Category History

Vice: Financing the Chitlin’ Circuit


While the circuit relied on black media for publicity, it received much of its operating revenue through the vice industry.


Drinking in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Marion Post Wolcott. Library of Congress

Circuit pioneer Walter Barnes got his start leading the band at Al Capone’s Cotton Club, pre-Depression, when Capone was one of several underworld supporters of swing.

The vice-chitlin’ circuit correlation went two ways with Denver Ferguson. Gambling both funded his chitlin’ circuit venture and influenced its conduct. Ferguson got rich operating a numbers racket in Indianapolis, and financed his talent agency, Ferguson Bros., with the proceeds...

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Chitlin’ Circuit Landmark : The Dew Drop Inn


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,...

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The Jerry Lee Lewis Ranch


The Lewis Ranch | 1595 Malone Rd |Nesbit, MS | (About 30 minutes south of Memphis)

jerrylee1When I pilgrimate to Jerry Lee Lewis’s home in Nesbit, Mississippi, I’m never sure whether I want The Killer to be home or not.  On one hand, it would be nice to know that I’m standing only a dozen yards from a rock icon. On the other, if he’s not home, I’m more likely to leave alive.

The Killer lives in an unremarkable red brick ranch house on a hilly, semi-rural road. This architectural feature seems to be the reason Lewis refers to his estate as “The Lewis Ranch.” (There are no branded cattle in sight.) It’s a house identical to the childhood home of most upwardly mobile middle-class Boomers...

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