Monday, September 29, 2008

The Cotton Club

In league with his younger brother, Ralph Capone ran a number of bars and speakeasies, the most famous of which was the Cotton Club, at this location, 5342 W. 22nd St., Cicero.

The mayor of Chicago, "Big Bill" Thompson, was especially fond of the nightlife here, where prohibition, despite being the official law of the land, seemed not to exist. The Chicago Crime Commission described the Cotton Club as "a 'whoopee' spot where liquor flowed freely."

The Capones were notable for their color-blind policy with respect to entertainment, and the Cotton Club played host to most of the top Black acts of the 1920s (for an all-white audience, of course), and many of the performers grew to appreciate and respect Al and Ralph. Milton Mezzrow, Judge Hinton, Jelly Roll Morton, Duke Ellingon, King Oliver, and Louis Armstrong were among the luminaries who played here, making Al Capone one of the most important figures in the development of Chicago jazz. Comedians, including Milton Berle, were also a common act.

There could hardly be less remaining of the Cotton Club or any of its famous entertainers at this location today.