The Cotton Club – A Harlem New York Institution

The Cotton Club has been a major tourist attraction and Harlem cultural resource since it was re-opened in 1978, at its present location on W 125th St, by the West Side Highway. The club started out as the Club De Lux, which closed in 1923, and then reopened as the Cotton Club. This was the in-place to be for downtown, all-white society. Many early black entertainers got their start at the Club including Duke Ellington, Ethel Waters, Cab Calloway, and Lena Horne. The club offered the opportunity to mingle with the gangsters, and the rich and famous, as well as, sample the best of décor, cuisine, and entertainment New York had to offer. It was resurrected in 1978 by the current owner, Mr. John Beatty.

The Club is known for its Monday Night event, its Swing Time dance. The house band is a 13-piece jazz and swing ensemble, known as the “Cotton Club All Stars.” They play 3 sets of 50-minutes each of the music that made Duke Ellington and others famous, with 20-minute breaks between sets. The main dance floor is 600-square-feet, while upstairs, there is a smaller 225-square-feet dance floor. Other weekly events are the Club’s Sunday brunch and gospel show. Thursday, Friday and Saturday evenings, the club has a Jazz show and a buffet dinner.

Since its opening in 1923, the club has been famous for its finest in musical entertainment, and still today continues in this great virtue. It still features great Southern style cuisine, also known as “Soul Food” in some quarters. The Cotton Club which is located on a narrow tract of land on 125th Street by the West Side Highway is one of the targets of the prospective expansion of Columbia University from its !20 St. neighborhood, northward, into Harlem.

Columbia University has acquired the resources to expand north of 125th Street in a manner consistent with maintaining the world-class status of the university. There is a lot of question about whether Columbia University is giving a raw deal to Harlem once again. With its proposed expansion north of 125th Street, Columbia fears that the Cotton Club will attract Black patrons to the area. Other clubs that have mostly white patrons are known on Broadway and Amsterdam in Morningside Heights. Morningside Heights, the Columbia University main neighborhood is mostly a white and international neighborhood. There are some blacks in the neighborhood, but the whole area has become more and more expensive. People forget that Morningside Heights itself is still geographically at least, a part of Harlem.

Culture is the glue that binds people together. Maintaining black and traditional Harlem culture is important for the entire Harlem neighborhood and the future of Blacks in New York City and beyond. Blacks can not afford to lose Harlem and its cultural institutions.

The United Africa Movement has a number of events planned at the Cotton Club, including on January 5th, its Annual Kwanzaa Breakfast, at 656 West 125th St, Harlem, the Cotton Club from 8:30 am to 11:30 am. Also, the United Africa Movement will have its Annual Membership Dance at the club, January 19th at 9 pm.

Howard Giske is a writer for Community News in New York, and for I Love Harlem [], and the T-shirt Queen [] for local themed apparel.

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