More on Black Cabaret in Chicago

“From 1900 to the 1920s, Chicago enjoyed an explosion of popular culture.“

“Black Chicagoans participated in this entertainment upsurge, but in a separate amusement zone on the Stroll along 35th and State Streets. While Chicago’s amusements elsewhere represented a new, wider public sphere, white skin remained a prerequisite for admission. African Americans found themselves excluded entirely in the most intimate of entertainments or, in the case of theaters, segregated to balconies. They sued theater owners, but their major action was to build their own theaters, saloons, and cabarets, starting with the Pekin, the nation’s first black-owned theater, opened in 1905 by Robert T. Motts. By the early 1920s, numerous places existed for black workers to dance or see a show on the Stroll. Among the cabarets and dance halls were the Dreamland Cafe, Lincoln Gardens, the Entertainer’s Cafe, the Sunset, Plantation, and the Apex. For migrants from the South, clubs helped ease the transition between rural mores and city culture.

With the South Side’s cafes and dance halls booming, Chicago was America’s jazz capital during the twenties. Musicians from New Orleans and other parts of the country followed their audiences to the city as part of the “ Great Migration.” King Oliver’s Dixie Syncopators (with Louis Armstrong), Carroll Dickerson’s Orchestra, Earl Hines, Zutty Singleton, Ethel Waters, Alberta Hunter, Bessie Smith, clarinetist Jimmie Noone, and many more played all over the South Side. White slummers bent on losing their inhibitions in “black and tans” soon followed, as did the many white jazzmen who sought to learn the new expressive music from the artists who had created it.”

–by Lewis A. Erenberg, Entertaining Chicagoans ( accessed 1/08/21