1987 Club Harlem
Club Harlem down and out? ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. (UPI) -On -On hot summer nights, the mouth-watering mouth-watering mouth-watering aroma of "bones" from Jerry's Barbecue wafted down Kentucky Kentucky Avenue. Across the street, inside inside Club Harlem, things were cooking cooking too. Back in the 1940s, '50s and early '60s, it was one of the hottest "chitlin ocircuit" clubs. It was jammed on Saturday nights, mostly with whites rollicking to black entertainers like Count Basie. Cab Calloway, Sam Cooke, Ray Charles and Louis Armstrong. Armstrong. ' Sammy Davis Jr. discovered Lola Falana in the chorus line at Club Harlem. Billy Daniels first sang "That 01' Black Magic" there. Pretty Pretty much anyone who was anyone in black entertainment got their start or performed at one time or another at the Kentucky Avenue club. "It was the premier night spot for black entertainment in the country," said Atlantic City Mayor James Usry, who once worked there as a maitre 'd. "Not only that, it was one of the most famous night spots in the world." Club Harlem, which opened in 1935, is the last survivor of Atlantic : City's golden age. The others the . 500 Club, the Paradise Club, the Club Nomad are all gone, victims of - changing times, of neglect, of the glitzy casino shows. . Club Harlem may soon be history too. A Vineland, N.J., businessman recently bought the struggling club and word has spread that he may raze it and cement it over. The most happening spot in town may become a non-descript non-descript non-descript parking lot "I'm very, very sad about letting it go," said Cecil Randall, 59, one of Club Harlem's former owners. "I was hoping that we could have gotten some kind of a break where we could remain open. "Since it's been sold, I've lain awake several times just thinking about it the good times and the heydays," said Randall. And what heydays they were. The 11 p.m. show featured Larry Steele's Smart Affairs revue, a comic comic or tap dancer, a main act and a bevy of beautiful chorus girls in three lavish production numbers. Another show would begin at 3 a.m. and a final "breakfast show" the most popular was staged at 6 a.m. Stars like Diana Ross, Milton Berle, Ella Fitzgerald and Pearl Bailey, Bailey, after finishing their shows at Steel Pier or other night spots, would drop by the 900-seat 900-seat 900-seat Club Harlem to see and be seen and would often end up taking the stage for impromptu impromptu performances. In between shows, the crowds would spill out and head for "bones" at Jerry's or schmoozing at Grace's Little Belmont musical bar across the street. Billy Daniels remembers the night he first sang the tune that became his trademark especially because he had not yet learned all the words. "All I knew was "That 01' Black Magic...,'" Daniels, 72, recalled. "I just kept jumping up and down. I ran all over the stage and jumped on the floor and the tables. In those years, singers didn't do that they just stayed in one place and crooned. I guess I was the first Elvis Presley." In the late 1960s, the Kentucky Avenue neighborhood started to deteriorate. deteriorate. It was a time of strained race relations. Many whites, Club Harlem's bread-and-butter, bread-and-butter, bread-and-butter, bread-and-butter, bread-and-butter, began to stay away. The cai os came along in the late 1970s, stealing away not patrons, but performers. . "The entertainers, once the casinos casinos opened, never looked at Club Harlem as an advancement," Randall Randall said. "Club Harlem was a step back. , : "It was known how much the casinos casinos were taking in," Randall said. "They thought everybody in Atlantic City was making that kind of money and so their prices were astronomical astronomical and we could no longer afford them." A few entertainers Sister Sledge, James Brown, Harold Mel-vin Mel-vin Mel-vin and the Bluenotes, B.B. King, the Manhattans remembered Club Harlem and continued to perform when they could have commanded more money a few blocks away on the Boardwalk, Randall said. But most others forgot their past, he said. - ... "I don't think we received a fair shake," Randall said. "They knew the problems we were having. You'd think they'd give us one shot a year in order to keep the wolf away from the door, but they never did." Last year, Club Harlem was open for only 14 days. Randall and its two other other owners had been trying to sell for several years before accepting the offer of a partnership headed by Bernard Bernard Brown, president of National Freight Inc., a Vineland trucking firm. Brown could not be reached for comment on his plans for Club Harlem: Harlem: "I am very, very disheartened, distraught, upset and heartbroken," Usry said. "I know that it's been sold, but it's not down yet." Usry said he has received numerous numerous calls asking what can be done to save Club Harlem. The mayor said he is involved in a private effort to do just that "It represents the history, the nostalgia, nostalgia, the tradition of black show business," Usry said. "Rather than be torn down, we think it should be set aside as a monument of history. I would like for that to be a famous historical historical site. ."That was just as important to black people as the Convention Hall . and the Boardwalk were to the white element of our community and we would like to see it afforded the same kind of consideration," Usry said.