Sexism in 1940s Night Clubs

Screen Shot from March of Time “Night Club Boom”







March of Time, in 1946, did a feature on the boom in night clubs in the United States. For relevant numbers, March of Time cites that there were 70,000 nightspots in the U.S. is 1946. In the central hub of night clubs in the 40’s, New York was home to several thousand of that number.

Clearly nightclubs were prevalent in society, so the roles that employees took in such spaces may reasonably reflect the standard across the U.S. at that time. It is incredibly striking how much March of Time emphasizes the various important role’s that females play in nightclubs. However, is is equally disappointing to see the women constantly referred to as objects for monetary gain.

The documentary starts by describing the various jobs at a nightclub. Once the narration moves past the roll of the door-man, they come to the job of the coatroom or “checkroom girls.” The narration describes that

In most clubs, the checkroom girls are hired at a fixed salary by an outside concessionaire. He picks them for the kind of personality that will attract tips and everything they collect goes into their employer’s box, which is securely locked.

The rhetoric implies a distrust to these girls, and emphasizes that their social interactions are strictly for monetary gain. Certainly, it would not have hindered the narration to indicate the useful service that these women provided for the nightclub.

In contrast to these women, the head waiter does not need to put his money in a lockbox to give to the employer. Rather, the head waiter is seen dealing with thrifty costumers by putting them at poor tables until they tip him generously. On screen, the costumer is seen giving the head waiter a $5 bill to change seats. This was drawn in direct opposition to the checkroom girls who received a half-dollar and needed to put it in a check box immediately.

This March of Time documentary short was meant as an education tool for those who did not go to nightclubs to understand their “social order.” The depictions in this documentary continue to label the women in the nightclub business as objects to be examined and payed according to their visual aesthetic while labeling the men in the nightclub business as individuals who grant a service. This, of course, reflects the social attitudes of mid 20th century America. Nevertheless, it is valuable to examine and take note of such subjugating examples because patriarchal attitudes certainly have not died out by the year 2017.

The value of this documentary short, specifically for american music, is its emphasis on nightclub culture. In the postwar era, genres such as bebop was born in late night club sessions (after the patrons would leave), but most of the music being played was dance music. The music itself is mentioned a number of times as an important key to success for any nightclub, but the individual musicians are never mentioned.  This attitude toward musicians views them as providing a function service (much as how the checkroom girls are presented). These social situations are what provided the motivation for beboppers to focus their music on their own personalities.

One of the most prevalent clubs in Harlem was the Cotton Club, where Duke Ellington played frequently. Although Duke was not mentioned in the video, his music was played throughout. Therefore, I have left a song here for you to enjoy.


Works Cited

Night Club Boom

in March of Time, Volume 12, Episode 8 (New York, NY: Home Box Office, 1946, originally published 1946), 21 mins 

Father and Son

Mercer Ellington was the son of Duke Ellington. Mercer was born in Washington D.C. in 1919. It is fitting that Edward Kennedy Ellington had the nickname of “Duke,” (and for that matter perhaps Mercer should have been nicknamed the Earl) because their family became jazz royalty. Duke, a fantastic and prolific composer, brought a lot of attention from white audiences to the jazz community. Duke wrote an autobiography titled Music is My Mistress, and Stanley Dance also wrote a strong biography on Duke titled The World of Duke Ellington. In 1979, Mercer Ellington wrote Duke Ellington in Person: An Intimate Memoir hoping to strike a balance between these two previous works on the Duke. Mercer said,

I should like to think that [this biography] sheds light on the relationship between father and son, and in such a way that each person can be seen as the other’s alter ego.

I value Duke Ellington in Person for the incredible insights it can give into the personal life that it can give on a figure steeped in a pre-written historical tradition.

If you are unfamiliar with the works of Mercer, it is perhaps because he continued on the Duke Ellington Orchestra after Duke passed away. Duke Ellington’s name went onto a lot of Mercer’s works, but here are a few great tunes to check out:

Duke Ellington in Person highlights, perhaps better than other sources, the racial tensions that Duke constantly dealt with in his career. In a section on Irving Mills, Duke Ellington’s front man for a number of years, Mercer discusses how Duke and Irving were both interested in reaching white audiences with their music. In the writing of the hit, “Mood Indigo,” the title of the song was manufactured for a clean reception. Mercer highlights the process when he states that Duke

originally titled it “Dreamy Blues,” which described its character; but the other title [of Mood Indigo] had a more sophisticated sound to the public of that era. Irving understood the importance of adding prestiege to the produce, almost, I would say, of packaging it. So did Ellington.

Anecdotes like these are incredibly important from Mercer’s perspective because they can help clear some of the tone behind the racial issues that Ellington dealt with on a daily basis. As you ponder this, I will leave you with several popular renditions of Mood Indigo. I hope you are able to view this piece within the context it was created.



–Brock Carlson

Works Cited

Ellington, Mercer, and Stanley Dance. Duke Ellington in person: an intimate memoir. New York: Da Capo Press, 1979.

The Forgotten Great

Thelonious Monk is referenced in 5 Manitou Messenger articles. In each, he is referred to as a “great” or treated as a hallmark of sound to which campus bands strive. However, he was not always well known. For years, Monk’s cabaret card was revoked because of a narcotics charge. This meant that Monk could not play in any club in New York that served alcohol, which was all of them. But instead of giving up, Monk sat in his room and practiced.

When Monk finally got another break, it was 16 years later. He had been left behind and was no longer considered a forefather of “modern music,” which would become bebop. The reason Monk made it back into the mainstream was largely due to a favorable review by jazz critic Nat Hentoff (who just passed away this last January). With his comeback, Monk started recording for Riverside Records. The St. Olaf Library had Monk’s 10th album with Riverside on vinyl. It is Five by Monk by Five.


The rhetoric is that of a lost opportunity for Monk, with his review saying that he “has only in the past few years begun to receive the general acclaim he has long deserved.” However, the rest of the album review praises Monk’s intellectuality. The liner notes suggest that Monk’s two new compositions for the album were fresh. However, there is even more emphasis on the fact that Monk’s three older songs do not lack ingenuity with their rediscovery of “his own neglected earlier material.” In fact, Monk is praised for his approach to each recording session, “regarding each as a fresh challenge and a fresh opportunity to speak his mind.” You can hear such ingenuity for yourself in this Spotify playlist of the album.

Monk certainly was to become known as a musician who speaks his mind. Five by Monk by Five was recorded in New York on June 1st and 2nd in 1959. In just 9 months time ,the Greensboro Lunch Counter Sit-ins would occur. Monk and his friends would get together (normally an apolitical group), and hold a benefit concert to support the sit-ins (Monson). Monk, however, had always been pouring his voice into his music. Here is a youtube vide to demonstrate what the lunch counter sit-in meant to the individuals who started it.

I can only imagine to someone like Monk, who had been put out of his career for several years due to issues surrounding racism and segregation, would have felt being around these brave people. I encourage you to go back to the 1959 recordings on the above Spotify playlist and listen to the stories and experiences Monk’s quintet screams into the music. Even when he tried, Monk could not be completely apolitical, because his work was nothing but intellectual.

Works Cited

Monson, I. T. (2010). Freedom sounds: civil rights call out to jazz and Africa. New York: Oxford University Press.

History channel Website on the  Greensboro sit-ins.



Take Down the Monuments: A 150-Year-Old Dialogue

A push to remove confederate monuments has swept the news in the past few months. This has sparked debate and dialogue across the nation, drawing attention to civil war history. The conversation extends from what the monuments themselves represent to the intention behind the civil war. It is important to acknowledge these issues today, and therefore it is also valuable to see how far back this conversation extends.

The Civil War lasted from 1861-65. While groups like the Sons of Confederacy try to push the message that the war was fought over states’ rights, historians cannot deny the major role that slavery played in the war (Dew). This debate and the attempted historical erasure is important to recognize at the heart of the monument debate. The question that remains difficult to answer is if Confederate monuments represent a system of oppression or simply the fallen soldiers in battle. In Portsmouth Virginia, Trinity Church put up a stained glass window that can be seen here.


This window tries to pay homage to soldiers fallen in battle. However, the Union did not like the wording on the window, so they made the church take it down in 1872. This action elicited a response from composer, George Camp. He wrote the song “Memorial Window” for the congregation of Trinity Church. The inscription on the cover page for the printed music gives a brief history, saying that

“the congregation of Trinity Church at Portsmouth, Va. placed an appropriate window in their church edifice if memory of Virginians slain during the war, which they were forced to remove, in consequence of offense taken by the U.S. Authorities.”

Camp’s disgruntled tone carries over into his lyrics as well. To camp, this monument was respectful of the soldiers who gave their lives in battle. However, it is clear that others saw the monument as a symbol that individuals were so invested in systems of oppression that they were willing to give their lives for it. This connotation casts monuments such as these in a different light.

Unfortunately, a recording of Camp’s “Memorial Window” does not exist. Nevertheless, I felt compelled to write about this object because of the political parallels that it seems to cary through to today. It has been 145 years since the 1872 debate of the window in Portsmouth Virginia, but the citizens are still trying to decide what to do with similar objects. In the past few weeks, the Mayor of Portsmouth has voiced a desire to move a civil war monument from the center of town. The story is covered here. I hope that highlighting examples such as these shows that efforts to combat racism and oppression need to be constantly pursued. These issues have been discussed in our country for a long time now.

Works Cited

Dew, Charles B. Apostles of disunion: southern secession commissioners and the causes of the Civil War. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2016.

Trinity Episcopal Church: HISTORY. (n.d.). Retrieved October 24, 2017, from

Camp, G., & Hope, J. B. (1872). The Memorial Window. Savannah, GA: Ludden & Bates.

Dedicated to the Congregation of Trinity Church (Portsmouth, Va.)

Fighting the Tide

Who gets to decide the name of a genre? Should the artist or the consumers? The managers or the publishers? This question has constantly bothered me as we have looked at the racial influences put upon the blues and the traditions that have grown out of it. As jazz came out of the blues and bebop came out of jazz, the story of a genre’s name always tends to tell me a lot about its birth.

Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie are generally thought to have been the founding fathers of bebop. However, a competing theory is that Thelonious Monk deserves a majority of the credit for the music we know today as bebop. Considering that this month marks Monk’s centennial, I think that the Monk-centered theory deserves more examination.

A notable article in The Chicago Defender on March 27, 1948 is titled “Creator Of “Be Bop” Objects To Name And Changes In His Style.” Already this Monk-centered theory is sounding fairly authoritative. In the article, Monk is set in opposition to Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker, and it starts out by a quote from Monk saying,

“I don’t like to think of my music as bebop-but as modern music. I don’t dig the word. It doesn’t mean anything, [Be Bop] is just scatting.”

I think Monk is trying to get people to understand how much thought and intention goes into his music. He wants to avoid any chance that his music might be written off as nonsense. Monk goes on to say that

“I like music to sound melodious. People have to know harmony. It’s harder for people to understand bebop who don’t know music… You should always have melody in the piece,”

which, to me, further asserts that Monk’s music has a certain intelligence behind it. Of course, if Monk’s “modern music” really became widely known as “bebop,” then what happened?

Just 2 years later, in 1950, Monk’s name appears on this poster. He is clearly under Charlie and Dizzy’s influence by then. Bebop appears in the poster, and it is certainly not his name in the biggest font. So what happened? Well, one of Monk’s biographers, Robin D. G. Kelly, says in an interview with The Atlantic that Monk lost his cabaret card during this period; this was one of the major influences leading to Monk’s loss of prominence. Kelly says that this period was called “the ‘un- years,’ when Monk had lost his cabaret card and could not play in nightclubs that served alcohol—which was pretty much all of them” (Gorney).

Could this really have affected Monk that much? I looked into the history of cabaret cards for my answer. As it turns out,

The cabaret card could be revoked at the whim of the police, usually for narcotics infractions, however slight or untried… As an embodiment of the institutional distrust stirred up by jazz musicians, especially African-Americans, [the cabaret card is] a key to our understanding of the odds those musicians faced in civil society” (Chinen).

I suppose that I am thankful that Monk was still able to work with giants like Parker and Gillespie. However, I have to wonder what would have come to the genre of bebop if Monk has stayed in prominence from 1948-1950 and had been able to push his idea of what “modern music” should have been. To honor Monk and what modern music could have been, I have put together a Spotify playlist with the first 4 blue note singles recorded by Monk.

These singles were cited in The Chicago Defender article as a hallmark of Monk’s “modern music” style. If you have heard these songs before, I hope you are able to listen to them now with a slightly different perspective. If you have never heard them before, I also beg you to listen to them… because they are simply really good and intelligent music.

-Brock Carlson

Works Cited

Creator Of “Be Bop” Objects To Name And Changes In His Style. (1948, March 27), Chicago Defender. Retrieved from ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender

Parker, Charlie with Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious… , 6 Jun 1950 © The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Retrieved from Popular Culture in Britain and America, 1950-1975.
Gorney, D. (2010, March 29). The Secret Life of Thelonious Monk. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from

Chinen, N. (n.d.). The Cabaret Card and Jazz. Retrieved October 16, 2017, from

Where is THAT in the blues?

W.C. Handy is the “Father of the Blues”

Headline: Seen and Heard While Passing; Article Type: News/Opinion
Freeman (Indianapolis, Indiana) • 09-26-1914 • Page 6

W. C. Handy became the “Father of the Blues” when he titled his autobiography that same name in 1957. However, this legacy started decades sooner, when Handy published the first “blues” with “Memphis Blues” in 1912. This blues became an immediate commercial success.

I was interested by the fact that “Memphis Blues” was the first blues ever written down, so I tried to find an early review of the work. In 1914, an Indianapolis newspaper, Freeman, ran a review of Handy praising the “Memphis Blues.” What surprised me most was a comment near the end of the article,

[Memphis Blues’] rapid increase in popularity everywhere makes it a psychological study and it is bound to become a classic of its kind just as the real Negro compositions of Will Marion Cooke, Scott Joplin and other Negro composers are now considered to be the only real expression of the Negro in music and the only genuine American music.


The “only genuine American Music?” Have you heard “Memphis Blues?” In case you have not, here is an early recording of it from 1944 by Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band

Does that sound a little like ragtime to you? To me, “Memphis Blues” simply does not sound like what I know as The Blues. Of course, is this a problem? Furthermore, who am I to decide what the blues should sound like? Well, thankfully, we have musicologists for that.

In Elijah Wald’s book, Escaping the Delta, notes:

“[experts argue] that Dock Boggs was a blues singer but that W. C. Handy’s songs were ragtime… Musicologically, that makes sense.” 

So I’m not crazy! There is something going on in “Memphis Blues” that makes it feel like ragtime instead of a blues! A further look at the sheet music published by W.C. Hardy indicates something unique… “Memphis Blues” is not in a standard 12-bar form! Its a 16-bar form. A 12-bar like figure appears in the chorus, but it is not clearly laid out.

Perhaps this was just an initial form that became updated over time. Perhaps my notion of “the blues” is simply chronologically later. I looked into another take on “Memphis Blues” by Louis Armstrong, and as you can hear it is just the same confusing 16-bar form.

But this track also brought me to the bonus track on this album. The bonus material includes an interview of the producer of the track with W.C. Handy himself regarding Louis Armstrong. I was surprised to hear how much Handy emphasis “naturalness.” Handy thought that audiences most liked Louis because he brought a “pride of race” to his playing.

I struggled to understand why Handy valued “naturalness” so highly. Especially when he took samples of black musical culture, polished it, and commercialized it. I think perhaps Handy gave a title to the movement of the Blues, but he soon watched it expand to engulf several different genres and become mainstream popular music. As the consumers enjoyed the folk aspect of the music, Handy tried to make this more of a selling point to his music. He soon began to place a lot of value on Authentic Black American Music, after the fact of Memphis Blues’ initial publication.

So why don’t I think of the Memphis Blues sound as “The Blues?” Well, likely it is due to the influence of Robert Johnson as recorded by the Lomaxes and other influences. This may have led to the B.B. King, Jimi Hendrix, and Eric Clapton sounds that I associate with the blues today. To know for sure  I would have to start looking into Robert Johnson’s history.

Nevertheless, Handy should be praised for being the Father of the Blues, even if some of his music feels unauthentic to me. As Wald comments in Escapign Delta,

“to say that the artists who gave the music its name and established it as a familiar genre are not “real” blues artists because they do not fit later folkloric or musicological standards is flying in the face of history and common sense” (7).

Wald highlights an important point. Handy certainly put a lot of work into the genre, and he should be remembered for that.

Works Cited

Handy, W., & Bontemps, A. (1957). Father of the blues : An autobiography. London: Sidgwick and Jackson.

Handy, W., & Handy’s Memphis Blues Band. (1994). W.C. Handy’s Memphis Blues Band.

Willie Bunk Johnson/ Lu Watters’ Yerba Buena Jazz Band: Bunk & Lu [Streaming Audio]. (1990). Good Time Jazz. (1990). Retrieved October 10, 2017, from Music Online: Jazz Music Library. 

Whitney, S.H. (1914, September 26). “W.C. Handy, Composter of the Memphis Blues, the Man Who is Making Memphis Famous.” Freeman, pp. 6. Retrieved from

Stavin Chain: A Strong Voice

[Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” Lafayette, La.]

As African Americans tried to find their own individuality they needed to define their own culture.  The question often lies in where to look? In Blues People Jones and Baraka comment that African American peoples often turned to their African rituals for their roots. However, as generations were born into slavery in the united states, these traditions were intrinsically mixed with the plantation life: brewing a new synthesis culture altogether.

Often times, stories that exemplify this mix come out in African American blues tunes. Coming from the African American work song tradition, a crucial part of these tunes is that they tell a story. One blues, in particular “Stavin’ Chain” tells the story of a train engineer. He was hailed as strong and powerful. This figure was so strong and unique that Wilson Jones, one of the artists who recorded a version of “Stavin’ Chain” also went by the nickname, “Stavin’ Chain.”

This begs the question for the story how Wilson Jones came to adopt “Stavin Chain.”

[Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” Lafayette, La. (fiddler in the background)]

Unfortunately, historical documentation is sparse on Wilson. Nevertheless, one could speculate that such a name would give Wilson Jones a figure of prominence and strength in the African American community. When John Avery Lomax took a series of photographs of Wilson Jones, he simply labeled them all as photos of simply “Stavin Chain,” and were later labeled fully as Wilson Jones. Perhaps this was also an attempt to preserve Wilson Jones’ anonymity. Unfortunately, all too often in history, African American musicians were subject to terrible prejudice, especially if they became a well-known figure in society.

Nevertheless, Wilson Jones became “Stavin Chain,” a figure of strength and prominence. This term may refer to the American tradition of arms manufactures in the late 19th century utilizing chains to hold barrel staves together, or perhaps it refers to chains used to bind ankles on chain work gangs ( I believe that this term could easily have come from a blend of the two stories, as African American folk so heavily relies upon cultural blending.

–Brock Carlson

[Portraits of Stavin’ Chain and Wayne Perry performing, Lafayette, La.]

Works cited

Lomax, A., photographer. (1934) [Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” fiddler also in shot, Lafayette, La]. Lafayette Louisiana United States, 1934. June. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Lomax, A., photographer. (1934) [Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” Lafayette, La]. Lafayette Louisiana United States, 1934. June. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Lomax, A., photographer. (1934) [Stavin’ Chain playing guitar and singing the ballad “Batson,” Lafayette, La. fiddler in the background]. Lafayette Louisiana United States, 1934. June. [Photograph] Retrieved from the Library of Congress,

Baraka, A., & Harris, W. J. (2000). The LeRoi Jones/Amiri Baraka reader. New York: Thunders Mouth Press.

Rude and Beautiful

Frederic Remington was a late 19th century artist whose goal was to study the “Wild West.” Born into the Civil War and reconstructionist America, Remington’s age was one of “modernized” westward expansion including rail roads, telegraph, and other modernizing technology.  Consequentially, the “Old West” was starting to die out and Remington wanted to preserve it with “a romantic fascination” (Remington, F. (2010)).

In an attempt to chronicle the American West, Remington was assigned by newspapers and publishers to accompany cowboys, Indians and cavalrymen (Remington, F. (2010)). This resulted in extensive time spent with many different types of individuals on the frontier. The result? Beautifully sketched images of the grand “Old West” of American folklore. Below, is an image from an 1897 book titled Drawings by Frederic Remington. The caption below the image is “The Pony War-Dance” (Remington, F. (1897)).

This sketch shows an unidentified group of Native Americans riding their horses in a choreographed dance. These war-dances were often common of the Plateau region, the Plains region, and the Eastern nomadic region of Native Americans (Bruno Nettl, et al.). Often the war dances were accompanied by instruments like “rattles incorporating deer-hooves” (Bruno Nettl, et al., Plateau region) or “strips of rawhide to which deer-hooves were attached” (Bruno Nettl, et al., Plain region) for the purpose of imitating the sound of horses. Whereas Remington’s sketch shows a unique development of this tradition that includes the actual horses in a choreographed celebration. Such an act must have taken incredibly skill and control over the horses.

What is perhaps most surprising about Remington’s quest to chronical the “Old West” is his utter lack of descriptive documentation and context. There is no way to know which tribe is sketched in “The Pony War-Dance.” The description at the start of Remington’s Drawings indicates that the dance is a

“wild fury of religious, that splendor of savagery crashes down to us from the Stone Age. If you will open the Old Testament where Joshua delayed the course of the sun, or they blew down a city wall with a trumpet, you will come upon the same spirit… time and the present world have no part here!” (Remington, F. (1897)).

Stone Age savagery!? Are you kidding me? Horses were not introduced into the continent until 1519, at which point they had to escape from their owners and radiate up throughout the American Great Plains before the Native Americans could get to them (“Wild Horses and Native North American Wildlife”). This tribe is a group who has found, captured, tamed, and then mastered horses to the point of being able to choreograph them into a dance. It is surprising how Remington and his commenter can see this sketch as anything but advanced.

Of course, Remington’s audience in 1897 was one who wanted to picture the folklore of a west that was rough and wild. For them, “tales of the American frontier [began] to assume a haziness, an unreality, which makes them seem less history than folklore.” (Remington, F. (2010)). It is understandable, considering Remington’s goal and his audience’s attitudes to American Indians possessing western land, that they would be portrayed in a uncivilized light. Nevertheless, one would think that Remington, having spent enough time with Native Americans to be able to sketch beautiful images like the Pony War-Dance, would have grown to respect the beauty and adaptability of their culture.


–Brock Carlson

Works Cited

Bruno Nettl, et al. “Amerindian music.” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music Online. Oxford University Press, accessed September 26, 2017,

Remington, F. (1897). Drawings. R. H. Russell, New York.

Remington, F. (2010). Remington. Retrieved from

Wild Horses as Native North American Wildlife. (n.d.). Retrieved September 26, 2017, from