Grennell Nell Bassett Harris (1934-2020)
A Bermudian broadcaster who broke down barriers in the 1960s on the airwaves of New York City was a pioneer, her family said yesterday.
Grennell Bassett Harris, who died in the US last week, earlier earned the nickname “Auntie Nell” as the host of children’s show Junior Club on broadcaster ZBM.
Ms Bassett Harris went on to be a voice coach for executives and politicians at home and abroad.
Ms Bassett Harris, 86, died on May 21, the birthday of her late husband, Kenny Harris, at a seniors home in Florida.
Penny Bassett, her daughter, speaking on behalf of her sisters Roxanne and Tiffani, said: “She paved the way for many, many women — not just in Bermuda, but in the world.
“Just imagine a single black woman with two small daughters leaving Bermuda to work in New York in the 1960s, not knowing a soul.
“That takes guts, courage and perseverance.”
Ms Bassett, a Royal Gazette reporter in the mid-1980s, added: “She was an icon in radio, television and film, an author and educator. When she smiled, she lit up the area with consummate style and grace.”
Ms Bassett Harris (née Richardson), had already built a broadcast legacy on the island by the time she broke the glass ceiling as a broadcaster and actress in the US.
A former teacher at The Central School, in Pembroke, now Victor Scott Primary School, she got her break on ZBM radio standing in for the regular host of The Children’s Hour show.
She said her older sister, the late veteran broadcaster Marlene Landy, encouraged her to take it up.
The show was a success and became the popular Junior Club from 1960 until 1966, when she went abroad.
A tape from another of her island shows, The Ladies’ Page, impressed John Dale, the programme director at radio station WNEW FM in New York City.
Ms Bassett Harris told The Royal Gazette in 2004: “It was a milestone in my life. They said they liked the sound of my voice.”
In her book, It’s a Dirty, Rotten, Wonderful Business — My Life in Radio and Television Broadcasting, Ms Bassett Harris revealed the intense pressure that came after she decided to leave Bermuda, which threw her family into turmoil.
However, she forged ahead to become one of the first black woman radio personalities on WNEW.
She went on to host a syndicated TV show, For You Black Woman, where she interviewed celebrities, including former sports reporter Jayne Kennedy and the Jamaican-born supermodel and singer Grace Jones.
Ms Bassett Harris also became a cast member of soap opera Hidden Faces on broadcaster NBC in the late 1960s.
She also worked for a decade as national director of public affairs at NBC.
Ms Bassett Harris later changed the direction of her career and became executive director of the Arts Centre of Northern New Jersey — an arts school and gallery.
She taught public speaking in the New York and New Jersey area, and was a board member of the Girl Scouts of America in Bergen County, New Jersey.
Gavin Shorto, a former editor of the Mid-Ocean News, said: “Auntie Nell was royalty.
“No one who listened for five minutes to that divine, kind voice and what she had to say failed to realise this was a woman who was good to the bone.”
Mr Shorto added: “No one who knew her, including me, failed to fall in love with her, even if just a little bit. We have lost a wonderful Bermudian.”
Ms Bassett Harris returned to Bermuda in 2001, and brought her voice back to radio on the former VSB station and in TV and radio voiceovers and commercials.
She is survived by Ms Bassett and daughters Roxanne Bassett Pye and Tiffani Carter-Thompson, as well as by brother Clyde Richardson.
Ms Bassett said she was at her mother’s side when she died at the Symphony Senior Living Facility in Stuart, Florida.
She added: “I feel so incredibly fortunate that I was with her at a time when so many people were not able to be with their loved ones. I take solace in that.”
Ms Bassett Harris was predeceased by brothers Gladwin and Randolph Richardson and sisters Marlene Landy and Lofaye Darrell.
The family said a celebration of her life would be held in Somerset, Bermuda, when Covid-19 restrictions were lifted.
Grennell “Nell” Joan Bassett Harris, trailblazing broadcaster, was born on March 23, 1934. She died on May 21, 2020, aged 86
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