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Jacksonville Woman Made Custom Star Cap for Jimmy Page

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Jacksonville woman has made custom caps for 350 celebrities, including 5 presidents

In a 'land of dreams,' no head's too high for crafter's custom caps

By Matt Soergel

The Florida Times-Union

August 13, 2010

Fathiyyah Muhammad, 72, and her husband started making caps for celebrities in 1983; since then she has met more than 350 celebrities, including five presidents, and delivers a custom cap to each of them when they visit the Jacksonville area.The first celebrity to get one of Fathiyyah Muhammad's custom-made denim caps was Louis Stokes, a Democratic congressman from Ohio.

Since then she's met and given caps to some 350 celebrities - including five presidents - in Jacksonville. The most recent big shot was Tim McGraw, who she says is absolutely dreamy.

"I tell you. If I was 50 years younger I'd give Faith [Hill, McGraw's wife] a run for her money," Muhammad said.

McGraw is handsome, to be sure, and nice. But he's also a country singer, and Muhammad loves country music, which plays nonstop on a radio in her office off Golfair Boulevard. How could she not like him?

Chances are, if McGraw still has that cap and were to take a close look at it, he'd see an inscription Muhammad put on it: "Only in America."

In some ways, that might be a tidy way to sum up her own story: black female, huge country music buff, convert to Islam, tea party supporter, Obama voter, no apologies. Only in America? Spend a little time with Muhammad and she might just make you see it that way - it's that persistence that's led to her success getting her caps into so many famous people's hands.

Muhammad knows some people might be surprised about her background and interests.

"I'm everything you're not supposed to be," she said.

The longtime conservative Republican - there's a hat on her desk already made for Fox News host Glenn Beck, should he come to Jacksonville - voted for Barack Obama because she wanted to see history made. But if Sarah Palin had been at the top of the Republican ticket? Well then, history would have just had to wait.

Muhammad has met Obama and Palin, by the way. She's given both caps that she and her husband, James, made, and then posed with them for photos.

She's still waiting for her picture with Palin to arrive from an official photographer. When it does, it will join hundreds of others she's collected, showing her with celebrities from George Burns to LL Cool J - all of them wearing her handmade hats.

This is not just about meeting important people, though.

Instead, she said, it's proof to her - and her children - how great this country really is.

"It shows that the American dream is alive and obtainable. If I can take some old jeans, cut them up and make a hat, this old lady who didn't even finish high school, imagine what you can do with an education, all the opportunities we have."

Muhammad, 72, was known as Virgie Washington when she grew up in the Yamacraw neighborhood of Savannah.

That's where her conservative beliefs were forged. The neighborhood was poor, but the people living there, white and black, would do anything to avoid going on relief, she said. And if they were to take help, they couldn't wait to get off of it.

She moved to New York City at 17, without a high school degree, itching to see what was beyond Savannah. In the mid-1960s, she moved on to San Francisco (friends of hers were hippies, she said, but she most definitely was not). Her travels then took her back to New York, to Miami and on to Texas.

That's where she met the man she would marry, at a talk to introduce people to Islam. He appealed to her, eventually, and so did the religion he spoke of.

"Everything made sense," she said. "The universality of it - no one is superior to any other, no matter what their calling in life is."

She converted to Islam, and James Muhammad gave Virgie the name Fathiyyah, which means successful and victorious.

For decades she has worn scarfs on her head and dressed modestly, as her religion asks. Muhammad said some have perverted its meaning: "Those terrorists, we know they're going straight to hell. That's not the teaching of Islam."

In 1980, the Muhammads moved to Jacksonville to be close to her hometown. She had taken a government-offered course on tailoring, which she then taught her husband. So they opened an alterations shop they now run from the garage of their Northside home.

Within a couple of years, she decided to start making caps for celebrities, using donated pairs of jeans.

James Muhammad accompanies her on her missions, and has seen her wait hours backstage or by the back door, seen her brave Secret Service agents and police barricades.

"She's steadfast," he said. "I don't know how many times we've been told to move here, go there, get out, and she just stands there. Sometimes the Jacksonville police just go, well, OK. I don't know how she does it, but she does it."

Muhammad insists she gets to most people with simple persistence, not connections. But Gary Dickinson, vice chairman of the Republican Party of Duval County, is a friend, and has helped her meet President George W. Bush and Palin.

Dickinson first noticed Muhammad years ago, angling to get close to Bill Clinton under the watchful eye of the Secret Service. She made it.

"I haven't spoken with her yet," he said, "but I'm sure she got in and got a hat to Barack Obama."

She did, of course. And that's a feat that again impressed her daughter, Kamia Snead, who was also in Metropolitan Park when the presidential candidate came to Jacksonville. She never got close to him in the overflowing park, though.

"I said, 'Mom, you never cease to amaze me. How did you get that picture of Obama? What, I have to start hanging out with you again?' "

Snead, 33, is a musician and actor in Jacksonville. She called her mother a self-made person: "She refused to be like anybody else. She cut her own niche. She sees the dream and she dreams herself into the next situation."

Her parents were never wealthy, but, she said, they gave her a childhood like no other. She's got pictures to prove it: New Edition, the Dixie Chicks, Mick Jagger, Guns N' Roses, Def Leppard and others.

"She told me you, too, can be a celebrity, you can be a star," said Snead. "All you have to do is try. You can be anything in America. Only in America. It's the land of dreams."

That's a theme that runs through Muhammad's life: Only in America. That's even the name of her alterations company, and she puts those words on many of her caps.

"What makes us different from other countries is that we can disagree but we don't kill each other, we don't bomb polling places," Muhammad said. "What can I say? I love America."

matt.soergel@jacksonville.com, (904) 359-4082

Familiar faces

Fathiyyah Muhammad has given caps to five presidents: Ford, both Bushes, Clinton and Obama.

Fatiyyah Muhammad has given her caps to other celebrities, including Bob Barker, Steve Allen, Paul Shaffer, Rod Stewart, Hall and Oates, Gladys Knight, MC Hammer, Bono, Dizzy Gillespie, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Merle Haggard, Lindy Infante, New Edition, Barry Manilow, Jimmy Page, Van Halen, the Judds, B.J. Thomas, Artis Gilmore, Anne Murray, Ronnie Milsap, Barbara Mandrell, George Carlin, Bob Denver, Jamie Foxx and Willie Nelson.

Almost everyone was nice. The only ones who weren't: Diana Ross, Eddie Murphy and Conway Twitty's manager.

Some of the nicest include Alabama, country singer John Anderson, Wally Amos, Marvin Gaye, Kenny Rogers, Kris Kristofferson, Stevie Wonder, Gretchen Wilson, the O'Jays, LL Cool J and Bill Clinton.

She puts between one and four stars on hats, depending on what she thinks about the person. The only four-star celebs so far? George Burns, Count Basie and George W. Bush.


(Note from SAJ: I'm attempting to obtain a photograph taken of Jimmy Page with his cap for this thread).

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