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date: 21 October 2019

Cotton Club, thelocked

  • E. Ron Horton

Extract

Nightclub. It was originally located on the corner of 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York. One of the most extravagant and well known entertainment venues in the world during the 1920s and 1930s, it was both a springboard for the music careers of its African American stars and an adherent to the Jim Crow racial policies that divided the United States in the early 20th century. It first opened its doors as a cabaret called Club Deluxe in 1920 under the former champion boxer Jack Johnson. In 1922 it was taken over by Owney Madden, who saw the club as the perfect location to sell his Number One beer. Madden and his management partners reopened and reinvented the establishment as the Cotton Club.

The central theme of the Cotton Club was the re-creation of the grandeur of a Southern plantation. The all-African American cast of dancers, actors, musicians, comedians, and entertainers of all kinds was featured in shows that were written by Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh and served an exclusively white clientele. No expense was spared in shows that featured some of the best known artists of the day in elaborate sets and costumes. Although the arrangements were exploitive, the employment that the club offered was coveted by black entertainers and dancers, who had few other opportunities to capitalize on their talents. The women who were employed there were judged as much for the light skin complexion as they were for their dancing ability and were forced to relieve themselves in a bucket in the dressing room since restrooms were reserved for the use of white customers only....

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