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NCBFF Monthly Film Series: "I Called Him Morgan"

  • Jengo's Playhouse (map)

The film, about a late Port City woman’s troubled relationship with jazz great Lee Morgan, screens Feb. 25 at Jengo’s Playhouse.

The North Carolina Black Film Festival presents the critically acclaimed documentary I CALLED HIM MORGAN on February 25, 2018 at Jengo's Playhouse in Wilmington, North Carolina. Following the film screening, there will be a Q&A with Larry Reni Thomas. Larry Reni Thomas will talk about his experience with Helen Morgan, whom he interviewed in February 1996 in Wilmington, North Carolina, a month before her death in March of that year. He will also discuss his role in the documentary plus he will have autographed copies of his book for sale which is entitled "The Lady Who Shot Lee Morgan".

The event will take place at Jengo's Playhouse (815 Princess St., Wilmington, NC 28401) on February 25, 2018 at 5pm. Doors will open at 4:30pm. Admission is $10 at the door and also in advance at

Synopsis: On a snowy night in February 1972, the 33 year old jazz trumpet star Lee Morgan was shot dead by his common-law wife, Helen, during a gig at a club in New York City. The murder sent shockwaves through the jazz community, and the memory of the event still haunts the people who knew the Morgans. Helen served time for the crime and, following her release, retreated into obscurity. Over 20 years later, a chance encounter led her to give a remarkable interview. Helen’s revealing audio “testimony” acts as a refrain throughout the film, which draws together a wealth of archival photographs and footage, notable talking heads and incredible jazz music to tell the ill-fated pair’s story. Part true-crime tale, part love story, and an all-out musical treat, I CALLED HIM MORGAN is a stirring tribute to two unique personalities and the music that brought them together.

This event is sponsored by Speller Street Films and Cucalorus Festival.

From Star News:

“I Called Him Morgan,” a documentary about a late Wilmington woman’s troubled relationship with jazz icon Lee Morgan, will screen Feb. 25 at Jengo’s Playhouse on Princess Street.

The 2016 film by the Swedish filmmaker Kasper Collin is largely based on research by Larry Reni Thomas, a formerly Wilmington-based author and jazz scholar. Thomas, who appears in the film, will be on hand for a post-screening discussion, and copies of his book, “The Lady Who Shot Lee Morgan,” will be available for sale.

Lee Morgan, who died of gunshot wounds in 1972 at the age of 33, was a noted jazz trumpeter who performed with the likes of John Coltrane, Art Blakey and Wayne Shorter. He was shot by his common-law wife and manager, Helen Morgan, during an altercation at Slug’s Saloon, a jazz club in New York’s East Village. He bled to death while waiting for an ambulance in a heavy snowstorm. Helen Morgan served a prison term but was later paroled.

Thomas, a longtime jazz DJ with Wilmington public radio station WHQR, met Helen Morgan while teaching a history class for Shaw University’s extension program.


“I didn’t know her as anything other than Mrs. Morgan,” Thomas said during a phone interview. “It was strictly teacher-student. She was a serious jazz fan.”

Eventually, though, they started talking about jazz, and, as Thomas put it, “She let the cat out of the bag.”

Thomas visited Morgan at her Wilmington home shortly before her death in 1996 and made more than two hours of recordings. “I just put the tape recorder in front of her,” he said. “It was like she wanted to get something off her chest.”

A Shallotte native, the former Helen Moore grew up in music. Her mother had worked at “The Barn” a legendary Wilmington jazz club of the 1940s and ’50s. Moving to New York in 1945, she became active in the jazz scene and eventually became linked to Morgan, regarded as a brilliant but unstable genius with a severe drug program.

Morgan was credited by many with weaning her husband off heroin and steering his career. Lee Morgan cheated on her, however, and was reputed to be physically abusive.

Helen Morgan eventually returned to Wilmington to care for her aging mother and became active in St. Luke AME Zion Church, the family’s congregation. Thomas eventually wrote her story in a 2014 book, “The Lady Who Shot Lee Morgan.”