The music that influenced my neighborhood part two
I received tremendous feedback about last week’s column from people wanting to know more about the places in my neighborhood that were influenced by decades of wonderful music from the late 1920’s through the mid 1960’s. So, here we go with part two.
In talking with my dad about the music he liked, he mentioned the bands and groups he listened to when he lived in Harlem (New York City) for a while. He got a chance to go to nightclubs like The Savoy and Small’s Paradise, where he saw a lot of the Big Band and Jazz stars. He knew that a lot of his friends here in Washington named their places after popular hit songs of great entertainers and/or the clubs where they performed. He said “these ‘cats’ name their places after famous folks.” He said cats was a word Louis Armstrong made up to describe musicians.
Right next to his pool room on Fourth Street was a restaurant called the Town Tavern Cafe at 303 West Fourth Street. It was named for the Town Tavern Night Club in Toronto, Canada where Oscar Peterson, the great jazz pianist, performed. Dinah Washington and Billie Holiday also performed often. The Club was one of the major stops on the North American Jazz circuit.
The Blue Moon Café, 231 North Gladden Street, was named for Billy Eckstine’s 1949 wildly popular version of the song Blue Moon, which Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart recorded in 1934.
The Little Savoy (also called The Little Savory), 204 West Fourth Street, was named after Harlem’s famed Savoy Ballroom (also called The Savory) which, back in the day was called the finest ballroom in the world.
The Silver Star Club 301 West Fourth Street was named fter the 1945 hit song by Gus Haenschon and his Orchestra.
The Rock Castle Barber Shop 410 Gladden Street was named after the Rock Castle Supper Club in Wichita, KS, which hosted some of the most famous big bands jazz musicians of all time, whose music was always on the radio.
The New York Café, 330 North Gladden Street, was named after the New York Cafe Society, a night club in Greenwich Village. It was owned and operated by Blacks to showcase Black talent. Washington-born Willie Thomas Johnson performed there with his group The Golden Gate Quartet.
Another native Washington NC legend and world renowned musician, Freddie Moore played many of the venues listed above.
Moore played with such jazz greats as Ma Rainy, Bessie Smith, Louis Armstrong, King Oliver’s Band, Eubie Banks and Sidney Bechet to name a few. Moore also played a mean wash board, heard on many jazz recordings. He is best known for playing the wash board in ‘Sweet Georgia Brown’ now instantly recognized as the Harlem Globetrotters theme music when they enter the basketball court to entertain the crowd.
Now I have to give a shout out to my Mom who taught me Ella Fitzgerald’s 1938 hit song ‘A Tisket A Tasket’ when I was a little girl. I love that song! So much so I taught it to my students the many years while I was teaching.
I am enjoying my parent’s music now more than I ever did.
Leesa Jones is the executive director of the Washington Waterfront Underground Railroad Museum.