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On Island Profile: Lee Vanterpool

July 29, 2007 — Lee Vanterpool takes to the limelight as naturally as a moth to the flame. His radio voice, the dulcet tones of "LeeV," is possibly one of the most familiar in the Virgin Islands.
There is something vital about Vanterpool that has always attracted mentors, political, artistic, and theatrical, from the internationally renowned choreographer George Balanchine to local political legend Elmo Roebuck. The lanky six foot 65 year old, relaxes at Radio One, for decades his on-again off-again home away from home, from its days at Market Square to its present Frenchtown location.
We sit in a vacant sound studio, where we are intermittently interrupted by phone calls. "I hate a ringing phone; I always answer," he says, calling sound engineer Daddy Driver to the phone.
This is indicative of Vanterpool's meticulous nature. He dresses like he just stepped out of a bandbox, his white cotton jeans immaculately pressed, under a handsome royal blue polo shirt. He is as precise in his diction in person as he is on the air, as he leisurely recalls a career, or careers, which have loped over the theater, dance, movies, politics, TV and, of course, radio.
"I've been lucky," he says. "I've had great mentors." It may be luck, it may be timing, but his talent has never gone unnoticed.
Born on St. Thomas in 1942, one of 12 children of Louise Hill and Lee Vanterpool Sr., Vanterpool's childhood was spent between the island and Brooklyn, NY. "I started elementary school here, and then went to New York when I was six. I came back and attended CAHS for three years in the fifties. Then, back to New York."
Vanterpool has moved between both cultures and lifestyles with the inborn ease of the dancer.
"I was so fortunate to have been in New York in the sixties," he says. "I was 19, in school in the NYU arts program studying dance. Everything was happening — It was a great time to be growing up. It was the cradle of the arts, a fantastic time."
That was when he came under the tutelage of the famed Balanchine, regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer in the world of ballet, founder with Lincoln Kirstein of the New York City Ballet.
He tells of his first meeting with Balanchine. "I had been recommended to him by Arthur Mitchell, who was the first black principal dancer of a major company in history," Vanterpool says. "He had taken me under his wing when I had won a scholarship to the School of American Ballet, which fed into the NYC ballet."
With a wry smile, he recounts that interview. "I arrived in a suit and tie," he says. "Balanchine just looked at me. He said, 'We don't do suit and tie.' He told someone 'take him upstairs and get him tights and a leotard.'"
What was Balanchine like? Vanterpool gazes up at the ceiling, searching for the right answer. "He was very energetic, very precise, very funny. He liked my height and my line," he says. "He preferred tall, slim men who had excellent line."
Vanterpool explains "line." "Movement doesn't stop at the end of a limb," he says. "It continues on through space, through infinity."
"Balanchine, we called him Mr. B., was constantly teaching, even in conversation," Vanterpool says. "He was at every performance," Vanterpool continues. "I was so privileged. I danced in the Frederick Ashton ballet 'Illuminations.'"
Around that time, Vanterpool began a partnership as assistant to actor, singer and producer Brock Peters that would last on and off for the better part of 15 years.
"I got exposure to Broadway and Hollywood with him," he says. "He starred in 'Lost in the Stars,' the play and the movie; he was in 'Porgy and Bess,' 'Major Dundee.' He was one of the founders of the Dance Theater of Harlem, along with Arthur Mitchell and Cecily Tyson."
A far cry from classical ballet, Vanterpool talks about a memorable Hollywood experience: "I was one of 10 black, male dancers Mae West wanted for the movie of Gore Vidal's Myra Breckinridge.' It was the first big movie about a transsexual. We danced to Otis Redding's 'Too Hot to Handle'," he says, adding with a laugh, "I think it was voted one of the 50 worst movies."
Coming home in the seventies Vanterpool started his radio career. "I was well placed, I naturally fell into it," he says of his early years with radio pioneers Bob Noble and Bob Moss at radio station WBNB, later WVWI. Later, he was news anchor on CBS News Center 10 TV.
He then moved on to politics, where he came under the auspices of another legend, Sen. Elmo D. Roebuck. "That was short-lived. That's when Hugo Dennis took over the Senate after a few months."
Vanterpool remained in the Senate on and off for several years, before joining the Turnbull administration as public information officer in the Health Department, and later as the governor's deputy press secretary, before returning to radio.
"I started back at WVWI in 2003 with the early morning show," he says, "right up until 2005, when I suffered a heart attack. What a shock that was — I was flown to Juan Luis Hospital on St. Croix, where I got excellent care, and where I was instructed by my doctors to 'take it easy.' I have to follow that advice."
Although he hosted the AMVI show with Jimmy O'Bryan for a couple months earlier this year, that's not a full-time option. "I can fill in for special broadcasts," Vanterpool says.
Though he says he looks forward to semi-retirement, he is not about to give up his Sunday afternoon jazz show from 1 to 4 p.m. on KISS 101.3 fm. "It's my fifth year now," he says. "My parents played jazz all the time growing up — Miles Davis, Sarah Vaughan, Herbie Hancock, all of them."
Vanterpool never tapes his shows. "It's always in person. I grew up on Symphony Sid, the famous New York disc jockey, listening to vintage jazz. I use the same format vintage jazz, contemporary, latin jazz. I get calls even from Puerto Rico and the BVI. Music is one of the most effective ways to reach an audience."
Vanterpool gets up to relinquish the studio for a live show. He still has the moves of a dancer, erect posture, and a balanced gait. "You can always tell a dancer by the way you walk," he says. "Muscles have memories."
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