On a warm weekend, Aleta Hayes recalls a beloved brother in a cold climate.


In memory of…

Happy Fourth of July. It’s going to be a hot, bright weekend of celebrations, sparklers, and firecrackers.  So let me bring up one sparkly firecracker close to home, in our own Stanford neighborhood.

Last weekend was the wind-up of a very busy week of arts events.  At the Roble Studio on Friday, a young woman, stripped bare nekkid to the waist, was being doused with a bucket of water from a ladder.  All in the name of art.  Life-size plastic dummies made out of something that looked like saran-wrap littered the courtyard.  I didn’t know what it all meant, but I was glad to go instead to hear performer Aleta Hayes, founder of the Chocolate Heads Movement Band (and a former student of Robert Wilson), commemorate her peripatetic artist-at-large brother in song and dance.  She’s good at both – so good that it’s hard to look at anything else onstage while she’s on it.

In this case, however, there was no living competition … only a memory and a presence:  “The content for this song-cycle was inspired by the unexpected passing of my dear brother Alan Hayes in February, 2013,” she wrote.  “I find it uncanny and appropriate to perform here in Roble Gym Dance Studio, where he showed up unannounced from Norway last year, to attend a Chocolate Heads Movement Band performance I had choreographed and directed – a surprise to me and my mother. It was the last time we saw Alan.”

Aleta crooned folk tunes from far away, African-American freedom songs, popular music, and a formal piece by (I believe) Purcell.  Interspersed throughout were memories of a beloved, and extraordinary, brother.

When I first got the news, a stranger on the phone said, “Alan’s gone.”


Gone where?

But come to think of it, he always did disappear. Like the time our family went to Disney Land and he ran off from us. We found him at the center for lost children, sitting there, happily talking to Minnie Mouse.  At eight, he had checked on his own plane reservations to go with our nanny to Nicaragua and offered his paperboy money to mother and dad to pay for it.


… a beloved brother.

He was always disappearing.  And just as suddenly, reappearing.

He would appear from nowhere –  carrying armfuls of flowers. Tall ones.  Once, he showed up at my work, to a posh luncheon honoring someone – not me.  He stood there like a prince, brandishing thirty-six Easter lilies, flanked by two huge blonds from Denmark.

Waited until the whole room turned to notice (I was the last).  And I cried like a baby.  Like I had just received the crown.

And he stayed in Norway.  Aleta continued throughout the short less-than-an-hour performance to recall his international life – and the rumors of a son somewhere in Scandinavia that she is going back to find.

I often joke, black people don’t like the cold. Except Alan, who kept house in Oslo, Norway.

What would possess a black man to make his home in ice-cold-dark-longest winter-ever, Norway?

How could a child raised by race people during the civil rights era — mother used to sneak off at lunchtime to sit in at the Woolworth’s counter, and dad was the first black person to cross the color line the University of Missouri Medical school — end up in Lapland, knitting wool sweaters by the fire?

Why would Alan, brought up in sunny California, end up in a place where the sun doesn’t shine – except in July?

He felt free. He said, “I feel free there. I don’t feel free here.”

He shared a house at the top of the ski lift in Slemdal — overlooking the fjords.  At age 22, he had his own table in the best restaurant in town, serving reindeer, medium rare. He had friends, lots of them – blond and loyal. They will tend his grave. Bring flowers on the holidays.

He will stay there – his preferred home – as he did in life.  A free black man in the snow.

(Aleta’s TedX talk below.)


3 Responses to “On a warm weekend, Aleta Hayes recalls a beloved brother in a cold climate.”

  1. Janice (Tiny)West Says:

    This is simply beautiful. It had been years since I had seen him! He was so handsome! I need to come see the Chocolate Head dance group! He looks just like his pretty sister! Love you girl

  2. Cynthia Haven Says:

    I love her too, Janice!

  3. Stacey Bethea Says:

    Aleta, wow!,

    I m speechless and sitting here in tears.

    First and foremost, I want you to know, I wasnt a stranger when I contacted you to tell you of your brothers passing. I too lived in Norway. Yes, another African American man who understood, experienced the genuine love, and warmth of the Norwegian people. Let me be extremely clear!. I met your brother way back in the 1980ies and as 2 African Americans living in Norway we became instant friends. We spent much time together and often spent time having conversations about the differences between the attitudes of White America and Norwegians. We both understood true freedom, its meaning, our place in Norway and why we both choose to live there. At one point, I was working in Saudia Arabia living in Norway and commuting between the two countries. Every single time I arrived back in Oslo, Alan and I would get together and see other friends, attend concerts, meet up for drinks, meet up at both of our residences, and hung out in the same social circles. Just a little history to paint a picture of my dear BEST FRIEND to the very end. My contract ended in Saudia Arabia. I left Norway and moved to Stockholm, Sweden. New job, new life. However, Alan and I always stayed in contact almost soeaking to one another almost every single day. 6 years I lived and worked in Stockholm, Sweden. My contract ended in Sweden so I then returned to New York. But thank goodness I had a job that sent me to Oslo, Norway 4 to 7 times a month. Upon arriving in Oslo the very first thing I did was to. Immediately go to the Majic hair salon at Oslo see. I would arrive at the salon to find your brother working. He would be with a client taking care of business. I walked in he, would look up from what he would be doing and we both started to laugh. Yes!…we would laugh because he knew we were going to meet up for drinks after he got off work. Not one to always be on time. Alan would usually show up 30 minutes late. But I knew the routine. Your brother was amazing and a true Artist at work and I knew he had clients well after the time the salon closed. I left to NY and moved to Philadelphia as I was saving up to buy my first home. Nevertheless, I still flew to Oslo every month, where I would meet up with Alan and mutual friends. I was home in Philadelphia and i received a strange text from Desi a mutual friend another African American living in Norway. She told me to call her that she had very important information about Alan. It was late at night . I called and spoke to Desi. She informed me of your brothers passing. Totally wrecked. I immediately contacted you on Facebook and told you to contact me immediately, that I had information about Alan and that it was an emergency. You called me. I remember, you were riding yoir bike and I told you to stop riding your bike. I told you to get off your bike. You complied. I told you that Alan my dear BEST FRIEND and your awesome brother had passed. Crying,, I couldnt stop crying uncontrollably as I last saw Alan right before he passed. You were in total disbelief. Then the reality set in and you realized what I had said. My only thought was your safety and wishing and longing to be there to tell you in person. Unfortunately, I couldn’t be at the funeral because I had also had family issues. But even too this very day as i continue to travel to Oslo. I continue to go straight to the Mall OSLO CITY, to the MENY supermarket and buy something to snack on while in my hotel room. While at Oslo City I always say a prayer and reminisce of my days living, laughing and loving life experiences. Far from being a stranger. History, memories, pain, truth, life, death are all a part of life we all endure. Your dance piece is masterful and amazing. Just know I will continue to send you love and keep Alan in my heart and keep his memory alive with friends in Oslo, Norway. Much love to you and your entire family. Continue to INSPIRE.