The Word: Art-lovers before they were celebrities

Russell Simmons, Ming Lee Simmons, Kimora Lee, Kenzo Lee Hounsou, Djimon Hounsou and Aoki Lee Simmons attends the 12th annual Art for Life benefit.

The tony summer benefits held in that rarified enclave for the truly wealthy (and those who are just pretending) known as the Hamptons are now in full swing. This weekend’s big fete? A benefit for Art for Life, which was founded  by brothers Russell, Danny and Joseph “Rev. Run” Simmons in 1995 to provide urban youth with access to the arts. So we asked the bold-faced names in attendance (which included Edward Norton, Melissa George, Gayle King, Mary J. Blige, Taraji P. Henson and Soledad O’Brien): How did you express yourself creatively when you were a kid?

Ed Norton:
I got turned on to theater very early. When I was very young, I had a theater  teacher who was hugely inspirational to me — actually I still talk and get notes from them. I was 5 or 6 years old when I was first on stage. I didn’t know [that I wanted to be an actor] for a long, long time, but I was always a fan.

Taraji P. Henson:

I would entertain my family and they would egg me on. They would sit on the sofa and say, “Go TJ!” And I could do anything: Cheer, a poem, recite lines from a movie that we had just seen. They were my audience.

Melissa George:

I was an artistic roller-skating champion. Wide skates. Four wheels. Costumes. I competed around the world. That was my passion. When I was four, I got a pair of skates for Christmas. I loved the fact that I had all these wheels under my feet and I could do all these tricks. I had routines. I was doing axels, salchows and double jumps. I was very proud of all the routines.

Russell Simmons:
I think music. Dance. I produced records when I was a kid. Before that, I liked to paint a lot.

Soledad O’Brien:
It is a little-known fact, but I was quite a accomplished flautist. I played flute and piccolo in the marching band from fourth grade until I graduated from high school. I was inspired to play the flute because I have a lot of brothers and sisters, and they all played the piano. I didn’t want to play the piano. I can still play “Bolero.”

— With additional reporting by Jeryl Brunner

For more gossip news visit Dorothy Robinson’s Word blog. Follow her on Twitter @DorothyatMetro.


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