There are many jazz clubs, but one towered over them all. It was opened under the name “Club Delux” on 142nd street and Lenox Avenue in Harlem, New York in 1920 by a heavyweight boxer Jack Johnson. But the pleasure did not last long. Only three years later, the alcohol smuggler Owney Madden took over the club and gave it the name “Cotton Club”, which is still famous today. From then on, it developed into a popular meeting place, which not only attracted the people of New York but also its high society. The alcohol smuggler surely knew how to keep his guests happy during the prohibition era.
The interior design followed all trends of the time, which the musicians also had to adhere to as well. The talents who appeared in the club included Cab Calloway and Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Ethel Waters, and Bill “Bojangles” Robinson. Duke Ellington developed the Jungle Style that later became famous in the “Cotton Club” as well as the hallmark of his orchestra in the late 1920s. Ellington also urged the owner to relax the strict access regulations which prohibited non-white guests from accessing the legendary jazz club.
Duke Ellington’s Orchestra Served as House Band
During these years, the club played an essential role in the careers of numerous jazz bands. From 1923 onward, Fletcher Henderson’s band followed by Duke Ellington’s orchestra, which then took on the role of the house band. The orchestra rose to spotlight through numerous radio shows, broadcasted directly from the club across the United States. Cab Calloway and his crew took over the house band role in 1931. Three years later, the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra stepped on the stage and played for the guests regularly. Lene Horne also began her solo career at the “Cotton Club”, even though she was a member of the dance company before trying her hand at singing.
But the “Cotton Club” had to struggle with problems again and again in the course of its existence. The authorities closed it several times, the first time being in 1925. The reason that time was the violation of the prohibition regulations. In 1936 the owners had to close again, but this time it was for showing support for the uprisings in Harlem. The “Cotton Club” reopened in 1937 in a different location, The club’s new home was now in Manhattan, on the corner of Broadway and 48th Street. But after three years, the club closed its doors again due to financial troubles and it would take 38 years for the revamped “Cotton Club” to reappear.
This time the location of “Cotton Club” was 125th Street in Harlem, it still attracted audiences, but the golden days for lovers of jazz were over. In 1984 the American director Francis Ford Coppola created a cinematic monument for the club. His film revived the myth of the “Cotton Club” again. But the complex plot prevented a box office success. Richard Gere and Diane Lane took the lead roles and numerous other well-known actors appeared in “Cotton Club” as well. Today the name of the club stands as a reminder of the first heyday of jazz.