Chitlin’ Circuit Landmark: The Dew Drop Inn

19 Apr

This New Orleans spot, at 2836 LaSalle Street near Sixth Avenue, expanded from a barbershop to a chitlin’ circuit mecca. By 1945, Frank Painia had built a hotel, restaurant, and nightclub around his tonsorial parlor. He booked traveling singers like Joe Turner and Wynonie Harris, and helped foster the ripe local sound, employing house bands like the Dave Bartholomew group and the Gondoliers, who would go on to play some of the earliest rock ‘n’ roll records.

In addition to the top acts, the Drop showcased shake dancers, drag queens, and the sort of exotica described in the following item, published in the August 7, 1948 Louisiana Weekly, basically an interpretive dance of a marijuana high by, what else, a male ballet dancer, one Ray Sneed:

Like all the chitlin’ circuit chieftains, Drop owner Frank Painia advertised heavily in the local black press, and, with a few other local nightclub bosses, sponsored the entertainment pages in the black paper, the Louisiana Weekly, thus assuring plenty of coverage of Dew Drop events, and fodder for historians.

Several key moments in rock ‘n’ roll history happened at the Drop, such as the night in April 1947 that Cecil Gant called Jules Braun, owner of DeLuxe Records to introduce Braun and a singer who’d wandered into the Drop, Roy Brown. Brown sang his composition “Good Rockin’ Tonight” into the cigarette-stinking Dew Drop phone, and Braun reportedly told Gant, “Give him fifty dollars and don’t let him out of your sight.” The chain of events that followed would rattle American music. Roy Brown’s story forms a major plotline in The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll. Roy may have seen this ad in the April 12, 1947 Louisiana Weekly and gone from there:

The Dew Drop Inn stands empty today, though a revival may be underway.

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