The Full Wiki

More info on Café Society

Café Society: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Café Society was a New York City nightclub opened in 1938 at 1 Sheridan Square in Greenwich Village[1] by Barney Josephson to showcase African American talent and to be an American version of the political cabarets he had seen in Europe before the war. As well as running the first racially integrated night club in the United States,[2] Josephson also intended the club to defy the pretensions of the rich; he chose the name to mock Clare Boothe Luce and what she referred to as "café society," the habitués of more upscale nightclubs, and the wry satirical note was carried through in murals. Josephson not only trademarked the name, which had not been trademarked by the gossip columnist for the New York Journal American M, who wrote as the first "Cholly Knickerbocker," but advertised the club as "The Wrong Place for the Right People."[3] Josephson opened a second branch on 58th Street, between Lexington and Park Avenue, in 1940.

The club also prided itself on treating black and white customers equally, unlike many venues, such as the Cotton Club, that featured black performers but barred black customers. The club featured many of the greatest black musicians of the day, from a wide range of backgrounds, often presented with a strongly political bent. Lena Horne was persuaded to stop singing "When it's Sleepy Time Douth South" and Carol Channing was fired for a racial caricature.[4] Billie Holiday first sang "Strange Fruit" there; at Josephson's insistence, she closed her set with this song, leaving the stage without taking any encores, so that the audience would be left to think about the meaning of the song.

Relying on the keen musical judgment of John Hammond, the club's "unofficial music director".[5] Josephson helped launch the careers of Lena Horne and Hazel Scott and popularized gospel groups such as the Golden Gate Quartet and the Dixie Hummingbirds among white audiences. The club was also a regular venue for such artists as the boogie woogie pianists Meade Lux Lewis, Albert Ammons and Pete Johnson, blues shouter Big Joe Turner, singer and activist Paul Robeson, country blues singers Josh White and Big Bill Broonzy, and jazz giants Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald, Art Tatum, James P. Johnson, Sarah Vaughan, and Mary Lou Williams. The club also served as a place for musical interchange and development: the Dixie Hummingbirds, performing under the name "The Jericho Quintet", sang with Lester Young's combo, while adopting some of the stage moves that their more popular rivals, the Golden Gate Quartet, had perfected.

Many of these acts had first been presented at Hammond's Carnegie Hall concerts, From Spirituals to Swing, in 1938 and 1939.

As part of the challenge to integrate America's segregated society, Josephson's club was the scene of numerous political events and fundraisers, often for left-wing causes, both during and after World War Two. In 1947 Josephson's brother Leon Josephson was subpoenaed by the House Committee on Un-American Activities, which led to hostile comments from columnists Westbrook Pegler and Walter Winchell. Business dropped sharply as a result and the club closed the following year.


  1. ^ Many sources give the address at 2 Sheridan Square: "Barney Josephson, Owner of Cafe Society Jazz Club, Is Dead at 86", The New york Times; see history of "The theater at One Sheridan Square".
  2. ^ William Robert Taylor, Inventing Times Square: commerce and culture at the crossroads of the world 1991:176
  3. ^ His autobiographical, Cafe Society: The Wrong Place for the Right People, written with Terry Trilling-Josephson, was published in 2009.
  4. ^ Taylor 1991:176.
  5. ^ Taylor 1991:176.

External links

Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address