Category Archives: Jazz Venues

Club Harlem

Under the proprietorship of Stan Cooper, this West Philly jazz spot was popular in the 1940s and ‘50s.

Club Harlem

Club Harlem played host to jazz and blues greats such as Duke Ellington, Charlie Parker, Lionel Hampton, Johnny Hodges, Ella Fitzgerald, Lucky Millender, John Coltrane, Dinah Washington, Bull Moose Jackson, Erskine Hawkins and Nat King Cole. On May 30, 1952, KYW broadcast a live concert by the Stan Kenton Orchestra.

Club Harlem closed in 1952 following a dispute with Union Local 274, the black musicians union.

Sixty miles north, Atlantic City’s Club Harlem was located at “KY and the Curb,” the block of Kentucky Avenue from Arctic to Atlantic avenues.

Club Harlem - Atlantic City

The legendary nightclub was jumping from 1935 to 1975.

On August 9, 1969, organist Lonnie Smith recorded a live album at Club Harlem.

Club Harlem is featured in the Atlantic City Experience, a multi-media exhibit which opened earlier this year in Boardwalk Hall. The exhibit includes a photo of The Apex Hair Co. Inc. founded by Sara Spencer Washington in 1920.

Apex Hair Co. Inc.

The former location of the Apex Beauty College is a stop on the Green Book Philadelphia Walking Tour: Lombard Street Edition.

Apex Beauty College

The walking tour is scheduled for Saturday, May 16, 2020, 10:00am to 12:00pm. To receive notice when tickets are available, send email to: greenbookphl@gmail.com.

Cinderella Café

The Cinderella Café or Inn was located at 16th and Lombard streets.

Cinderella Cafe - July 11, 1934

In response to efforts to delist the property as a contributing resource to the Rittenhouse-Fitler Historic District, archivist J.M. Duffin documented the historical significance of the building:

The Cinderella Inn or Café appears at 1601–02 Lombard Street in the early 1920s. African American band leader Bobby Lee and Ethel Duncan were the managers of the club. Lee started playing the piano in movie theaters in Richmond, Virginia at the age of 13. Around 1914 he formed his own band which by the early 1920s became known as the Cotton Pickers. The club he formed on Lombard Street was a very popular place in its time. It is mentioned in a number of African American newspapers across the country and served a racially mixed clientele. Lee hired an African American interior decorator from New York, Harold Curtis Brown, to decorate the club with orange and black silhouettes. Lee’s band had a regular Philadelphia radio broadcast at the time he was operating the club which no doubt contributed to its broader notoriety. His popularity and skill was so great that when he was asked to go to New York to be a regular at the Cotton Club he refused and Duke Ellington got the job instead. As late as 1937, there were still references to the Cinderella Inn in national publications.

The property is associated with Sarah Spencer Washington, founder of the Apex College of Beauty Culture.

Apex Beauty College

The building is a stop on All That Philly Jazz Cultural Heritage Walking Tour: Lombard Street Edition. To be added to the mailing list for 2020 tour schedule, send email to: greenbookphl@gmail.

On Vacation

In September, I will lead a walking tour of Green Book sites in Philadelphia. The stops include the Douglass Hotel which offered transportation to Atlantic City, or more accurately, to Chicken Bone Beach.

Douglass Hotel Bus Depot

After complaints from white bathers, African Americans were restricted to a stretch of the Atlantic City beach near Convention Hall. The segregated area became known as Chicken Bone Beach.

Chicken Bone Beach Plaque2

This two-part audio doc provides an overview of Chicken Bone Beach and the entertainment district that became a magnet for black vacationers, day-trippers and luminaries such as Martin Luther King Jr., Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone, Duke Ellington, Count Basie and Sammy Davis Jr.

For more info, visit Chicken Bone Beach.

Club Alabam

Located on the southeast corner of Broad and Bainbridge, Club Alabam opened in 1925 in the midst of the Jazz Age.

Club Alabam

Like the famed Harlem nightspots after which it was fashioned, Club Alabam was racially segregated. Black performers played for white audiences; black patrons were barred.

The club was in business during Prohibition. Also like the Harlem gangsters who owned nightclubs, the owners had repeated brushes with Philadelphia police for liquor law violations.

Club Alabam closed in 1928.

Sahara Club

The Sahara Club was located in the Sahara Hotel, which was on the same street as the Showboat.

Sahara Club - Sahara Hotel

The jazz spot featured local favorites, including Jimmy Heath and Bootsie Barnes. Billy Paul met Kenny Gamble while singing at the Sahara Club. Paul recalled:

I was singing in a jazz club called the Sahara. He had a record shop right round the corner and I was singing with a trio at the Sahara club on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. He came over and said, “I am starting a record company and I would like to sign you.” Low and behold I took all the material I sung every weekend and I did an album in three and a half hours — a whole album. I had this album, and I produced it — me and my wife.

And we gave him this album called “Feelin’ Good at the Cadillac Club” to help start the record company and that was the album that helped start it up. I was singing totally jazz then, but when I heard The Beatles and heard the gospel influence and everything I just said I can make jazz with R&B.

Gamble later wrote and produced “Me and Mrs. Jones,” which was Philadelphia International Records’ first #1 hit.

Queen Mary Room

The Queen Mary Room was located in the Rittenhouse Hotel.

Rittenhouse Hotel - Philly Records

In the spring of 1957, agent Jerry Field signed Nina Simone to perform here for $100 a week, later increased to $175. Circa December 1957, the legend-in-the-making recorded her debut album with Bethlehem Records, “Little Girl Blue.” The album tracks include “My Baby Just Cares for Me.”