Mobsters – The Cotton Club





In 1890 Harlem was a dream of land speculators. The elevated railways, which were extended to 129th Street in Manhattan, transformed the inland area into what was called the "Great Migration".

At that time, black families lived mainly in the area between Thirty Seven Streets and Fifty Eight Streets, between the eighth and ninth avenues. The upper crust of society saw Harlem as the next step for the rising, as a result of which magnificent homes, costing thousands more than comparable downtown, were built as soon as speculators could acquire Harlem.

In 1905, the bottom of the real estate market in Harlem fell to the floor. Land speculators were forced to face the fact that the house was built too quickly and that prices were much higher than people were willing to pay for it.

On the verge of bankruptcy, land speculators used tactics that would be illegal today. They decided to rent their buildings to black tenants, well above what white tenants would charge. Then, in a frenzy, to recover their losses, land speculators turned to the owners of white buildings and told them that if they did not buy vacant buildings, they would rent them only to Black, thereby reducing the value of the white landowner. s properties. White landowners did not bite, so land speculators kept their promises. The whites began to move out of Harlem in a crowd, replaced by black families who had never lived in such a beautiful area before. Black churches followed their congregations from the slums of Manhattan to the splendor of Harlem, and in the early 1920s Harlem was the largest black community in the United States.

However, most Negroes could not afford the high rents charged by the owners of white buildings, so they accepted tenants, causing two, and sometimes three families to live in one or two bedrooms. Along with Harlem's overpopulation, there has been an influx of illegal enterprises such as runners, prostitution houses and drug dealers. This was counteracted somewhat when wealthy blacks, mainly in the entertainment industry, decided that Harlem could showcase his talents in a district full of people of their race. Fritz Pollard, a well-known American football player who made money on real estate, moved to Harlem, as did American football colleague Paul Robeson – who was destined to improve his acting career and singing on stage. Famous singers such as Ethel Walters and Florance Mills quickly followed them, and Harlem was ready for a renaissance equal to glowing White Way on Broadway.

But when it was time to make money, white gangsters like Dutch Schultz and Owney "The Killer" Madden were ready to jump in and pick up their profits, if necessary by force, and they did business anyway. Schultz entered the business with Harlem numbers, chasing such black personalities as Madam Stephanie St. Claire and Caspar Holstein. And at the peak of Prohibition, Madden looked at the perfect place to sell his vodka: Club Deluxe on 142st Street and Lenox Avenue.

Club Deluxe was owned by former world heavyweight champion Jacek Johnson, the first world heavyweight champion in the world. While Johnson was proficient in fists, Madden and his awesome crew did well with weapons, knives and bats. A few words to choose from, supported by the threat of violence, with a few modest bucks, and Johnson gave Club Deluxe to Madden and his partner / manager George & # "Big Frenchy" DeMange. Two gangsters renamed him Cotton Club.

In order not to insult the black man completely with Johnson's prestige, Madden threw him a bone and let him hang around the pond, illuminated by a dragon. Johnson smiled and told everyone who asked that he was an assistant manager at DeMange.

To understand why such a heavy heavyweight boxer like Johnson curled up in front of Madden, who was only five feet five inches and 140 pounds after a great dinner, one would have to realize Madden's descent.

Owen "Owney" Madden was born on Somerset Street 25 in Leeds, England, on December 18, 1891. In need, his father moved the Madden family to Liverpool. In 1903, when young Madden was only 12 years old, his father died and his mother moved her family to America, settling on the west side of Manhattan, in a district called "Hells Kitchen".

Madden came up with a noisy gang known as Gophers. He became fluent in the privileged crimes of that era: robberies, robberies and the beating of workers' robots. To hurt and intimidate Madden's favorite weapon was a lead pipe wrapped in a newspaper.

Madden made a lot of money in rockets called the "insurance business." As president of his own "insurance company," Madden visited local factories and told business owners that the owner needed "bomb insurance," in case foreigners, or maybe even Madden himself, decided to bomb a businessman shop. Business owners quickly caught the wind and paid Madden what he demanded. If they had not paid Madden, this businessman's stores would have burst into flames and debris within days, and sometimes even hours. While Madden was a Gopher member and made a lot of money in his "insurance business," he was arrested 44 times, but never once went to jail.

When Madden was 17 years old, he gained the nickname "Killer". The poor Italian immigrant did nothing wrong except crossing the paths with Madden on the street in the kitchen of Hell. In front of the crowd of his compatriots and those who stood on the street that day, Madden drew his weapon and shot the Italians. Then Madden stood over the corpse and told the crowd: "I am Owney Madden!"

At age 23, Madden had at least five other murders. Hence the nickname "Killer".

However, Madden thought he was bulletproof until November 6, 1912. At Arbor Dance Hall, which was at the heart of the territory controlled by rivals Gopher & # 39; a: Hudson Dusters. Madden himself entered the hall, as if he had no care in the world, during a dance issued by the Dave & # 39; Association Hyson. Madden watched the events from the balcony when eleven Hudson Dusters surrounded him and shot Madden six times. Madden was taken to the hospital, where a detective asked Madden, who shot him.

"Nothin & # 39; doin, & # 39; "said Madden. "It's not my business, it's mine that puts these snails in me. My boys will get them. "

By the time Madden was released from the hospital, six of his eleven attackers had already been shot.

While Madden recovered from his wounds, one of his companions, Little Patsy Doyle, stated that he would take control of the Madden gang. Doyle also intended to recover his ex-girlfriend Freda Horner, who was now the exclusive property of Madden. Miss Horner told Madden about Doyle's intentions, and as a result Madden told Miss Horner to tell Doyle that she would happily meet him on a date in the lounge on Eighth Avenue and 41st Street. When Doyle arrived, dressed for nines and all smiles, two Madden shooters shot Doyle & # 39; a.

Being an obvious suspect, Madden was arrested three days later for the murder of Little Patsy Doyle. During Madden's trial, he was shocked to discover that Miss Horner had betrayed him too. Miss Horner testified in court that Madden organized the murder of Doyle & # 39; a. As a result, Madden was convicted and sentenced to 10-20 years in Sing Sing prison. He was only eight years old and was released in 1923, just in time for Jacson Johnson to promote him in the sale of Club Deluxe, or Cotton Club. At that time, Madden was a big fan of bootleging with his partner Big Bill Dwyer, and Cotton Club was the perfect place to sell an illegal bang, especially the famous Madden No. 1 beer, which was considered the best brew in New York. They took a legal guy named Herman Stark as their frontman / partner / stage manager, but the show's show was completely hosted by Madden and DeMange.

According to Jim Haskins' The Cotton Club, when Madden and DeMange took over the joint, they redone the interior "to satisfy the taste of a white man in downtown." The club was rebuilt in a "jungle" with numerous artificial palm trees scattered throughout the spacious facility, which could accommodate 700 people. The most exquisite curtains, tablecloths and equipment were purchased, which indicates that it was a "supper club plush" and exorbitant prices highlighted this fact. The menu was varied. In addition to traditional steaks and cutlets, Cotton Club also cooks Chinese and Mexican dishes on the drums, as well as "Harlem" dishes such as fried chicken and grilled spare parts.

DeMange was controlling the front door like a tyrant. One rule was completely clear. Although all the waiters, buses, bartenders, cooks, service workers and contractors were black, no black man was allowed inside. (The very name – Cotton Club – comes from the light brown color of un-dyed cotton). The girls with the chorus had to be "tall, brown, and gorgeous," which meant they must be at least five-six inches tall, light-skinned, and not older than twenty-one. The girls also had to be expert dancers, or at least they could carry a melody. For some unknown reason, there were no shade restrictions for black dancers who were proficient in "walking, spinning and dancing the snake."

To show how harsh Madden and DeMange approached their segregation policy, about a month before the second grand opening (The Cotton Club was closed for some time by Prohibition agents, although local policemen were on the pad), the following interview work took place. Madden and DeMange, their choreographer Althea Fuller and orchestra conductor Andy Preer were present. The girl interviewed was Queenie Duchamp.

DeMange to Madden: Boss, when will the club be ready to open?

Madden: Pigs have not troubled us for some time. They know that if we are forced to shut down due to bootlegging, they will not win their bonuses. At the moment, they lack additional lining, and the boys complain about Sarge. Yes, they learned their lesson. As for the club performance … let's ask Althea and Andy & # 39; ego.

DeMange to Preer: Andy, how's the pit there? Ready to open next month?

Preer: We will. If Althea prepares his girls, the pit is ready to step.

Althea Fuller: Boss, we had a failure. One of the girls went and found a "moral conscience". He follows his sister Garveyite back to Africa. It is a pity that she looked on the first line. Don't worry, boss, I already have deputies ready to be interviewed today. One of them looks promising and contains a recommendation. She is in the first place, third in … Queena Duchamp. First, let's check if he remembers the steps she taught that morning.

(Andy Preer leads the orchestra at the audition "I & 39 I found a new child" and 5 dancing girls. Queenie Duchamp is third from the left).

Madden: Stop the third and fifth. The other girls are too dark and short. Althea, make sure you familiarize them with the rules and the trials. We do NOT do intestinal spoon surgery here.

(Madden goes out with his bodyguards)

Fuller: Queenie, come here. You have work on several conditions.

Queenie: Whatever you want, Miss Fuller.

Fuller: Number one – No alcohol, No boys, No drugs. No exceptions.

Queenie: Yes, miss.

Fuller: Number two – rehearsals take place on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, starting at 13:00. All attempts are MANDATORY and late arrivals will not be accepted. I don't know what you heard, but the rehearsals here are exhausting and the performances are long, with many complicated costume changes. That means you can't afford to be vulgar here. Make sure you eat and rest. Do you understand?

Queenie: Yes, Miss Fuller.

Fuller: Number three – No customer mixing. Every night, about 700 white people pass through this door. And according to Mr. Madden, they have only one purpose here and spend money. They come here to hear the best negro music and dance numbers in town. They may act as if they want to be your friend after a few drinks, but they don't. Mr. Madden doesn't want to mix races, and I think it's better for business anyway.

DeMange: If a white customer begins to create problems or tries to connect with you, tell me. I'll take care of it. It happened earlier. Sometimes these rich people drink a few drinks in them and think they are the owners of the world. Don't worry about it, let me know. We're running a tight ship here.

Queenie: Yes, Mr. DeMange. No problem, Fuller. I am an entertainer and I understand the importance of practice. In fact, I'm a singer, a blues singer! If you ever need a singer … (Mrs. Fuller and Mr. DeMange look at each other.)

Fuller: Listen, miss. Your goal is to dance, smile and follow the rules … not to sing. I understand?

Queenie: Yes, Miss Fuller. I understand.

Fuller: Another thing … stay out of trouble. You are an observer, and the world of the club can be dirty and dangerous. It doesn't have to be this way. Take care for yourself and whatever you do, stay away from Mr. Madden. If you do this, everything will be fine. Now go to the closet on the fitting.

Queenie: Yes and thank you, Miss Fuller.

The cotton club was immediately successful thanks to the waves of the city center. On the opening night, the Fletcher Henderson band entertained the crowd (the Henderson band was a home band until June 1931). Thanks to radio broadcasts from Cotton Club every night, Henderson's band was so successful that they became one of the most sought-after band leaders in America. Behind Henderson was the Duke Ellington Band (until 1934), followed by Cab Calloway and the Cotton Club Orchestra.

Despite the fact that Madden's No. 1 beer was the only alcohol served, customers could and even were encouraged to bring their own alcohol, which they had obtained illegally elsewhere. Of course, the management had a huge set-up fee, which included glasses, ice and mixers. If the customer came unprepared and still wanted vodka instead of beer, a porter and sometimes even a waiter came in handy. A bottle of champagne can cost a client 30 USD, a bottle of scotch 18 USD, the royal sum at that time. But customers were well healed and no one ever bothered about prices; at least nobody cared about their health.

After a while, DeMange and Madden slightly clarified the rules of "banning black customers." It happened in 1932, immediately after WC Handy, known as "The King of the Blues", was refused admission, despite the fact that Duke Ellington Band was playing songs written by Handy & # 39; ego. Ellington referred his case to Madden, and Madden agreed to loosen his policy. But only a little.

Light-skinned blacks were now admitted as clients, as well as several darker blacks who were well-known artists themselves. Blacks at mixed events were definitely not.

Writer and photographer Carl Van Vechten wrote: "There were brutals at the door to enforce the Cotton Club policy, which was against mixed parties."

Jim Haskins wrote at The Cotton Club: "Only the brightest Negroes have gained entry, and even they have been thoroughly checked. The club management was aware that most white downtown residents want to watch the Harlems, not mix with them. "

Even the famous comedian Jimmy Durante showed glaring racism when he said, "It's not necessary to mix with colorful people if you don't feel like it. You have your own party and stay away. ; s worth seeing !! "

Durante even went so far as to believe that blacks are inherently more aggressive than white people. "Racial lines have been drawn here to prevent possible problems," said Durante. "Nobody wants to fly with razors, blackjacks or fists. And the chances of war are less if there is no confusion. "

In 1933, after he solved a small problem with the IRS, and after the end of Prohibition, Madden decided to call it day. He handed over the reign of Cotton Club DeMange and sent him to Hot Springs, Arkansas, where he opened a hotel / spa that became a favorite hideout for New York gangsters by law. In fact, when Mafioso Lucky Luciano from New York was in hiding, because a special bulldog prosecutor named Thomas E. Dewey had an arrest warrant for Luciano on charges of prostitution, it was at the Madden center where Luciano was finally arrested after four months of escape.

Of course, Madden was still a quiet partner of DeMange at the Cotton Club, but huge profits will soon fall before they stop at Harlem.

It began with the Great Depression, which dramatically reduced the disposable income of the rich and former rich. Downtown revelers who went to the Cotton Club came less often, and when they arrived, they spent less money. The same revelers were entangled in the mentality of the street gang, as a result of which avalanches of bullets began to fly in Harlem; whites shoot at negroes, negroes shoot at whites and members of the same race shoot at each other. With so much lead in Harlem, Harlem-oriented white clubs such as the Cotton Club have declined dramatically.

In addition, Depression did not affect any area of ‚Äč‚ÄčAmerica more than Harlem. According to the New York Urban League, up to 1934, more than 80% of Harlem residents used Home Relief, which we now call "Welfare." Reverend Adam Clayton Powell fueled flames of racial tension as he began to boycott white stores in Harlem to force them to employ more black workers. Despair and resentment appeared on the streets of Harlem, which led to a terrible day in Harlem history.

A dark-skinned 16-year-old Puerto Rican named Lino Rivera was pouting the streets of Harlem, unemployed and desperate for work; some work. To pass the time, he took the movie and then went to Kress Department Store on 125th Street. There he noticed the knife he wanted. But the knife cost ten cents, and Rivera didn't have ten cents. Rivera just grabbed the knife and put it in his pocket when a store clerk grabbed Rivera and there was a fight. While the two men were fighting, and another white worker was trying to subdue Rivera, a crowd of black shoppers surrounded the fight, apparently favoring Rivera. During the fight, Rivera bit one of the white workers' thumbs. The wounded shouted: "I will take you to the basement and kill you."

Huge mistake.

Within minutes, a rumor spread across the streets of Harlem that two white men were beating a black boy to death. This false rumor received questionable confirmation when a blatant ambulance stopped in front of the Kress department store. It didn't matter that the ambulance was there for the white man who had a badly bitten finger.

That night the streets of Harlem exploded in total chaos. Born from aversion to Depression and the grim way in which white people have treated black people in Harlem for years, hundreds of black riots on the streets. They robbed the goods kept and robbed by the whites, as if they had the absolute right to collect them.

In the eyes of whites in downtown Harlem was no longer safe for them to see even the wonderful entertainment at Cotton Club. In addition, black musicians and artists no longer considered Cotton Club as a leading position. It became a place where artists could start their careers, but when they were noticed, they switched to bigger and better things. Business became so bad at Cotton Club and other Harlem clubs that met the needs of the white crowd in the city center, such as Small & # 39; s Paradise on 7th Avenue, that Harlem & # 39; s Cotton Club closed its doors for good on February 16, 1936.

DeMange and Herman Stark, thanks to Madden's blessing from Hot Springs, moved the Cotton Club center to Forty-Eighth Street and Broadway, to the space previously occupied by the Harlem Club. The new Cotton Club was an immediate success. The grand opening took place on September 24, 1936. That night Cab Calloway and Bill "Bojangles" Robinson performed, as did Avis Andrews, Berry Brothers and the wonderful Katherine Perry, who was so fair-skinned that she could easily pass for whites.

Because it was so accessible due to its new location in the city center, Cotton Club took cash. In the third week alone, he made over USD 45,000, and in the first sixteen weeks the average weekly gross profit was USD 30,000. Prices in the new pond were higher than at Cotton Club in Harlem. The steak sandwich increased from USD 1.25 to USD 2.25. Scrambled eggs with Deerfield sausage increased from USD 1.25 to USD 1.50, and lobster cocktails increased from USD 1.00 to USD 1.50.

DeMange and Stark were still packing them up.

One price that fell was the Cottons Club insurance fee. In Harlem, to prevent the undesirable, the security fee was $ 3 per table. However, since black people rarely crossed the "Mason-Dixon line" at 110th Street, the fee for the new Cottons Club was $ 2 for dinner table, then nothing.

The new Cotton Club prospered until the summer of 1939, when the internal tax service hit the club's board with accusations of avoiding income taxes. The indictments hit Cotton Club Management Corp, including Herman Stark – president, George & # 39; and Goodrich – accountant and Noah Braustein – secretary-treasurer, with four unregulated payments and tax fraud. In the event of a conviction, all three men may be sentenced to 25 years in prison and a fine of up to USD 20,000 per head. Strangely enough, since he was just listed as an employee, Frenchy DeMange escaped prosecution. At the Cotton Club Management Corp. hearing he was found guilty but three officers avoided the conviction. Still, Stark had to pay a heavy fine to the government, in addition to $ 3,400 in back taxes.

In early 1940, it was obvious that Cotton Club and Herman Stark had money problems. In addition to the high rent in the city center and the effects of the crisis, unions, especially the musicians' union, strangled Stark and his profits. Before his problems with the IRS, Stark raised money in advance to compensate for any trade union shortages and high entertainment wages. But when the government watched the Cotton Club like a hawk, rummaging was now impossible.

The Cotton Club closed its doors for good on June 10, 1940. Stark and DeMange did not give an official reason, but, as one journalist put it, the main reason was "the lack of the famous, dirty old lucre."

However, this explanation would be too simplistic. Of course, the problem was money, but America's taste for music like Duke Ellington and Cab Calloway also changed. The younger generation of Americans was fascinated by the new jazz and "swing" styles of white leaders such as Tommy Dorsey, Artie Shaw and "King of Swing" – Benny Goodman.

Cotton Club was a great idea whose life expectancy has come to an end. Black artists who cut their teeth while working at the Cotton Club, people like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Lena Horne, all began a long and wonderful career. But the concept of a nightclub with all the black entertainment no longer appealed to the white mainstream America.

Cotton Club was closed because it was an idea that flourished and then, like a gilded rose, slowly died.

Still, Cotton Club's memory and influence on society will remain as long as song and dance remain an integral part of our American culture.