Harlem Renaissance
Cotton Club
Opened as Club DeLux on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue by Jack Johnson in 1920. After the club failed, Johnson sold the club in 1923 to Owney Madden. Owney Madden called it The Cotton Club and only white people were allowed as guests. Very few blacks were allowed to attend as guests but all of the entertainers, performers and musicians were black.

Savoy Ballroom
Savoy.With 2 bands playing each night, music was continuous at The Savoy Ballroom as the alternative band was always ready in position ready to pick up the beat, when the previous one had completed its set.

Did You Know?
Owney Madden, a prominent bootlegger and gangster, took over the The Cotton Club in 1923 while imprisoned in Sing Sing and changed its name to the Cotton Club. While the club was closed briefly in 1925 for selling liquor, it reopened without trouble from the police. The dancers and strippers occasionally performed for Madden in Sing Sing after his return there in 1933.

Harlem After Dark-The Cotton Club
cotton club. Only the wealthiest, most influential, famous, and notorious went to The Cotton Club. Once new owner/"mob gangster" Madden redesigned the look and feel of the club he made it a "whites only" club. This attracted not just New Yorkers but international visitors. Only the very best African American musicians and performers exhibited their talents at The Cotton Club. Many early black entertainers got their start at the Cotton Club including Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, and Lena Horne. At the time, Owen Madden also selected specific ladies to be "Chorus Girls". He wanted them to have a light complexion and the term he used was "tall, tan and terrific". That was how Lena Horne got her start. She was a chorus girl at the age of sixteen. Famous Dorothy Dandrige got her start there also. The Cotton Club served as a launching pad for so many African Americans. It was definitely a hot spot but not the only hot spot in Harlem.

Harlem After Dark-The Savoy Ballroom
Harlem Renaissance. The Savoy Ballroom was another hot spot in Harlem located on Lenox Avenue between 140th and 141st Streets. It opened in 1926 and closed in 1958. It was a place to enjoy music and dancing and it became the home of the Lindy Hop, a form of swing dancing. Unlike The Cotton Club, blacks and whites mingled and danced together at The Savoy Ballroom.Chick Webb was the bandleader of the best known Savoy house band during the mid-1930s. There was a tradition that happened at The Savoy Ballroom where Chick Webb's house band would compete with the guest band.

The crowd would determine the winning band by voting who was the best. There were two famous competitions between bands that were the most memorable. The first "battle" was between the Benny Goodman Orchestra and Chick Webb's orchestra in 1937. The second "battle" was between Count Basie's orchestra and Chick Webb's orchestra in 1938. The concensus was that Chick Webb's band won both times.

The Swing Era
During the 1920s, Harlem was filled with African Americans who migrated from the rural south to the industrial north in search of a better life. Swing Dance.
Instead, they found that housing and jobs were scarce. Landlords charged high rents to people who earned low wages, and overcrowding was rampant. Racial discrimination was a fact of life. Social dance played an important role in Harlem life. For some, dance was a break from the harsh economic realities and the drudgery of earning a living doing monotonous tasks. People often held "rent parties" filled with music and dance, where guests were charged an entry fee that was used to pay the monthly rent.

The Lindy Hop, a form of swing dancing, ignited cutthroat competition among its practitioners. At the Savoy Ballroom, for example, you wouldn't dare venture out onto the small patch of floor known as "Cat's Corner" unless you believed your skills to be among the best. Creativity and personal expression ruled this spot where elite dancers congregated. Skimming the cream from this crop, Herbert "Whitey" White formed Whitey's Lindy Hoppers in 1935. He began booking his dancers at public and private venues all over town. Parties thrown by rich white socialites were prized gigs. Whitey's troupe hit the big time when several members won the Lindy Hop division at the Harvest Moon Ball, New York City's premier dance competition. The troupe translated this success into an international tour that took the dancers to Broadway and the Cotton Club in New York and the Moulin Rouge in Paris. This in turn led to film appearances, notably the Marx Brothers' A Day at the Races. The troupe's appearance in the movie Helzapoppin' introduced the Lindy Hop to the masses and touched off a global dance sensation.

How significant was The Lindy Hop/Swing Era? Jazz great Duke Ellington wrote a song as a tribute to Florence Mills, a dancer, jazz singer and actress. Louis Armstrong composed a piece for dancer Shorty George, "King of the Savoy," who is often given credit for giving the Lindy Hop its name. Countee Cullen wrote about the joy of dance in his poem "She of the Dancing Feet Sings." Painter William H. Johnson's work, Street Life, was inspired by the stylish people he saw at the Savoy Ballroom. Jazz musicians and dancers are pictured in Palmer Hayden's painting, Jeunesse. Margaret Brassler Kane's sculpture, Harlem Dancers, depicts embracing dance partners. The Lindy Hop/Swing Era was very significant!

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