CC’s nightclub was located in the Hotel Powelton. Vivienne Tang of Hidden City Philadelphia reported:
It’s a rare sunny winter day and a young woman and two men are sitting outside an ordinary West Philadelphia apartment building.
“Hey, do you guys live here?” I ask them.
“Yeah,” says one of the men.
“Do you know anything about its history?”
“Man, you have no idea how many people stop me and say they used to come here when it was called CC’s nightclub. People say it was really cool, a real jazzy kind of place.”
“Have you guys heard of the Barnes Foundation?”
“Yeah, never been though.”
“You know, he had a factory in this building? And he used to hang paintings here.”
“No way, seriously?”
Despite all the attention paid to the Barnes Foundation’s move into Philadelphia, there is in fact no blue plaque here, no mention in any guidebook. But this corner a half block from the 40th Street El station is the source, so to speak, of Dr. Barnes’ magic potent, the antiseptic Argyrol. And Argyrol is the source of his extraordinary art collection, the first home of the Barnes Foundation.
In 1902 Barnes and his partner Herman Hille rented eight rooms of what was the Hotel Powelton to produce Argyrol. Used to prevent infant blindness and to treat infections like gonorrhea, Barnes found markets for Argyrol worldwide. Indeed, venereal disease made Barnes a very rich man.
Here, Barnes created an integrated factory more than half a century before the Civil Rights movement. With just 20 workers at its peak, Barnes’ factory was a small, well-oiled machine. It was so efficient that two hours could be cut from the eight hour business day. But instead of letting workers clock out early, Barnes devised an experiment in education and put on voluntary “seminars.” These lessons covered philosophy, psychology, educational theory and art appreciation.
The Chestnut Cabaret was a nightclub located at 38th & Ludlow Streets It was later named the Blockley before its closure.
The club played host to jazz, blues, soul and funk greats, including Koko Taylor, Albert Collins, Albert King, Average White Band, Dizzy Gillespie, John Lee Hooker, Gil Scott-Heron, Parliament-Funkadelic, Stanley Clarke, and Wynton and Branford Marsalis.
The Charlie Parker Quintet with Little Benny Harris (trumpet), Charlie Parker (alto sax), Walter Bishop Jr. (piano), Teddy Kotick (bass) and Roy Haynes (drums) performed here in June 1951.
In John Coltrane: His Life and Music, Lewis Porter writes:
The Club 421 on Wyalusing Avenue also became one of the leading venues for jazz. Rice recalls: “I was the first band in [421 Club]. That was right around the corner from me. That place used to be a restaurant at first. We used to hang around there—it was called the Coffee Pot. Then a guy bought it and made a nightclub there—a gentleman named Mr. Roach. So they decided to have music, and I had the first band in there with [saxophonist] Vance Wilson, [William] “Reds” [later known as “Red”] Garland [on piano; 1923-84], [bassist] Bob Bushnell, and a good trumpet player, Johnny Hughes, who passed on some time ago.”
Rice is legendary drummer Charlie Rice who led the first house band at Club 421.
The now 95-year-old Rice is still performing.
Marcus Shelby is a perennial Bay Area jazz favorite who’s compositions explore the African American experience. Shelby finds deeper meaning for his work sharing the music he loves and its history with young people in schools and juvenile halls. Learn more about Marcus Shelby.
In a new book, “Chasing the Scream: The First and Last Days of the War on Drugs,” Johann Hari writes how Billie Holiday was targeted by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics after she refused to be silent about racism:
One night, in 1939, Billie Holiday stood on stage in New York City and sang a song that was unlike anything anyone had heard before. ‘Strange Fruit’ was a musical lament against lynching. It imagined black bodies hanging from trees as a dark fruit native to the South. Here was a black woman, before a mixed audience, grieving for the racist murders in the United States. Immediately after, Billie Holiday received her first threat from the Federal Bureau of Narcotics.
Harry had heard whispers that she was using heroin, and—after she flatly refused to be silent about racism—he assigned an agent named Jimmy Fletcher to track her every move. Harry hated to hire black agents, but if he sent white guys into Harlem and Baltimore, they stood out straight away. Jimmy Fletcher was the answer. His job was to bust his own people, but Anslinger was insistent that no black man in his Bureau could ever become a white man’s boss. Jimmy was allowed through the door at the Bureau, but never up the stairs. He was and would remain an “archive man”—a street agent whose job was to figure out who was selling, who was supplying and who should be busted. He would carry large amounts of drugs with him, and he was allowed to deal drugs himself so he could gain the confidence of the people he was secretly plotting to arrest.