Henry Normile

Henry Normile (1946-1979) was a popular bar owner who Ran Cobbs Corner, one of the best small jazz clubs in the Cass Corridor on Cass and Willis in mid-town Detroit. Cobbs Corner was a place where musicians held residencies for extended periods; Griot Galaxy, Lyman Woodard’s Organization, Marcus Belgrave, New Detroit Art Ensemble and many others. Henry did much to revitalize the Cass Corridor. He was cruelly assassinated outside his apartment on a cold January night in 1979, just as a live LP recording was being made at Cobbs Corner by Lyman Woodard. His killer was never caught.

Henry Normile, portrait by Leni Sinclair, 1975

Henry Normile, portrait by Leni Sinclair, 1975

Owner slain: Killing casts pall over jazz hangout

by Kate Desmet, The Detroit News Staff Writer

The slaying of the owner of Cobb’s Corner Bar may spell the death of “the new jazz corner of the world” in Detroit.

To jazz lovers, 34-year-old Henry Normile’s place at the corner of Cass and Willis was a Mecca of sound, a gathering place for followers of avant garde as well as traditional jazz. It also provided a home of sorts for a local alcoholic.

“Henry let one of the neighborhood winos sell his poetry for wine and even displayed his poetry on the walls,” said Pam Becker, a regular Cobb’s patron. “He was open to all kinds of artistic expression. That’s why he was successful.”

Normile’s success story — developing a former motorcycle hangout and inner city bar into a popular jazz club — ended Saturday night when he was shot fatally in the neck.

Normile’s friend, Marcie Major, told police she heard shots around 8pm. and found him lying in a hallway that extended between Normile’s apartment and the bar.

Miss Major lives in an apartment Next to Normile.

HOMICIDE SGT. Cameron Knowles said police have no leads and no motive. Some of Cobb’s regular patrons and musicians questioned whether the bar could keep its reputation for nightly jam sessions without Normile running the bar.

“You never knew what will happen to a bar after something like this happens,” said Greg Jakub, who regularly visited Cobb’s and lives near the Wayne State campus.

“Sometimes a bar can survive, but people get scared. I hope for the sake of Cobbs, it’ll still host good music.”

Marcus Belgrave, a musician who regularly appeared at Cobb’s, said there’s a chance the bar could lose some of it regulars if the emphasis on jazz dies.

“But I’d like to think we could go on with what was happening,” Belgrave said. “We were doing wonders with jazz in the community. I think Henry would have wanted it that way.”

Nearly all those questioned about the survival of Cobb’s echoed this comment by Normile’s friend and business partner, John Sinclair:
“Don’t put this story in a bad light. This area needs to survive. Just because a guy got shot doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen in Grosse Pointe.”

THE NIGHT OF the shooting, the Lyman Woodard Organization – one of Normile’s favorite bands – was to tape a live recording for theIncognito - Cobbs Corner - outside cover first record produced by Corridor Records. The company was formed two weeks ago by Normile, Woodard, Sinclair and Belgrave.

Woodard said he expects the album will be dedicated to Normile. “On the tape we made Friday night at Cobbs you could hear him shouting out how the project was so important to him,” Woodard said. “You can imagine how sad that makes me. Henry was a real professional. I hope we can go on with what we’ve been doing there.”

Normile grew up in Mt. Clemens and attended the Holy Ghost Brothers seminary for three years before joining the U.S. Air Force in 1964. He received a master’s degree in physiology from Wayne Stated and worked as a bouncer and bartender at campus bars while attending school. He tried teaching at Wayne County Community College and the Carnegie Institute but his love of jazz won out.

Cobb’s boss: Live hard, die young

by Jack Matthews, The Detroit Free Press, Feb 4th, 1979

Henry Normile spent most of his adult life in and around bars in the Wayne State University area of the Cass Corridor. Most of the people there knew him as a guy who:

Was outgoing and was liked by almost everyone.

Had degrees: in both psychology and physiology.

Had an almost legendary reputation for attracting women.

Carried a gun and said he’d use it if he had to.

Almost single-handedly revitalized run-down section of the Cass’ Corridor with his innovative jazz club, Cobb’s Corner.

Was a small-time drug dealer whose clients were almost solely friends and musicians.

Was generous to a fault, often buying paintings and poetry from casual friends in his bar just to keep them afloat.

Believed and carried out the cliche, “Live hard and die young.”

Incognito - Cobbs Corner - inside cover

Coobs Corner schedule

Normile did die young—at the age of 34—on Jan; 27, when someone fired a single shotgun blast into his neck as he stood in the foyer of his apartment next to Cobb’s Corner. Police think it was a vengeance murder of some sort, but have neither a motive nor a major suspect. They say the gunman went to Normile’s apartment that night, Just a half-hour before a live recording session was to have begun in the bar, and pulled off the shooting so calmly that no one saw him come or go.

Trying to comprehend who would want to kill Normile is as much a mystery to his friends as how it was done. “Henry was just one of those people who drew people to him, said Marcie Majors, a longtime friend and occasional roommate of Normile’s. “People wanted to be around him because to be with him was to have a good time.”

It was Ms. Majors and another friend, George Green, who found Normile face down in a pool of blood in the foyer of his apartment. He had been shot just seconds before, and his dog – a huge black Bouvier des Flandres – was standing over him, barking. By the time an ambulance arrived and took him to the hospital, Normile was dead.

Four nights later, his brother and partner in the Cobb’s Corner venture, Howard Normile, reopened the club with a wake for friends and family members. Marcus Belgrave, Lyman Woodard and other Detroit musicians conducted a jam session that went on into the early morning.

THE DEVELOPMENT of Cobb’s Comer as a legitimate jazz club is in large part the legacy of Henry Normile’s energy. When he took it over a year ago, the bar offered much less live jazz and more pinball, pool and pitchers of beer to its clientele of Cass Corridor denizens, Wayne State students and couples out for a night on the town. Howard Normile says the bar used to be, as well, a hangout for “pimps, prostitutes and pushers.” ‘To Henry, the bar was not a business. It was an activity,”

Said his 27-year-old brother, “It was his way of life. It was a way for him to socialize and meet people.” But Henry Normile, a former seminarian with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and master’s in physiology, also wanted a club that would bring some respectability to Cass Corridor — which he loved — and he thought the best way to do it was to make his bar the center of Detroit’s jazz community.

“Cobb’s was a small part of the jazz community, but it was becoming a very vital part of it,” said Belgrave, a former trumpeter with Ray Charles’ band. “Henry had worked hard to make jazz work in the city and Cobb’s was opening doors in other clubs for us.”

Henry Normile's Funeral with Marcus Belgrave, photo by Leni Sinclair, 1979

Henry Normile’s Funeral with Marcus Belgrave, photo by Leni Sinclair, 1979

THE FUTURE of Cobb’s as a jazz club is up in the air now. Howard Normile, who is busy working on his doctorate in physiology at Wayne State, says he doesn’t want to run it himself and hopes to sell it to someone who will carry on with its music policy.
How much of Cobb’s Clientele came for music and how much came for Henry Normile is an open question. His friends say that when he quit as the night manager of Verne’s Bierstube on Forest Avenue alter five years, that bar’s night business was cut in half.

“He drew a lot of people into that place,” said Loren Funke, a former roommate of Normile’s. “People would go in there for a drink, meet Henry and start~ coming back regularly. People just liked to be around him.”

AL KARAGAS, owner of Verne’s, agrees that Normile had a forceful personality, but he was nervous with Normile around because he knew he was selling marijuana on the side. “I didn’t want him doing that in the bar,” Karagas said, “so we talked about it, and he said it would probably be better if he left.”

One person who knew Normile well before moving out of Detroit two years ago said he had been dealing in cocaine as well as marijuana and that he had mentioned wanting to get away from that because he was “dealing with some heavy people.”

Police won’t say whether they found drugs in Normile’s apartment, but several people have said Cobb’s was known to be a place’ where drugs were used and available. “That was going on there a lot,” said one musician who has worked at Cobb’s recently. “I’ve known musicians who couldn’t have had any bread, and they could still go to Cobb’s and score some coke.”

Most of Normile’s friends admit he usually had both marijuana and cocaine at his apartment, but, as one said, “I know he wasn’t making money off drugs. Hell, he never had any money.”

HOWARD NORMILE said that his brother had $36 in his checking account last week and that he’d never known him to have much money. Henry Normile didn’t own a car, although he drove borrowed ones all the time, and he had few possessions at his apartment.
“He was very unmaterialistic,” Howard Normile said. “All he ever wanted was to have a good time, and he always did.”

The brothers grew up in Mt. Clemens, where their mother, Myrtle Normile, still lives, and Henry Normile left right after high school to join the Air Force. When he returned, he moved into the city and was soon putting his imprint on the social life.

Normile and his brother, Howard, bought the bar two years ago from Robert Cobb. Normile became sole owner two months ago when his brother sold out to devote more time to his doctoral work in physiology at Wayne State.

AS THE BAR’S reputation grew, via word of mouth and a public relations firm owned by Sinclair, Normile was convinced it could become the musical meeting place in the Corridor.

“Henry was the kind of person who did what many people haven’t done,” said Michael Ogorek, a regular Cobb’s patron.
“He started something in the Corridor and made it a viable musical, cultural institution right here in the pits. I really respected what he did.”

Besides the music, Normile developed a reputation for ‘holding benefits to raise funds for local groups, such as the Detroit Children’s Alternative School, the Michigan Opera Theater and ailing Detroit percussionist Jimmy Allen.
“He was an extremely generous person, one, of the sweetest men I’ve ever met in Detroit,” s~id Sinclair, who was working on an idea with Nornlile to start a local artists’ gallery next to Cobb’s.

“Because of his generous nature, he had hundreds of friends. The whole atmosphere at Cobb’s was a tribute to his ideas and personality. He was probably the single most popular guy in this area.”

SOME OF THE musicians who regularly worked at the bar are planning a memorial jam session at 9 p.m. tomorrow at Cobb’s. Some of the bands expected to perform are the Lyman Woodard Organization, Marcus Belgrave, The New Detroit Jazz Ensemble. Griot Galaxy and the Prismatic Band. A $5 cover will go to a Henry J. Normile Scholarship Fund.
“There’s no question that if we have the service I’ll play Henry’s favorite piece, something I composed called, ‘A Theme in Search of a Sports Spectacular,”’ Woodard said.

Normile’s friends and his mother, Myrtle, and his brother, will attend a funeral mass at 9:30 a.m. tomorrow in St. Peters, 80 New, Mt. Clemens. Burial will be in Resurrection Cemetery, Clinton Township.

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