to take me. But his shining eyes and his devastating smile and his honeyed voice warmed my little girl heart. I bought Hit Parade song books and memorized all the lyrics and sang along with Cliff on the radio.
Remind me to tell you about the miraculous encounter that took place when a Red Cross blood donors marathon took place when I was about sixteen. That event needs a page all by itself.
But Cliff returned to the United States and he disappeared from my life for years.
I met him again when he returned to Montreal in the early 1970's. He invited my family to come see him play at The Raphael - and I fell in love with him again. This time, I was all grown up and deeply in love - for real.