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Friends: A Love Story

Friends: A Love Story

4.6 17
by Angela Bassett

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What if you met your future soul mate, but were too busy living in the here and now to realize you'd found "the one"?That's what happened when Courtney B. Vance met Angela Bassett….They ran for years as friends in the same small circles. They had some hits, but mostly misses with other partners, and they shared one spectacularly dreadful first date together.


What if you met your future soul mate, but were too busy living in the here and now to realize you'd found "the one"?That's what happened when Courtney B. Vance met Angela Bassett….They ran for years as friends in the same small circles. They had some hits, but mostly misses with other partners, and they shared one spectacularly dreadful first date together. And then, Courtney and Angela connected.Experience the up-close-and-personal, real-life love story of this inspirational African-American celebrity couple. Learn how they navigate the fickle tides of fame while keeping their relationship fresh and true. See how they've carved a meaningful life together in spite of humble beginnings, family tragedy and the ups and downs of stardom, with love, faith and determination.

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It was a hot and sticky August day when I came into the world in 1958—at least, that's how I imagine it. Angela Evelyn Bassett is the name I was given—my middle name in honor of Aunt Evelyn.

But I've gotten ahead of myself. I need to start my story with my parents.

Mama didn't have the best luck when it came to men, but she always protected me from them. After she graduated from high school she migrated from St. Petersburg, Florida, to New York City, where she lived with her father's brother, Uncle Charles and his wife, Aunt Evelyn. That's where she met my daddy, Daniel Benjamin Bassett, who'd moved to New York from Winston-Salem, North Carolina. They met, dated, got pregnant with me, married and lived in a small apartment in Harlem. I think it was on Seventh Avenue across from Small's Paradise.

My father was very bright, a self-educated kind of man—he could talk to anyone about anything. Yet I always thought of him as a jack-of-all-trades but a master of none. He made his money working in the neighborhood, fixing jukeboxes and other electrical things. My mother, Betty Jane, was a nurse's aide or something like that. I have a really pretty picture of her in her white uniform. With both of them working, they didn't have much—even before I was born. Times were hard for black folks in the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Ten months after I was born my mother got pregnant again. Of course, that only made things harder. I don't think my parents had considered how they would handle two babies, living in New York and both of them having to work. My mother never speaks poorly of my father, but sometimes she says he was frugal or stingy. According to her he was the kindof person where if she would say, "The baby needs shoes" and those shoes cost $4.72, he would count out $4.72—not $4.73—not a nickel more. Maybe he was broke, I don't know. I'm certain times were tight.

On top of struggling financially, my parents' relationship was troubled. My mother once told me a story of how she tried, or pretended to try, to leave my father in her trademark melodramatic style.

"We're leaving your daddy. We're leaving that man," she sang as she packed me into the car. His friends apparently reported to him, "They're in the car, and she's telling the baby she's leaving." He rushed home.

"What?" he said. "Get back in the house! You ain't leaving."

I also have a vague childhood memory of playing with a little white windup dog that flipped over and barked. I remember thinking the dog was fun. My mother was cooking greens. There was an argument about money—my daddy didn't want to give her money for food but he was eating the food—then a fight. A window got bumped then somehow my father's head was out the window. That's the only memory I have of being in that apartment. Maybe that was the kind of behavior my mother was trying to get us away from.

After Mom got pregnant with my sister D'nette, my parents shipped me down to Winston-Salem to stay with Daddy's sister Golden. Aunt Golden and her husband, Grover, didn't have any children of their own, but she was someone who loved children, and she was good with them—they were her background, her education, her love. And Uncle Grover didn't mind me coming to live with them. He was a barber and had his own barbershop, Sanitary Barbershop. Cutting heads was his thing.

I stayed with Aunt Golden and Uncle Grover in the little redbrick, two-bedroom house he had built on Graham Avenue near Winston-Salem Teachers' College, now Winston-Salem State University. The house had a porch with an aluminum glider on it and a magnolia tree in the front yard, a weeping willow in the back. I liked to play in the basement and was a good kid, from what they say. Aunt Golden and Uncle Grover had a committed and consistent relationship. They were good, God-fearing people who loved, supported and took care of each other. I never heard a harsh word said in their home.

My aunt Golden was a teacher, so she was gone during the day. While Auntie was at school I would stay with my grandmother, whose name was Brownie. Grandma Brownie lived in a little house across the street from the school. On Sundays I would go with either her or Auntie to Goler Metropolitan AME Zion Church. Auntie always dressed real fine and wore hats to church and all that stuff. She would dress me like a little doll baby in little frocks with gloves and little hats. As a small girl I was always repeating, "Praise the Lord!" and "Hallelujah!" which I heard at that church on Sundays.

Across the street from Aunt Golden and Uncle Grover, I had a girlfriend, Debra. I would play with her and her cousins, and we all went to church together. I probably heard Debra or my other little friends calling their mothers "Mommy"; I remember on several occasions attempting to call my auntie "Mommy" or "Mama." Now, I don't believe I ever tried to call Uncle Grover "Daddy," but I did try to call Aunt Golden "Mommy."

"Angela, I am not your mother," she would tell me in a gentle voice. "You have a mama. I am Auntie." I would get upset and twist up my face. I wanted to have a mama.

One day when I was four I was in the basement playing when Auntie called me upstairs. "Angela, your mama's on the phone."


"Hi, Angela. This is Mama," said the voice on the other end of the line.

"I ain't got no mama," I shouted and threw down the phone. I remember feeling upset that the woman I lived with and loved was not my mother, yet here was this voice on the phone saying that she was my mother. It is the only telephone conversation I remember with my mother while I was living with Golden and Grover. I guess back in those days, people wrote letters, but I was too young to read.

The next thing I knew (I'm sure some days or weeks had passed), there was a knock on the door and a pretty, brown-skinned woman—my mother—was standing in the door frame. My mother looked nice, and I imagine my auntie told me at least a little something to expect—I don't remember it being traumatic. But the next thing you know, I was gone, headed to St. Petersburg, Florida, with her and my little sister, D'nette. To hear my mother tell it, while she was living with my dad she had a couple of nervous breakdowns and ended up in court. The judge told her to take her children and go home or he'd take us or put us in foster care.

"I'm going home," she told him. "I'll go home." That's when she left my father; although they didn't divorce until years later.

In St. Pete's we stayed with my mother's parents, Grandmother Emma and Granddaddy Leroy, whom we called Mama and Daddy. My mother got a job as an aide in a hospital. My grandmother took care of me while mother was at work. We'd sit and watch soap operas together. She'd have her coffee and I'd have my mug filled with coffee, which was really milk with a teaspoon of coffee in it. When her stories were over I'd fill up her green-stamp book, putting all the little stamps in their places. That was fun! When I finished that we would walk up to the little store and get my grape snow cone. Then I'd get into her big bed and take my nap. That was my day.

At night my mother went to secretarial school. She hadn't done well in high school—she said she was always slacking off with her girlfriend, skipping class and smoking, and barely graduated with Ds and Fs. Now she was paying for it and having to play catch-up while she had two little girls. We'd sit on the bed together and play a game where D'nette and I would show her flash cards with shorthand characters on them while she learned and figured them out. Eventually she got very good at all those squiggly lines and dots and stuff. Between that and the steno pad, she would do her thing.

D'nette and I got along well. She was fun and cute and happy to have a big sister. Being older I was always one step ahead of her. One time when we were home at Mama Emma's, I remember finding some scissors and playing barbershop just like Uncle Grover.

"Let's play barbershop," I said to D'nette, and cut off all her little plaits. When I finished, she smiled and said, "Now let's do yours." I said, "No, let's do something else." When my mother came home from work that day, she beat the daylights out of me. I was always outsmarting D'nette like that.

"I have five moneys and you have one money," I'd say. "I'll give you my money for your money."

"Okay." And of course my money was a nickel and a couple of pennies and hers was a quarter. Then she'd want to have her turn.

"No," I'd say and change the subject. "Want some cookies?"

So we lived with my grandparents for maybe a year. My mother got along with her dad—she was a daddy's girl—but didn't get along with her mom at the time. There was a lot of "get-down"—arguing—between them. Maybe it was because my grandmother had become a Jehovah's Witness, with all its tightenings and restrictions.

When my mother couldn't stand living with her parents anymore, we moved out of Grandmom and Granddaddy's house and into a little dinky shotgun apartment on the other side of the railroad tracks that ran behind the "beer garden." A beer garden is a saloon, one of those little joints where the barflies hang out. They've got peanut hulls and sawdust on the floor. For fifty cents or maybe a dollar you could get a crab, a red potato and half an ear of corn wrapped in newsprint. My grandmother's sister Viola and her husband, Hiram, owned and ran it. You know how it goes: Mama Emma was the pious church girl, Viola ran the beer garden and the baby girl, my mother's youngest sister, Inez, was a teacher. Anyhow, our little house must have been cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap, cheap—Oh God, it was po' and nasty! We had indoor plumbing but there were roaches and all that stuff. It was funky, tired, to' down, wretched and just awful!

Daddy Leroy would come see us all the time while we lived in that shotgun shack. He and my grandmother lived together and seemed to get along just fine, but Grandmom was way off into her Jehovah's Witness thing. My maternal great-grandfather Slater Samuel Stokes, whom we called Papa, was a preacher. But apparently Grandmom never received answers to her spiritual questions in her father's church. Whoever comes along and meets you where you are, that's where you go. In Grandmom's case, to everyone's dismay, the people who she "met" were Jehovah's Witnesses.

Meanwhile, my grandfather just wanted some "peanuts," as my mother called sex. He had a "girlfriend" who lived across the street from the projects in a two-story shack building. He would see her and then come visit us. We knew Granddaddy was married to Grandmom, but we also knew that he had a woman on the side.

Before long, my mother moved us out of the shanty and into the Jordan Park Projects a few blocks away. We had a one-bedroom apartment on the second floor. We didn't have much. We were on welfare. We got blocks of government cheese and peanut butter. I remember taking money out of my mama's purse and going to the store every day and buying honey buns, candy and soda. It wasn't much at the time—maybe a nickel—but it was still stealing. I would buy my honey bun and a soda and maybe some candy cigarettes or a candy necklace. Or I might get a peppermint or grape or green-apple Jolly Ranchers hard candy and stick it down into a dill pickle and suck the dill pickle for a sweet-and-sour taste. Later we moved into a two-bedroom, ground-floor apartment with a porch. D'nette and I shared a bedroom that looked out onto the clothesline. No matter what direction you looked you were facing a brick building. At least the kitchen looked out at Jordan Park, the all-black elementary school we attended. We would cross the street, flip ourselves over the fence, walk across the playground, climb over the monkey bars and go on up to class.

My mother may have struggled in school and early in her life, but she had an excellence about her and passed it on to us. Mama didn't want us to suffer her fate and she would tell us as much. She made sure we looked nice. She made sure we did well in school. She raised us up to love God. On Sundays we would walk together to Stewart Memorial CME Church where we attended Sunday school and service. I was part of the youth choir and had a great time singing. Ma was a deaconess. She sang in the adult choir. Her favorite song is "His Eye Is on the Sparrow," which she sang as a high soprano with her typical melodrama. I would be so embarrassed. One of my favorite memories is watching Papa sing "Take Your Troubles to the Lord and Leave Them There" while he was standing in front of the altar of his church. He took this white handkerchief out of his pocket and threw it across his shoulder like it represented his burdens weighing down on him real heavily. When he finished the song—Take your burdens to the Lord and leave them there—he took the handkerchief off his shoulder, threw it over the altar with a flourish and turned on his heel and walked away lighter. I remember sitting there rapt. "Wow, Papa!" It was great acting and great theater. I come from a very dramatic family.

Meet the Author

Best known for her searing portrayal of Tina Turner in the biopic What's Love got to Do with It? (1993), The Golden Globe recipient and Academy Award-nominated Angela Bassett has consistently given performances that leave an indelible impression. A native of New York City, New York, Basset grew up in St. Petersburg, Florida. She received her B.A. in African-American studies from Yale in 1980. In 1983 she earned a master's in fine arts from the Yale School of Drama. It was at Yale that Bassett met her husband, Courtney B. Vance, who graduated from the drama school in 1986.

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Friends: A Love Story 4.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 20 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
From the moment I picked up this book, I was captivated by the lives of these two actors who's work that I have admired for many, many years. This book not only documents the growth of their friendship and love but it also documents their individual struggles from childhood to adulthood. As children growing up in the 60's era, they were raised in a time when the civil rights of the minorities were being shouted and, eventually, heard. And the melting pot of cultures was beginning to be brought together and coexist as one¿as it should be. The world as it once was in the midst of change as young Angela and Courtney began their journeys. Unbeknownst to both of them, their childhood experiences, Courtney's adventurous persona and Angela's vibrancy, would pave the way for the wonderment that we all experience as we have seen them (and continue to see them) show off their acting gumption. Although their life stories were tales of growth, family and spirituality, their stories were not always filled with joyous moments. The novel brings us into the personal family turmoil and gut wrenching tragedies that would make anyone break and give up¿I think that any reader would feel fortunate to that Angela and Courtney shared their personal stories from their past to serve as a life lesson to those who continue to struggle¿where there is a will, there is a way within any circumstances¿one can overcome, in time. What I found pleasantly intriguing was how these two fascinating people kept 'bumping' into each other at different points in their lives¿as college students¿as young budding actors¿..as established actors. Maybe what they say is true¿sometime we meet people who are our match but timing is EVERYTHING! When they finally hooked up, it was like seeing a mirror of my relationship and other relationships minus the acting careers, of course. You have the 'oh-so-romantic-lovey-dovey' phase then it moves to 'hmmm-I-think-this-person-could-be-the-one' phase then it moves to 'hey-u-wanna-see-my-face-4-the-rest-of-our-lives?' phase¿then the big day and you are now man and wife this is where the hard work of a relationship begins (so I'm told). Courtney and Angela gives the reader a close look on how they became one. Before reading this book, I am the first to say that two people cannot become one in a relationship¿how the heck can that be when you have two different/somewhat different personalities, goals, dreams, needs, wants, etc.? Well what is really meant by the 'two become one' motto of a marriage (from what I gather from this book) is that its not that two people somehow morph into one person, one mind but it's the spiritual souls that really become one. I was just floored at how they broke it down¿their journey to understanding and continually to understand that its not 'me, myself and I' in this thing called marriage with this other person but its growing together spiritually, learning how to read each other and understand one another, especially in live changing experiences as bringing a child into the world. What I learned from this life story was that love is not all roses and butterflies but it can be most of the time if you take the time and believe and trust in one another and, most importantly strengthen your spiritual bonds. I strongly and highly recommend picking up this book¿it doesn't matter if you are single, married, divorced, whatever¿ ~Peace~
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was thoroughly surprised and enlightened by reading Friends. This book is an encouragement for anybody out there looking for love and who wants to know how to maintain it. Angela & Courtney proved with this book, that they are not only talented actors but very bold and daring people, to reveal their story, with no inhibitions, in such a public way. Angela & Courtney are one serious power-couple that break the Hollywood marriage stereotype and Friends is one seriously powerful book!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I started reading this book in the bookstore and I couldn't put it down. I read through more than half the book. I found it amazing how much their stories mirrored each other. Also, I love that they are Black. Amazing, Amazing book.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Angela bassett she is my idol i want to be just like her an i dint know sh can write a book as good as this
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A wonderful story of a beautiful relationship. God definitely receives the glory for making their union solid.
missunique45 More than 1 year ago
I really enjoyed entering the lives of Angela Bassett and Courtney B. Vance. They share the struggles both of them faced and how they put God first in their relationship.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
very distinct personality, with an unquestionable respect and honor honesty displayed throughout their story. A great read for anyone or couples just for an unbais opinion on so many circumstances we come across in life.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Lovreededdf i love john at a p e s i lobe you baby
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Freedom More than 1 year ago
I loved the book! I plan on sharing it with other couples as they fight for their relationships and marriages. I would recommend men and women alike to read this book prior to marriage to get a little hindsight into the married life, and the struggles that it will take to get there and stay put. I highly recommend men to read it because it is not a chick book, but a book that communicates and connects with grown men and women alike. You may find yourself reading about them, and in the process.....run right into yourself! A must read!!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was such a blessing for someone looking for love or just begginning a new relationship. Men & Women of God it pays to wait til after the vows to enter into a place of no return, communication is key. Thanks for sharing such a wonderful story and for being so candid, I cried and laughed. Such a blessing!!!!!!
Guest More than 1 year ago
After reading this book, I've come to the conclusion that I want a husband just like Courtney Vance!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book gives great advice for those looking for love and those trying to make their relationship work. It is a honest read and a great overall story that each of us can relate to. Great job and keep doing great things!
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I put this book down, all I could think of was-Inspiration. This is a book that will make you laugh, cry, think and reflect. I was amazed by the honesty, the effort and the courage that Courtney and Angela had when diving into each of their stories. And the best part about it was that it was their voice! With each chapter it caused me to recall how I had dealt with situations in my own life. Not only that, but I questioned how I would handle myself if in their situations that are very much human experiences. I truly learned something about myself! Don't just expect to be entertained, be prepared to be inspired!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is not a sappy, over-romanticized, love on the surface kind of love story. It¿s about commitment and true love the way God intends it to be. I was truly inspired.