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Cafe Society

Cafe Society: The wrong place for the Right people

Barney Josephson
with Terry Trilling-Josephson
Foreword by Dan Morgenstern
Copyright Date: 2009
Pages: 456
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  • Book Info
    Cafe Society
    Book Description:

    Set against the drama of the Great Depression, the conflict of American race relations, and the inquisitions of the House Un-American Activities Committee, Cafe Society tells the personal history of Barney Josephson, proprietor of the legendary interracial New York City night clubs Cafe Society Downtown and Cafe Society Uptown and their successor, The Cookery. Famously known as "the wrong place for the Right people," Cafe Society featured the cream of jazz and blues performers--among whom were Billie Holiday, Big Joe Turner, Lester Young, Buck Clayton, Big Sid Catlett, and Mary Lou Williams--as well as comedy stars Imogene Coca, Zero Mostel, and Jack Gilford, the boogie-woogie pianists, and legendary gospel and folk artists. A trailblazer in many ways, Josephson welcomed black and white artists alike to perform for mixed audiences in a venue whose walls were festooned with artistic and satiric murals lampooning what was then called "high society." In particular, he sought out and developed new performing talent, and he offered musicians and performers the rare security of continuous work for months and years. Spanning half a century from the 1930s to the 1980s, Josephson's narrative depicts both the business and the artistic sides of Cafe Society while exposing the tensions between the club's own progressive interracial openness and the more restrictive social and political climate in which it evolved. When his brother Leon was targeted by the House Un-American Activities Committee, Barney was tarred by the same brush and forced to close Cafe Society. Now out of the limelight, Barney opened a hamburger restaurant, The Cookery, hiring unemployed dancers as waitresses. Featuring scores of photographs that illustrate the vibrant cast of characters in Josephson's life, this exceptional book tells Josephson's personal history in his own words and through illuminating anecdotes, personal interviews, and historical research. A concept ahead of its time, Cafe Society was acclaimed then and now for its revolutionary innovations and creativity, inspired by the vision of one remarkable man.

    eISBN: 978-0-252-09583-2
    Subjects: History, Music

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. Foreword
    (pp. xi-xiv)
    Dan Morgenstern

    Once upon a time, in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village, there was a nightclub like no other before or since. Dubbed Cafe Society—an ironic touch provided by, of all people, Clare Boothe Luce (not yet a Republican member of Congress)—and adopting the slogan “the wrong place for the Right people,” it was the brainchild of Barney Josephson, who had no professional experience in show business (he sold shoes). What he did have was abiding love for jazz and cabaret and profound admiration and respect for black performers, not just as artists but as human beings.

    “I wanted a club,” he...

  4. Preface
    (pp. xv-xviii)
    Terry Trilling-Josephson
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xix-xxii)
    Terry Trilling-Josephson

    • Prelude
      (pp. 3-4)
      Terry Trilling-Josephson

      The gale-force winds of a howling northwester had struck New York the day before, suddenly plunging the city, which had enjoyed unseasonably mild temperatures throughout the Christmas weekend just past, into the freezing depths of winter. Now, icy blasts still swept the streets and made passage difficult for the few bundled pedestrians who ventured outdoors. Some, shivering in cloth coats, could be seen hurrying along the narrow, windswept lanes of Greenwich Village. There, on the sidewalk in front of the doorway of Number 2 Sheridan Square, they were greeted by the strange sight of a doorman, directing folks through the...

    • CHAPTER 1 “‘Take my advice, go back to Trenton and open a shoe store that sells health shoes.’”
      (pp. 5-12)

      It was Wednesday, December 28, 1938, the opening night of my cabaret and the realization of a long-held dream. We were all set to open, everything ready—musicians, singers, comedian, waiters, bartender, hat check girl, food, liquor license nicely framed hanging on the wall, and such art as never was seen in nightclubs in this country. The room was packed with friends and relatives and friends of friends and their relatives. We were jammed with more than the legal 210 seating capacity.

      Syd Hoft:There were so many celebrities there, either from the theater or from politics. In those days...

    • CHAPTER 2 “‘I’ve got Billie Holiday. . . .’ ‘Who is she?’ I asked.”
      (pp. 13-17)

      When I came to New York, I had been introduced to Sam Shaw, an artist and photographer who had a feel for show biz. Sammy was a young man about town who turned out to be my guardian angel. When I told him my ideas for my cabaret, he was very enthusiastic.

      “There’s a guy around named John Hammond. You should meet him because he feels the way you do about the Negro people. And he knows more about jazz than anybody in the world.” One of John’s first jobs was writing for a newspaper, theBrooklyn Eagle. Sam and...

    • CHAPTER 3 “I saw Gypsy Rose Lee do a political striptease.”
      (pp. 18-22)

      Some years earlier, in 1931, I had visited Europe and was impressed by the cabarets I went to in Paris, Berlin, Prague, Vienna. These were cafes where performers satirized the contemporary political and cultural scene in songs and poetry, comedy sketches and monologues, dance and mime. The stages were small so that there was a sense of intimacy between those onstage and the audience. You could even engage in repartee with the performers.

      In Paris I visited a cabaret for the avant-garde, Lapin Agile in Montmartre. I well remember my first visit, walking up the steep, sloped, unpaved street to...

    • CHAPTER 4 “‘Tell your friend to call it Cafe Society.’”
      (pp. 23-29)

      We were going to be unlike all other nightclubs. Cigarette girls would not sell little stuffed doggies and gardenias for the ladies. No one would be taking photographs at the tables.

      I had ideas about decor. Most nightclubs then were decorated with plush velour draperies and mirrors on the walls. If there were columns, as many of the clubs had because they were generally large places, the columns were made into fake palm trees, like the Copacabana. I abhorred this kind of decoration. If it was the Cotton Club or Smalls Paradise in Harlem, the decor’s themes would reflect their...

    • CHAPTER 5 “There we were, occupying six windows of the elegant Bergdorf-Goodman.”
      (pp. 30-36)

      We found an empty store on Twelfth Street that we used for a studio. The artists stretched their canvases on the floor and painted. Some of the murals would be painted onto the canvas, and some painted directly on the walls.

      We had the jazz. John Hammond was taking care of that. We had our slogan, “The wrong place for theRightpeople.” I don’t recall who came up with people.” I don’t recall who came up with it. Those ladies had ideas. Helen Norden suggested that we have a doorman garbed in an outfit in keeping with these depression...

    • CHAPTER 6 “‘What he should have is six goils and one guy.’”
      (pp. 37-40)

      It had all happened so quickly—Sam Shaw introducing me to John Hammond who engaged the musicians and Billie Holiday, my finding Jack Gilford, Sam Shaw bringing in the artists. It’s no wonder I neglected to obtain the cabaret license opening night.

      The show went on. Jack, as emcee, introduced the boogie-woogie piano players, Albert Ammons on the old upright boardinghouse piano from John’s Carnegie Hall concert, Meade Lux Lewis and Pete Johnson on a Steinway. There they were, the three greatest boogie-woogie pianists ever—on my stage.

      That old piano was something, an upright made of solid oak. It...

    • CHAPTER 7 “‘You’ll be a big star.’”
      (pp. 41-44)

      When we opened, the big excitement was the jazz band, the boogie-woogie pianists, Big Joe Turner and Billie Holiday. With this kind of line-up, Jack Gilford found it very difficult to get the attention of the audience, and he became very discouraged. Night after night he would beg me, “Let me out. These people don’t want to listen to what I’m doing.”

      And night after night I’d plead with him, “Jack, you’re not going out. You are the funniest comedian in this country. There’s no one like you. You’re going to remain here until the people who come here understand...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 8 “Billie looked at me. ‘What do you want me to do with that, man?’”
      (pp. 45-53)

      The notion that black Americans should enjoy equal rights was regarded as a radical, even subversive idea in this country, even seventy-five years after the Civil War. In 1938, when I opened Cafe Society, though segregation was illegal it was all too real in New York. Actually, slavery had lasted over two hundred years in New York before it was abolished by passage of the Thirteenth Amendment in 1863.

      Its heritage would continue to taint every aspect of society in the North as well as the South. The Fifteenth Amendment declared that no U.S. citizen can be denied the right...

    • CHAPTER 9 “You don’t keep anybody working for you under contract. That’s slavery.”
      (pp. 54-61)

      My relationship with Billie was friendly but not close. To put it in context for those years, there was such racial discrimination and segregation of Negroes in our society, North and South, where Negroes worked for whites, there was quite a cleavage. There usually was very little communication between a Negro artist and a white boss.

      John Williams:Working with Billie all those months, it was a pleasure to come to work. No one bothered you. You had to make time and be a gentleman, that’s all. Billie was a lovely person to work for, and Barney treated everyone the...

    • CHAPTER 10 “‘Never borrow a week’s salary from the M.C. to pay other bills.’”
      (pp. 62-65)

      For his first “Spirituals to Swing” concert John had brought a gospel quartet, Mitchell’s Christian Singers, to New York from Kingston, North Carolina. He had found them in a backwoods shack with no electricity or running water.

      “They’re the finest gospel group I ever heard, Barney.” John booked them into Downtown. They were a flop. I let them go without telling him; gave them their two weeks notice. They went to John.

      John Hammond:I told them I don’t own the place and there’s not much I can do. They weren’t commercial, and they didn’t pretend to be. Nobody knew...

    • CHAPTER 11 “‘There will be no craps-shooting Negroes in my place.’”
      (pp. 66-74)

      For his second “Spirituals to Swing” concert, December 24, 1939, John brought up a gospel quartet from Charlotte, North Carolina, the Golden Gate Jubilee Quartet. They were fantastic; Willie Johnson, narrator and baritone; Clyde Riddick, second tenor; Henry Owen, first tenor; Orlandus Wilson, bass. Five months after Hazel came in they were added to the program.¹

      Orlandus Wilson:After the concert at Carnegie Hall, John Hammond invited us to go and have a drink at Cafe Society to look around. When we did, they asked us to sing a few songs. That’s when we first met Barney Josephson. He said,...


    • CHAPTER 12 “Always hand-me-downs like that, but I had beautiful clothes.”
      (pp. 77-83)

      Many people, some time in their lives, have made an estimate of their talents and their abilities. There are those, of course, who are credited with something more than they are. But you yourself know who you are. In my case I always felt I had a taste for good things, for art, for literature, for talent, for quality. I knew how I wanted to conduct my cabaret. I didn’t want a line of half-naked girls. I didn’t have that taste. I didn’t want Negro comics. I felt their acts were derogatory, playing on the white stereotype of the Negro,...

    • CHAPTER 13 “‘She was a remarkable woman, way ahead of her time.’”
      (pp. 84-87)

      Young though she was when my father died, Mother never remarried. I had heard her say on several occasions when she was asked by neighbors that she had opportunities enough. There were men, strangely enough, she said, who wanted to take her on with her six children. But no, she had made up her mind when my father passed away no one would ever be a stepfather to her children.

      I wasn’t always an angel although everyone used to say I looked and behaved like one. When I wasn’t an angel and did something naughty Mother would scold me in...

    • CHAPTER 14 “As natural to me as drinking a glass of milk.”
      (pp. 88-92)

      When I was in grade school I worked in the corner drug store. Mother made me a white coat of piqué with white buttons. I was a fountain boy, a delivery boy, and a porter, everything in Mr. Stretch’s Drug Store. Mother made this coat for the fountain, this beautiful fountain made of lovely marble with all the fittings. The spigots with all of the flavors were silver-plated. I used to polish them with silver polish to make them gleam. Oh—that was my fountain.

      All the little girls in my neighborhood would come around on their roller skates when...

    • CHAPTER 15 “Leon set up that kind of thing, share and share alike.”
      (pp. 93-95)

      My older brothers and sisters were so busy working they didn’t have much time for me. When I would ask my mother what my father looked like, because there were no photos of him, she would say, “Leon is the only one.” So Leon, the next youngest in our family, was the picture of my father. Being too young to work, Leon was in school. I was in school. Leon was my big brother, my father, my mentor, and a tremendous influence on my life. He taught me everything I knew and watched over me and guided me. He taught...

    • CHAPTER 16 “I had never dated a girl.”
      (pp. 96-98)

      After graduating from high school in 1919 I began to work full time in our shoe store. I liked to arrange the displays for our store window. We sold silk stockings of various shades, and I would fashion them into roses, arranging them with our shoes so that the colors of the stockings and shoes complemented each other. I would change these displays, creating different arrangements. People would stop by our store just to marvel at our windows.

      I was making a lot of money then, $150 a week. I supported my mother by myself. No one had to contribute....

    • CHAPTER 17 “The workers sleeps in a old straw bed and shivers from the cold.”
      (pp. 99-102)

      One day in early September 1929 I received a letter from Leon postmarked North Carolina. He was writing from a little town there, Gastonia. At this time Leon was a young lawyer working for the International Labor Defense, which was defending a group of mill workers who were charged with the murder of the chief of police in Gastonia, Orville F. Aderholt.

      To avoid union organizing, and attracted by cheap white labor, the American textile industry had moved from New England to the hill country of North and South Carolina in the early 1900s. Typical of all company towns, they...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)

    • CHAPTER 18 “I’m the right man in the wrong place.”
      (pp. 105-109)

      Cafe Society had been open about nine months. I was still heavily in debt when I made up my mind that I’m the right man in the wrong place. Barney Josephson is not for Greenwich Village. I never should have opened in the Village. I don’t belong in the Village. It’s not for me. I’m not a Village character. I should have opened Uptown on the East Side. I’m for the chic, smart crowd Uptown. They want a guy like me. I was now a celebrity of sorts, and it was heady.

      I told myself before anything happens to this...

    • CHAPTER 19 “‘A Rockefeller can afford to wear such a coat.’”
      (pp. 110-115)

      We were well-reviewed. TheNew Yorkernightclub editor was there opening night.

      A new place with the old Downtown line-up of Negro entertainers. . . . It’s hard to believe, in a way, that Cafe Society has actually invaded the East Fifties, but there it is, and if it doesn’t prosper, I’ll be convinced that the address is really jinxed.¹

      TheNew Yorkernever failed to mention color. They weren’t the only press. It was common practice in those days. Often enough I would be asked why 90 percent of our talent was Negro. “You see, we specialize in jazz...

    • CHAPTER 20 “Everybody was making a big fuss over me.”
      (pp. 116-118)

      After I opened Uptown I would cover both clubs each night. I’d spend half of the night in one and the rest of the night in the other. One night I came to Downtown from Uptown. Big Joe Turner was at the bar with the boogie-woogie pianists. I’m the kind of fellow that if I’m upset, it shows on my face. When money wasn’t a problem there were others. I walked over to the bar to say hello to the guys. Big Joe takes one look at me.

      “What’s the matter, Pops?”

      “Oh, nothing.” He knew me better. Goes into...

    • CHAPTER 21 “‘Lena, what do you think a song is?’”
      (pp. 119-125)

      One evening early 1941, John casually mentioned, “There’s a singer who’s appearing with Charlie Barnet’s band at the Paramount Theater. I’d like you to catch her.” The Paramount’s stage shows featured big bands with their singers and bigname stars, with first-run Hollywood lms on the screen. Frank Sinatra, appearing there with the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra, created pandemonium with teenage bobby-soxers screaming and dancing in the aisles. It had started out as a publicity stunt when Frank had appeared there as a supporting act with Benny Goodman’s band. Wynn Nathanson, Benny’s publicist, concocted the idea, and then it took on a...

    • CHAPTER 22 “Truth to tell, I was falling.”
      (pp. 126-131)

      Hazel was ensconced in the grand Uptown place as the star. Lena was the female star Downtown. Hazel had her Cadillac and chauffeur. Between shows she would go around visiting all the night spots, drive up in her car, swish in. Because of her underslip there was always the sound of swishing like sand paper. She would swish in Downtown to show off, I guess, to Lena.

      This night Hazel came Downtown. Lena was at the bar having a drink with a couple of the musicians, among them the incomparable Art Tatum. Some words were exchanged. Hazel called Lena a...

    • CHAPTER 23 “Nine months later she dropped a bomb on me.”
      (pp. 132-135)

      I have always liked to help out a worthy cause and to try out new ideas. Two and a half years after the opening of Downtown, and with Uptown going full blast, I had the idea to rent Carnegie Hall for one night to present my Cafe Society artists on that sacrosanct stage. It would be a first, the first concert ever presented in Carnegie Hall by a nightclub with its artists performing. Of course I was taking a leaf from my mentor, John Hammond. The worthy cause was the Musicians Union, Local 802. I donated the proceeds to their...

    • CHAPTER 24 “‘You have to be her trustee.’”
      (pp. 136-142)

      Barney, you don’t know how lucky Hazel and I are.” Alma Scott and I were schmoozing at Uptown.

      “What do you mean, Alma?”

      “Well, just before you called Hazel to audition, Joe Glaser wanted to take her on as her agent.” Hazel was still a minor, so her mother had to sign any contract. That’s how Alma knew all the details.

      Now there is such a thing in show business as a managerial-ownership contract. Joe offered to give Hazel $100 a week for the first two or three years and another $25 for the next few years and so on,...

    • CHAPTER 25 “‘I’m nobody’s fat black mammy, but that’s how I make my money.’”
      (pp. 143-147)

      Running back and forth to the West Coast negotiating Hazel’s contracts was personally expensive, and I had to neglect my cafes although Leon was there. Leon and I, you might say all the boys in our family, have always been concerned with fighting, in our way, the injustices in this world as we’ve perceived them. For me, getting a fair and humane deal for Hazel in Hollywood was a paramount issue. I had the small hope that what I might accomplish with Hazel’s contracts would chart a path for other Negro performers.

      Paul Robeson came in one evening as he...

    • CHAPTER 26 “‘Why don’t you call him Zero? He’s starting from nothing.’”
      (pp. 148-154)

      Although my original idea had been to open a European-style cabaret satirizing local and world events, I had diffculty finding fresh comedic commentary. I was always on the lookout for the comedian who could write his or her own material. An acquaintance, Himan Brown, a radio producer, who, I think, had a monopoly on every radio show on the air, called to tell me about a comedian he knew, Sam Mostel.

      Himan Brown:I was producing and directing on radio,Inner Sanctum, David Harum, Dick Tracy, Grand Central—the trains come in and the stories come out—among others. I...

    • CHAPTER 27 “No Zero.”
      (pp. 155-160)

      Three months in show business, that’s the way this boy rose to stardom. Every Hollywood producer was burning up my telephone wires to get him out there. I was playing it very cool. I had a contract with Zero to be his personal manager. I had been burned by Lena, who had walked out on me, who, as was my wont, had no contract. My brother Leon reminded me of that. The contract with Zero stated that in consideration of being his personal manager I would get 10 percent for every engagement outside of his performances at Cafe Society. I...

    • CHAPTER 28 “We are on the same beam together, Barney and Mildred.”
      (pp. 161-163)

      Barney, there’s a woman whom I consider to be the world’s finest white jazz singer, Mildred Bailey. I’ve invited her to drop into Cafe Society Downtown.” I knew what John Hammond wanted. Mildred Bailey dropped in, and I persuaded her to sing a couple of songs with the band. She had not been around for some years and now she would be singing Downtown, picking up what had been a fabulous singing career.

      John said “white jazz singer,” but in fact Mildred was part Indian on her mother’s side and proud of it. Her father was Irish-German, and she was...

    • CHAPTER 29 “‘He’ll never come back.’”
      (pp. 164-168)

      You’re only as good as your last flop—show biz humor. When I hired Jimmy Savo in 1943 he was considered washed up. He wasn’t working after thirty-eight years in show business. He had not been in a hit show sinceThe Boys from Syracusein 1938, the Rodgers and Hart musical based on Shakespeare’sComedy of Errors.He had been in three flops in succession. Movies had passed him up although he had made a few years before. A friend told me about him, that he was terribly discouraged and broke. I knew of him and asked him to see...

    • CHAPTER 30 “She took one leap.”
      (pp. 169-173)

      Nearly all the nightclubs, with few exceptions, hired only name talent. They wanted box office. If they saw a talent they wouldn’t know it. After a talent became a big star, then they bought it, and when they bought it they had to pay for it. They paid huge sums to stars like Sophie Tucker, Belle Baker, Carmen Miranda, Hildegard, Carl Brisson, Ruth Etting, Tony Martin, Benny Fields, Milton Berle, Olson and Johnson. But Barney got his talent from the ground and brought them up.

      Two American dancers from Englewood, New Jersey, Beatrice and Evelyne Kraft, intrigued me at their...

    • CHAPTER 31 “When Mary Lou plays it all looks so easy.”
      (pp. 174-180)

      Mary Lou Williams had come to play at Cafe Society Downtown.¹ It was her first gig as a solo performer. For twelve years she had toured with Andy Kirk and his Twelve Clouds of Joy band. Her husband then was saxophonist John Williams, who was in the band.

      John Williams:Terrence Holder was the original leader of the Clouds of Joy band. One time he left town with the payroll, Christmas. The owner of the Louvre Ballroom didn’t want him in the place anymore. Andy Kirk was the oldest in age and settled. The owner asked Andy would he take...

    • CHAPTER 32 “‘I am, believe it or not, usually pretty shy.’”
      (pp. 181-185)

      Jimmy Savo left Uptown to appear in a Broadway show by Lerner and Loewe,What’s Up,staged by George Balanchine. With such talent you’d have thought the show would be a smash. It closed two months after it opened in November 1944. Jimmy was due back for another year, but he wanted a vacation.

      I found an extraordinary comedienne to pinch-hit for him, Imogene Coca.¹ The charismatic dancer Avon Long ofPorgy and Bessfame would be on the program with her. I didn’t audition Imogene. It wasn’t necessary. I knew her work from Leonard Stillman’s New Faces revues and...

    • CHAPTER 33 “‘Mr. Josephson, you are asexual.’”
      (pp. 186-187)

      We were still at war when news of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s sudden death of a massive cerebral hemorrhage on April 12, 1945 in Warm Springs, Georgia, saddened the nation. His life was snatched away three weeks before the unconditional surrender of Nazi Germany.

      He did not live to witness the horror and disbelief of the American GIs who helped free the skeletal survivors of the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps in Germany. Nor did he know that Adolph Hitler and Joseph Goebbels and his family had committed suicide in an underground bunker in Berlin. Nor did he give the...

    • CHAPTER 34 “I notice Adam eyeing Hazel.”
      (pp. 188-193)

      Hazel Scott is now twenty-five years old and has been a star at Cafe Society for all seven years. I was like a father to her. She didn’t interest me in any sexual way. Besides, I had a strict rule for myself—never, ever date a woman who works for you. I always abided by it. First of all, it’s a good business principle. You don’t fool around with your employees. Second, and especially if she was black and how I felt about Negro people. It would be such a grossly unfair advantage for a white-man boss to force himself...

    • CHAPTER 35 “‘Ladies and gentlemen. This is a zither.’”
      (pp. 194-197)

      I mogene Coca phoned my office one morning. Her father was very ill in the Midwest, and she had to go to him immediately. She was an only child, and they were very close. A few weeks before, Jemy Hammond had called and told me about this sixteen-year-old girl who was a marvelous folk singer, Susie Reed by name. “Jemy, send her down.”

      Susie Reed:I used to live in Greenwich Village, and I played the Irish harp and zither for fun and sang old English, Scottish and Irish songs. . . . A neighbor asked me to sing at...

    • CHAPTER 36 “I’m being more temperamental than John Barrymore.”
      (pp. 198-202)

      I take risks, and like all gambling, you win some, you lose some. Well, I do strange things. I get a letter from a GI in the U.S. Army, stationed in France. He was from New York and had been an ardent fan of Cafe Society Downtown. I didn’t know him. He wrote about this wonderful, talented, beautiful gal in Paris who plays the piano and sings. If I think I have something in Hazel Scott, this young lady can wrap rings around her. I asked him to send any recordings she may have made and photographs. I figured if...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 37 “‘She can’t sing.’”
      (pp. 203-205)

      If I liked a performer and had faith in their talent, I didn’t care whether he or she clicked right off or not. I would stay with an artist. John Hammond had become enthusiastic about a young singer who had sung with the Earl Hines and Billy Eckstine bands and arranged an audition for her in early spring 1946. She was kind of awkward, rather dowdily dressed, and had a gap between her front teeth. But her voice! I had never heard such a voice. John Wilson, theTimescritic, has described it as a musical instrument with “soaring highs...

    • CHAPTER 38 “I just saw a woman singing to chairs on empty tables.”
      (pp. 206-214)

      We had a large European population in New York, French especially, who had escaped from the Vichy government. By now many of our soldiers had been exposed to some of the European entertainment and culture. That’s why I thought it would be smart to bring over foreign talent. I had the idea to bring over Josephine Baker, who, though not French, had been the toast of the Continent during the mid-1920s and 1930s. I knew she was still living in Paris.

      I do crazy things. People think I think everything out carefully. Not so. Call it instinct for the right...

    • CHAPTER 39 “She took the check and flipped it back to me.”
      (pp. 215-220)

      I did not neglect Downtown. I was in Hollywood in 1947, and Abe Burrows invited me to dinner at Jason’s one evening. Jason’s was a Lindy’s-type restaurant and a popular place where writers, producers, and top actors ate. At dinner Abe mentioned, “There’s a little party at Frank Loesser’s house. Let’s go over a after dinner.”

      Some time during the evening Frank came over to me, “Come with me, Barney.” He took me into his music room and put a record on his machine. “Who is that, Frank?” “A woman out here named Nellie Lutcher.” “How do I get in...


    • CHAPTER 40 “‘Let’s have your passport.’”
      (pp. 223-228)

      It was the year 1935, the first week in February, when a little one-column dispatch about six inches long caught my eye in the newspaper I was reading. The dateline was Copenhagen. The small heading read, “Americans Arrested February 1 for Plotting to Assassinate Adolf Hitler.” I read further. “A group of thirty people have been arrested and three Americans are involved. One of the Americans is Leon Josephson, an attorney from Trenton, New Jersey.” Leon had begun to make numerous trips to Europe starting about 1930, saying he had clients there.

      Franklin Delano Roosevelt had taken office March 4,...

    • CHAPTER 41 “No one was building for Negroes.”
      (pp. 229-231)

      World War II was over.¹ During the war, mostly all construction of housing had stopped. Now, there was such a shortage of housing, especially low-cost housing for the working class. At the same time, the population was growing.

      One day toward the end of the year Leon came to me about a business proposition which he had a chance to be involved with. He knew two men working for the Federal Housing Administration (FHA) in Washington, one an architect and the other an experienced builder. The government itself was building low-cost housing on its own, so the government had such...

    • CHAPTER 42 “The Un-American Activities Committee itself was unconstitutional.”
      (pp. 232-237)

      In 1945 Rep. John Rankin (D.-Miss.) engineered the creation of the House Committee on Un-American Activities (HUAC). The vote was close, 207 to 186. In fact, this committee was a continuation of another with a similar name, Special Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities but more familiarly known as the Dies Committee, headed by Martin Dies (D.-Tex.). It had been overwhelmingly voted into existence in 1938, the same year Cafe Society saw the light of day.¹ Not everyone then was sanguine about its potential:

      Rep. Gerald Boileau (Progressive-Wis.):If J. Parnell Thomas would be appointed to the Committee, there would likely...

    • CHAPTER 43 “‘I won’t be coming into the club anymore.’”
      (pp. 238-243)

      Lucienne’s triumphant return after the summer was the same day, September 8, 1947, that Leon’s trial had been postponed. With his conviction, the attacks on me intensified. Hearst columnists were especially vitriolic: political “experts” Victor Riesel, Westbrook Pegler, George Sokolsky; cabaret editor Lee Mortimer, who was always in my cafes; gossip columnists Dorothy Kilgallen, Cholly Knickerbocker. Walter Winchell had a daily gossip column in Hearst’sDaily Mirror,which was read by fifty million Americans; even more listened to his weekly Sunday night radio broadcasts.

      Dorothy Kilgallen, in theJournal-American,wrote about whites and Negroes table-hopping in Cafe Society, Canada Lee...

    • CHAPTER 44 “Two future presidents were in attendance.”
      (pp. 244-248)

      Forced to close Uptown was a terrible blow. I didn’t know what hit me. One moment I’m the darling of the press, the next I’m Mr. Anathema. One ray of hope was that the Supreme Court would rule in Leon’s favor and the nightmare would be ended. The ruling finally came down in February 1948. In a six-to-three decision, the Court denied certiorari and the next month declined to review Leon’s case, thus upholding the lower court’s decision. Justices Douglas, Murphy, and Rutledge were in favor of the review. Think of the consequences had the Supreme Court ruled in favor...

    • CHAPTER 45 “‘The great Josephson contradiction.’”
      (pp. 249-252)

      With Leon in prison, he couldn’t devote any time to the Dayton Housing Project, which was left up to his two partners, the architect and the builder. Their accountant came to me. “Look, Barney, if we can get some extra capital and throw it in so we don’t have to wait for the FHA money to pay the contractors we can push this thing through.” The architect and the builder were honorable men, and they concurred. So I did it. I threw in $30,000, then another $20,000, then another $35,000, hoping to push the work to completion. I threw in...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
    • CHAPTER 46 “‘They’ll set you up.’”
      (pp. 253-255)

      For all that Uptown was loved for its decor and ambience, Jacoby and Gordon were trying to erase anything that smacked of Cafe Society because of the political cloud hanging over it. They changed the name to Le Directoire, for what reason I don’t know, only that Jacoby originally came from Paris and named it. It did not become a French restaurant or anything French. The name meant nothing. The entertainment never had anything to do with France or anything from the Continent. They spent about $45,000 to refurbish the room.

      Kay Thompson and Andy Williams and his Brothers were...

    • CHAPTER 47 “She blew her cover.”
      (pp. 256-258)

      The fallout from the blacklisting resounded in so many ways. A couple of years after the demise of my cafes I’m in a deli on York Avenue and 63rd Street when I meet an old friend, the well-known comedy writer Abe Burrows. Abe, a big grin, greets me with open arms, “Hello, Barney. What are you doing these days?” “One of the things I’m doing is not talking to you.”

      Rude? No. When Abe was called before the Un-American Activities Committee in New York he praised the committee for its good work and named friends he had seen at Communist...

    • CHAPTER 48 “That’s the way she washed herself.”
      (pp. 259-261)

      The one person who caused me more grief than any of my artists and friends who had appeared as friendly witnesses was Mrs. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.— Hazel Scott. In 1950 she signs for a show on Dumont Television for a trial run of thirteen weeks. Then it’s gone. Nobody bought it. She’s listed inRed Channels.But she’s a congressman’s wife. Adam arranges for Hazel to appear before the committee to make a public disavowal. He’s promised a hearing. The day before, Adam gives out press releases with excerpts from Hazel’s forthcoming statement at the HUAC hearing, timed to...

    • CHAPTER 49 “‘Will Geer, Will Hare, what the hell’s the difference?’”
      (pp. 262-266)

      I wondered about Lena. She was never called to testify before the committee. I knew she had been attacked in the right-wing press and had begun to be blacklisted. Then I found out she had met privately with one of the publishers ofCounterattack,Ted Kirkpatrick, and made her peace— for a fee. That was another one of the “business” sidelines of these great guardians of democracy—blackmail. It’s a good thing she never married me. I have little use for stool pigeons. I am reminded of Lillian Hellman’s eloquent words she wrote to the committee when she was subpoenaed...


    • CHAPTER 50 “Mr. Anonymous”
      (pp. 269-273)

      I was walking down Lexington Avenue when I saw an empty store opposite Bloomingdale’s. It had a for-rent sign in the window. I said to myself, “This looks like a pretty good location for a hamburger place. I’m going to open in this place.” I called the telephone number listed on the window, made an appointment with the dentist who owned the building. I leased the store and called it The Cookery.

      I had learned a little about the restaurant business while I had my clubs and had some ideas. I opened a “hamburgerie,” a little sandwich place with forty-four...

    • CHAPTER 51 “‘We did it, Barney. You and me and the Lord Jesus Christ.’”
      (pp. 274-277)

      John S. Wilson:Two vital but long-absent contributors to the New York jazz scene have finally returned and they have come back together. One is Barney Josephson and the other is Mary Lou Williams. Her return is a major event in the jazz world and her reunion with Mr. Josephson provides a fitting celebration of the thirty-second anniversary of Cafe Society.¹

      Mary Lou Williams had come to me practically in tears. It was over twenty-five years since she had played at the cafes. Once in a while she would call me, asking for help for some person, often a musician,...

    • CHAPTER 52 “‘If he liked an idea, he would do it.’”
      (pp. 278-281)

      Having been out of the music and entertainment business for so long I hadn’t kept up. I was not interested in rock. When Mary Lou opened she drew a lot of jazz musicians who came to hear her. One evening I was introduced to the jazz pianist Marian McPartland. I knew her by name, though I’d never heard her play. I knew she had a long-running gig in the 1950s with her trio at the Hickory House, and I knew she was married to the cornetist Jimmy McPartland, who had played with Bix Beiderbecke.

      Marian McPartland:How did Barney come...

    • CHAPTER 53 “‘I’ll tell you, Teddy Wilson, you’ve just made Barney Josephson cry.’”
      (pp. 282-286)

      I couldn’t wait to bring in Teddy Wilson in February 1972. He had played for so many, many years, six or more, at both cafes, starting in 1940. Through all these lean years for jazz Teddy always worked, if not here then in Europe, Japan, in the winter in class resorts in the Caribbean Islands. He taught privately, was on the staff at CBS in the mid 1950s, and reunited with Benny Goodman for recordings and concerts.

      Teddy Wilson:I’m mostly on the road. I’ve spent more time in Japan in the last three years than I’ve spent in Boston,...

    • CHAPTER 54 “‘He wasn’t deceitful about things.’”
      (pp. 287-292)

      Mary Lou Williams had come to me in 1970, pleading to play in The Cookery. She was concerned about all the jazz musicians who could not find work because rock and roll had taken over. Nobody wanted jazz. Another victim of rock and roll was Nellie Lutcher. When I called her she was working full time as an elected official on the board of directors of the Musicians Union in Los Angeles.

      Nellie Lutcher:When Barney contacted me I was thrilled. I really was. He said, “Nellie Lutcher, you know I have a new room now. I have The Cookery,...

    • CHAPTER 55 “All I looked at was her mouth.”
      (pp. 293-300)

      So many wonderful things happen by accident. I’m a great believer in accidents that shape our lives. People often wonder how it was that someone became this, that, or the other—a singer, actor, writer, criminal. When you delve deeply, it would come out to be something accidental which started them off on such a path.

      Sometime early in June 1977 [June 5], Charlie Bourgeois, a good friend and the right hand of George Wein, attended a bon voyage party for Mabel Mercer which Bobby Short threw for her. Mabel was flying to London the following day for an engagement...

    • CHAPTER 56 “‘You don’t need a contract with Barney Josephson.’”
      (pp. 301-306)

      Alberta became a celebrity overnight. Requests for interviews from newspapers, television shows, magazines, radio programs poured in. She pretty much tells them all the same story, a story of remarkable persistence. It goes like this: She knew she could sing, singing in the church choir. Her teachers said she had a nice voice. She had overheard a friend of her mother saying that her daughter in Chicago wrote that singers were making $10 a week in nightclubs there. She put this in her mind.

      One day her mother sent her to the store to buy a loaf of bread. On...

    • CHAPTER 57 “She and I know the secret of staying young.”
      (pp. 307-312)

      I was living single again. I had walked out of my marriage of twenty years when my youngest son, Louis, left to enter Tufts University in 1978. He was on his own now. I had been concerned about how my boys would take it. My oldest son, Eddie, took it in his stride. Having graduated from Harvard at the age of sixteen, Eddie was attending New York University Law School, just as his Uncle Leon had done. He had been admitted to Harvard Law School but chose NYU instead. Harvard was too elitist for him, he said. I was always...

    • CHAPTER 58 “‘Several times Rosalynn Carter shaped her mouth into O’s of amazement.’”
      (pp. 313-317)

      Somehow, bringing Alberta back to singing again opened doors that I thought were forever closed, nor was I looking for them to ever open. But such happened. I walked into the White House with Alberta. Anybody named Josephson couldn’t have taken a piss within ten blocks of the White House not so many years past. And here I go into the White House and meet President and Mrs. Carter. Alberta had been invited to attend a reception at the White House which the president was giving for about five hundred people and then to sing on a program that evening...

    • CHAPTER 59 “‘When the inspiration of God is missing, I just rely on talent.’”
      (pp. 318-320)

      Some time back John Hammond had spoken of the magnificent gospel singer Marion Williams. That had brought back memories of the exciting Golden Gate Quartet. For the past five years I had been trying to get Marion Williams. She would have none of singing in a nightclub. I tried again. To entice her I made the point to her manager that the people she’s singing to in churches are already there. If she wants to bring God’s word to people she should be singing in clubs and getting folks out of there into church.

      I don’t know whether that was...

    • CHAPTER 60 “Her name meant nothing to me.”
      (pp. 321-323)

      A Friday evening [February 17, 1981], Terry and I had gone out for dinner after I introduced Alberta. On our way home we stopped by for a few moments. It was quite late, but there were still people inside. Moe, my manager, rushed over, pushing a wheelchair. “What are you doing with that?” “Alberta fell. She’s okay. She couldn’t walk so I got this chair from St. Vincent’s Hospital so she could do her last show.” She had fainted and collapsed onto the floor, but nothing could keep this lady from taking care of her audience. She insisted on doing...

    • CHAPTER 61 “‘Fame hasn’t changed me.’”
      (pp. 324-329)

      I’ve known Sylvia Syms a long time. She had never worked for me. Always wrong timing. Now she could come in for the month of July 1982. Over the years she had developed into a fine interpreter of songs.

      Sylvia Syms:I used to listen to the remote broadcasts on the radio and that’s how I got to know about Cafe Society. I came there all by myself at fifteen. I’d wait until my mother and father went to bed, and then I’d hop out of the bedroom window and get on the BMT subway from Brooklyn. In those days...

    • CHAPTER 62 “In effect, this stripped me of my business.”
      (pp. 330-336)

      At the beginning of our relationship I would tell Terry “I’m a poor man” without explaining. For one thing, I didn’t own The Cookery. When my youngest son was born I was almost sixty years old. I had another son, age three, a young family, of great concern to me. Would I be around long enough to provide for my sons’ schooling? My current lawyer, David Friedman, the husband of Gloria’s former law partner, advised me to transfer my majority corporation stock to Gloria in an irrevocable trust to avoid inheritance taxes. My sons’ mother would act as trustee for...

    • Illustrations
      (pp. None)
  11. Postlude
    (pp. 337-342)
    Terry Trilling-Josephson

    “I’m in business,” Barney announced one day, just like that. He was eighty-five years old and, incredibly, eager to start afresh. His fervor for doing what he loved most remained unabated. He had embarked on a search for a new location. “This is the time,” he reasoned, “for a return to cheek-to-cheek dancing in a cabaret offering good food and featuring young unknown jazz musicians and entertainers. I know they’re out there. I’ve spoken to John Hammond. It will be like old times.”

    Don Nelson: When veteran impresario Barney Josephson opens a new jazz room shortly, he will be reaffirming...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 343-364)
  13. Index
    (pp. 365-376)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 377-384)