I first met Sylvia Traymore-Morrison more than ten years ago, when I was a young comic performing in the basement of Club Elite in Temple Hills. That basement was also known as Laugh-Out-Loud Comedy Club. This was before emojis, when acronyms conveyed all of our untextable emotions. LOL. I had just gotten off stage and had my head in my workbook, going over my stage notes, when I noticed a regal black woman walking toward me in a long, black, short hair fur coat. I’m pretty sure it was mink. LOL.
That woman I met turned out to be Traymore-Morrison, who is an African-American female impressionist, comedian, and all around entertainer. She does Whoopie, Monique, Michelle Obama, and Melania Trump, who, according to Traymore-Morrison, is the “star of her show” these days.
This year, 2019, marks her 50th anniversary as an entertainer. I promised not to share her age, which is cool because she doesn’t look it anyway. Black may not crack, but Sylvia Traymore-Morrison will crack you up with her wit, impression, and overall dope style. She’s also an author, mother, beauty queen and pageant winner, and was once a flight attendant. She also hosted Harlem Roasts the Champ in 1979—a roast of boxing champion Muhammad Ali.
She sat down with me to share what’s good with her these days.
Sylvia, what’s good with you these days?!
Timing is everything. It’s almost everything. For the first time in my entire life, over the 50 years, I’m going to be on the front cover of two magazines! They probably said, you know what? We’re going to give you one for 25 years. And the other one for the other 25 years.
I will be on Copa Style, on the front cover for April. And I’ll also be on the cover of Play Magazine for April, and I will be at the “play. Awards,” hosting it on March 30th and 31st in the beautiful city of Las Vegas, Nevada. At the glorious Mandalay Bay Hotel.
Ayyyyeee; that’s good stuff!
I’m almost there. Almost.
That’s a good plug for your book, titled Almost There, Almost. Talk to me about your time growing up in D.C. What part of the District did you grow up in?
I grew up on 16th and Corcoran NW; I grew up twelve blocks from the White House. It was a time, you know, where I could come out of my house, walk to the corner, and there she was—the prettiest, biggest, most powerful house in the world. We could see the White House from where we lived at 16th and Corcoran. This would be before all the greenery, all the beautification.
How did you become an impressionist?
There we were, living in Washington D.C., and I could hear things when I was a little girl. I could hear the flapping of a butterfly’s wings. Don’t ask me how. I knew that a butterfly was nearby, the same with bumblebees. And I could hear crickets at night, but I could also imitate their sounds. So I would come home in the house at night, and I would make cricket sounds. My folks thought crickets were in the house and my mother was petrified to death because you know, black people (laughing)—I’m being nice the way I’m saying it. But it was me, and I could see and hear that stuff at 5 or 6 years old.
Also I was fascinated with the sound of instruments. My favorite was the harmonica. I could just be a harmonica and people would say, “Wow.” I could whistle; I could whistle songs at 5 and 6 years old. Then I realized I could imitate people, so the people in my neighborhood, we would just walk around and I would imitate people’s parents and they thought it was funny. And we finally got to watch TV, because back then there were only four channels on TV, but our favorite show was a show called The Ed Sullivan Show. Ed Sullivan was sort of like the Oprah Winfrey of the ’50s and ’60s. He brought The Beatles to America, had on The Jackson 5. He was the man. And I started imitating Ed Sullivan. There I was, this little black girl, and I was imitating Ed Sullivan, and sounding just like him. But people, in my neighborhood, didn’t even know what an impressionist was. And all of a sudden we saw this white guy on TV, his name was Rich Little. Oh my God. He could do every president, ever. And that was it.
And that’s what spoke to you?
So by him being a guy, I didn’t know that girls could do it too because the only female comic that I knew, especially that looked like me, it was Moms Mabley. She was it. So there was nobody else, and Moms wore her head rag, you know, she wore old bedroom shoes. And that’s who she was. That was her brand. That’s how she marketed herself. But I didn’t know how to do that. I’d always been like a little girly girl. And I like to look nice.
How did you get started?
I don’t even know how I got to the big thing (laughing). I don’t even remember how I made it to the big stages. I mean I worked 16th Street! The Carter Barron! I met Richard Pryor at the Carter Barron. I went to his show one night. And because it was just a difficult time for, for a black female comic who did impressions, I would always move my way into things. Because I looked like I was supposed to be there. So I remember going to the Carter Barron one night. Richard Pryor was there and I have a little friend of mine, she, she was such a fan and she said, “Do you really think that we’re going to be able to get in? Because all the tickets are sold out,” and I said, “Leave it to me.” And because I could do an impersonation of a very rich black woman who belonged there, we got in. And we went backstage, and there was Richard Pryor!
My friend who was with me, she was giddy like a teenager. She looked at me and she say, “Ms. Sylvia, we’re here?” I said, “You better believe it, baby.”
There was a guy named Al Dale, he was president of the National Parks Association. He brought all the shows to the Carter Barron. He actually saw me at another show and he asked me if I wanted to go on stage for a few minutes. You’re talking about the Carter Barron! Richard Pryor! Of course! I tried to act like it was no big thang, but inside, I was exploding!
So what makes you stay in D.C.?
First of all, my family’s here. My children are here, my grandchildren are here, and this is my home. This is where it started. And while I love other places—I lived in New York for a while, like three, four years. I was in California a couple of years. I was in Miami, Atlanta. But D.C.?! There’s something about the air here in comedy. Even though this is more like a political city, there are a lot of good comics here—this political city offers a plethora of good material.
You just can’t get away from it, [this city] is just so funny. I mean, thank God for Melania Trump. I get to imitate her. Someone told me that they sent her a copy of what I did. I did Monique pulling Melania on stage, calling her boo: “Hey Sugah! Come here, boo. Come here, boo. Melania, come here, baby.”
Melania’s coming over and she’s shy and beautiful. And she really doesn’t want to say much. And her husband’s the president and she just wants to just chill. He insists on her talking and she comes by and she goes, in Melania Trump’s voice, “Hello, I’m happy,” she takes a breath before continuing, “to be here”
It’s just, D.C. is full of comedy. And now it’s so international here. I have a picture that I’m going to post on social media in the next couple of days. It’s a picture of every, almost every kind of human. I have white people, black people, Indian people or Asians. I have Italians in there. I have Russians. It’s a big picture of me and different types of people. I have a comedy room on Thursday night at Alba Osteria. It’s at 425 I Street NW. They took this picture and it’s about 15 people in the picture and I looked at—I say how diverse is this? This is so diverse, all different types of people in here. All with their own style, their own thing. It just pleases me too much.
For my 50th I promised myself that I was doing as many satellite comedy rooms as I can. I’ve been doing comedy in rooms that I thought I would die in if I had to perform. But after 50 years, no matter what audience I go in front of, I’m welcomed.
That’s awesome. Sounds like you really are almost there. What else is good that you have coming up where D.C. folks can catch up with you?
Well I’ve mentioned the magazine covers, and the weekly room that I host in Northwest, but this is really gonna, what’s going to just, just pull at my heartstrings: On, April 7th, yes, I’ll be back in D.C. at the Ivy City Smokehouse. Where DC Nitelife is honoring me. Uh, I hate to say this as a living legend. They want people that have seen me, and that have never seen me. They want everybody to come out. It’s April 7th, and I think we might have about 300, 400 seats to fill.
Follow Sylvia Traymore-Morrison on Instagram @sylviatmorrison
Follow Haywood Turnipseed Jr. on Instagram @woodyseed
Follow Washington City Paper on Instagram @washingtoncitypaper