Wednesday, August 31, 2011
The Chitlin’ Circuit story that unfolded through old newspapers, interviews with aged jitterbugs, torn scrapbooks, and city directories crossed unexpected backroads: the numbers racket, hair straighteners, multiple murders, human catastrophe, commercial sex, bootlegging, international scandal, female impersonation, and a real female who could screw a light bulb into herself — and turn it on. . . . These are the intertwined stories of booking agents, show promoters, and nightclub owners, the moguls who controlled wealth throughout the black music business. Until records eclipsed live shows as the top moneymakers, new sounds grew on the road and in nightclubs, through the dance business rather than in the recording studio. Though the moguls’ names are not recognized among the important producers of American culture, their numbers rackets, dice parlors, dance halls, and bootleg liquor and prostitution rings financed the artistic development of breakthrough performers.