Archives for posts with tag: Cotton Club

Heavyweight champion of the world

In 1920, heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson opened a club called Club DeLuxe on the corner of 142nd and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York.

He is said to have gone broke. A prominent gangster called Owney Madden took over the club in 1923, re-opening it after a year. Madden, an immigrant lad from Leeds in England, had risen through the New York underworld with a reputation for violence.

Madden and business partners Big Bill Dwyer and Big Frenchy De Mange (below)

Big Bill Dwyer, believed to own the Pittsburgh Pirates

Big Frenchy DeMange

Big Frenchy De Mange

also became owners in the exclusive Stork Club, where influential gossip columnist Walter Winchell (below) held court.

Walter Winchell in 1939 Photo by Granger fineartamerica.com

Walter Winchell in 1939 Photo by Granger (fineartamerica.com)

An owner in more than twenty clubs, Madden was known for his Prohibition-era business activities. He was also known for his revenge tactics and his pay-offs of City Hall.

Owen Madden

Owen Madden

From these origins sprang the musical culture which was to conquer the world, to nurture the aristocratic Edward Kennedy Ellington, and to make the name of the Cotton Club an international by-word for exotic sophistication. We should not be surprised that U.S. rappers glorify gangsta culture, or that funk in Rio is associated with organised crime. Whether they will produce another Duke remains to be seen.

To put Club DeLuxe in its setting, here’s a thumbnail sketch of the Harlem nightlife of that time, from The Harlem Renaissance by Steven Watson http://xroads.virginia.edu/~ug97/blues/watson.html

“The vagabond who’s knocking at your door

Is standing in the clothes that you once wore … ”

from It’s All over Now Baby Blue (Bob Dylan) 1965

Blues of the Vagabond

Way back in November 1929 in New York, the band led by Duke Ellington, resident at the Cotton Club and known on record as The Washingtonians, The Harlem Footwarmers, Joe Turner & His Memphis Men, Sonny Greer & His Memphis Men … and so on, recorded a side for OKeh written by Ellington called Blues of the Vagabond. Duke was the immaculately dressed gentleman professional, arranging, playing piano and leading the band. He looked like this.

The young Duke

The young Duke

At the apogee of what was called the New Negro Movement – later known as the Harlem Renaissance – in the following year they recorded as Mills’ Ten Blackberries, Frank Brown & His Tooters, and the New York Syncopators. In October 1928 for Okeh, under the Duke’s name, they had recorded what became something of a signature tune, The Mooche, also written by Ellington. Here it is: irresistible!

The Mooche

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