“It was infamously racially exclusive. W.C. Handy wished to go one evening to the Cotton Club and he was turned away. And he could hear his music being performed!” – Levering Lewis, historian
It was the greatest nightclub of its day and there’s a convincing argument to be made that it was the greatest nightclub that ever was. Opening its doors during the Harlem Renaissance, The Cotton Club was part Speakeasy, part dance-hall, part supper club, and all entertainment.
Owned by Chicago gangster Owney Madden, the Cotton Club featured expensive food, cold beer, even during prohibition, and the greatest lineup of black entertainers in America of its time, and perhaps of any time.
And all of it was available for a small cover charge.
But only if you were white.
We can talk about the spectacle and grandeur that was the Cotton Club literally for hours. It was the greatest showplace of its day.
If a song or a band was a hit there, it was a hit in America. If a dancer killed on stage, then they made a career for themselves.
It was THE venue of its day, and one of the few available to black entertainers, but it was also a huge symbol of segregation.
Haskins, J. (1977). The Cotton Club. New York: Random House.
Bruno, J. (n.d.). Joe Bruno on the Mob https://joebrunoonthemob.wordpress.com/tag/jack-johnson/
Moos Pick, M. (n.d.). Riverwalk Jazz – Stanford University Libraries. http://riverwalkjazz.stanford.edu/program/night-cotton-club-music-duke-ellington-harold-arlen-cab-calloway