Thursday, November 19, 2015

"Harlem Grill"

"The present is always unsettled, no one has had time to contemplate it in tranquility."
-- Isak Dinesen
   (author:  Out Of Africa)

When I was reading Preston Lauterbach's book, The Chitlin' Circuit, to learn about the early roots of rock and roll I came across the name of a town -- Lufkin, Texas -- and thought, "Small world!" -- Congressman Charlie Wilson's hometown.

"Come on, Charlie, call, raise or fold.
I want to get an answer on this thing that Crystal and I want to do."

Charlie:  "First off, I'd appreciate it
if you didn't throw my name around quite so much,
'cause, from time to time, I use it myself,
and I need it in good condition.

Second, I'm from Lufkin, Texas.
I'm the son of an accountant for a timber company.
I take home about 700 bucks a week, and I pay alimony,
so the idea that I got $29,000
in the bank is pretty hysterical.

That said, I love your idea...."


--------------------- [excerpt, The Chitlin' Circuit] ---------------- By 1940, all the premium acts played Houston -- Duke,

Cab, Ella Fitzgerald,

Lionel Hampton, you name it.  Robey conducted constant diplomatic excursions throughout his territory:  Austin, Bay City, Beaumont, Corpus Christi, Fort Worth, Galveston, Longview,


Marshall, Mexia, Orange, Port Arthur, Rosenberg, San Antonio, and Tyler, Texas; Franklin, Lake Charles, Minden, Monroe, New Iberia, New Orleans, Opelousas, and Shreveport, Louisiana. 

Merritt worked as the legman, leading orchestras through the outfit's Texas-Louisiana dice trail, collecting at the door, and funneling funds back to Robey.

---------------------------- [excerpt two] --------------------- If indeed Denver Ferguson used his phonebook collection to locate a promoter in Houston, Don Robey was easy to find.  The name of Robey's joint -- Harlem Grill -- was simple code for a black nightclub anywhere during the Ellington zeitgeist.  Though Denver liked to make his promoters, Robey needed zero training.

Robey's grandfather Franklin, son of a South Carolina planter and a South Carolina slave, established his clan as one of colored Houston's more respected.  Franklin practiced medicine and settled in a big house in the Third Ward, where generations of Robeys would enter the world. 

Don Deadric Robey was born there on November 1, 1903.  He would come to believe his biracial background had endowed in him leadership characteristics from both cultures.  "I'm a white man and a black man," he was fond of remarking.  "I'll outsmart you and kick your ass."

{The Chitlin' Circuit
And the Road to Rock 'n' Roll
by Preston Lauterbach.  W.W. Norton & Company, New York, London - 2011.}

{Charlie Wilson's War -- directed by Mike Nichols, screenplay by Aaron Sorkin; 2007.  Based on the book, same title, written by George Crile.}


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