Under The Duvet Productions

Covering News And Entertainment.

Harlem’s Cotton Club TV Musical In Works With Tony Award Winner Kenny Leon & L.A. Reid by Photojournalist Lisa Pacino

According to Variety, Craig Zadan and Neil Meron, the Broadway producers behind NBC-TV’s The Sound of Music Live!, Peter Pan Live!, The Wiz Live!, and Hairspray Live! are currently developing a new television series for Fox about Harlem’s Cotton Club, one of the hottest nightspots of the roaring ’20s. Tony Award winner Kenny Leon, who directed the aforementioned Hairspray Live!, will direct the music series, which will be penned by showrunner Ayanna Floyd of Empire and Private Practice. Leon and Floyd will also serve as executive producers with Zadan and Meron. The executive music supervisor is Grammy Award winning producer L.A. Reid.


Tony Award winner Kenny Leon. Photograph by Lisa Pacino.

The series, from Sony Pictures Television and Storyline Entertainment, will focus on the “club and the interconnected lives of the black entertainers who performed there and the white gangsters who ran it,” according to the industry website. No timeline has been announced; the script is currently being developed.

The Cotton Club was a smash hit film of 1984, directed by Francis Ford Coppola and starred Richard Gere. The 2013 Broadway musical revue After Midnight celebrated Duke Ellington’s years at the Cotton Club using his original arrangements and performed by a big band of 17 musicians hand-picked by jazz legend Wynton Marsalis. The rotating roster of headliners included Fantasia Barrino, Toni Braxton, Vanessa Williams, and Patti LaBelle.

The Cotton Club was a New York City night club located first in the Harlem neighborhood on 142nd Street and Lenox Avenue from 1923 to 1935 and then for a brief period from 1936 to 1940 in the midtown Theater District. The club operated most notably during America’s Prohibition Era. The club was a whites-only establishment even though it featured many of the most popular black entertainers of the era, including musicians Cab Calloway, Fletcher Henderson, Duke Ellington, Jimmie Lunceford, Chick Webb, Louis Armstrong, Count Basie, Fats Waller, Willie Bryant, vocalists Adelaide Hall, Ethel Waters, Bessie Smith, Avon Long, Ella Fitzgerald, the Dandridge Sisters, the Will Vodery Choir, The Mills Brothers, Nina Mae McKinney, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, and dancers Bill Robinson, The Nicholas Brothers, Charles ‘Honi’ Coles, Leonard Reed, Stepin Fetchit, the Berry Brothers, The Four Step Brothers, Jeni Le Gon, and Earl Snakehips Tucker. In its heyday, the Cotton Club served as a hip meeting spot, with regular “Celebrity Nights” on Sundays that featured guests such as Jimmy Durante, George Gershwin, Sophie Tucker, Paul Robeson, Al Jolson, Mae West, Richard Rodgers, Irving Berlin, Eddie Cantor, Fanny Brice, Langston Hughes, Judy Garland, playwright and director Moss Hart, and Mayor Jimmy Walker among others. Shows at the Cotton Club were musical revues, and several went under the heading of Cotton Club Parade followed by the year. The revues featured dancers, singers, comedians and variety acts, as well as a house band. These revues helped launch the careers of many artists including Fletcher Henderson who led the first house band to play there in 1923. It also helped push Duke Ellington’s career, whose orchestra was the house band there from December 4, 1927, to June 30, 1931. In 1927, the first revue that Duke Ellington took over as house band was called “Rhythmania” and featured Adelaide Hall, who had just recorded several songs with Ellington including “Creole Love Call”. Their recording of “Creole Love Call” became a worldwide hit. The club not only gave Ellington national exposure through radio broadcasts originating there (first through WHN, then over WEAF and after September 1929 through the NBC Red Network – WEAF was the flagship station for that network – on Fridays), but enabled him to develop his repertoire while composing not only the dance tunes for the shows, but also the overtures, transitions, accompaniments, and “jungle” effects that gave him the freedom to experiment with orchestral colors and arrangements that touring bands rarely had. Ellington recorded more than 100 compositions during this era. Eventually, in deference to a request by Ellington, the club slightly relaxed its policy of excluding black customers. Cab Calloway’s orchestra brought its Brown Sugar revue to the club in 1930, replacing Ellington’s orchestra after its departure in 1931; Jimmie Lunceford’s band replaced Calloway’s in 1934, while Ellington, Armstrong, and Calloway returned to perform at the club in later years.The club was also the first show business opportunity for Lena Horne, Leona Laviscount, who sang Sweeter than Sweet with Cab Calloway, who also began there as a chorus girl at the age of sixteen. Dorothy Dandridge performed there while still one of The Dandridge Sisters, while Coleman Hawkins and Don Redman played there as part of Henderson’s band. Tap dancers Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Sammy Davis Jr. (as part of the Will Mastin Trio), and the Nicholas Brothers starred there as well. The club also drew from white popular culture of the day. Walter Brooks, who had produced the successful Broadway show Shuffle Along, was the nominal owner. Dorothy Fields and Jimmy McHugh, one of the most prominent songwriting teams of the era, and Harold Arlen provided the songs for the revues, one of which, Blackbirds of 1928, starring Adelaide Hall, featured the songs “I Can’t Give You Anything But Love” and “Diga Diga Doo”, produced by Lew Leslie on Broadway. In 1934, Adelaide Hall starred at the Cotton Club in Cotton Club Parade 1934, the biggest grossing show that ever appeared at the club. The show opened on 11 March and ran for eight months, attracting over 600,000 paying customers. The score was written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler and featured the classic song “Ill Wind”. During Hall’s performance of “Ill Wind”, to add authenticity to the production, a dry-ice machine was used on stage to create a fog effect. It was the first time such equipment had been used on a stage. Featured on the bill was the 16-year-old Lena Horne. The club was closed temporarily in 1936 after the race riot in Harlem the previous year. Photographer Carl Van Vechten vowed to boycott the club for having such racist policies in place. The Cotton Club reopened later that year at Broadway and 48th. The site chosen for the new Cotton Club was ideal. It was a big room on the top floor of a building on Broadway and Forty-eighth Street, where Broadway and Seventh Avenue meet – an important midtown crossroads, and in the heart of the Great White Way, the Broadway Theater District. While Herman Stark and the club’s owners were quite certain the club would do well in its new location, they realized that depended on a smash-hit opening show. In fact a 1937 New York Times article states, “The Cotton Club has climbed aboard the Broadway bandwagon, with a show that is calculated to give the customers their money’s worth of sound and color – and it does.” The most lavish revue in the Cotton Club’s 13-year history opened on Broadway on September 24, 1936. Robinson and Calloway headed a roster of some 130 other performers. Stark agreed to pay tap dancer Bill “Bojangles” Robinson $3,500 a week, the highest salary ever paid to a black entertainer in a Broadway production, and more money than had ever been received by any individual for a night club performance. It closed for good in 1940, under pressure from higher rents, changing tastes and a federal investigation into tax evasion by Manhattan nightclub owners. The Latin Quarter nightclub opened in its space and the building was torn down in 1989 to make way for a hotel. All in all, the Broadway Cotton Club was a highly successful blend of old and new. The site may have been new, the décor may have been slightly different, but once a patron entered and was comfortably seated, he knew he was in a familiar place.

Lisa Pacino and Under The Duvet Productions are based in New York. Photography services are available worldwide. If you wish to book photography services, receive information, and/or license images for commercial and/or promotional use please E-mail: UnderTheDuvetProductions@gmail.com

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This entry was posted on March 1, 2017 by in After Party, Awards, Backstage, Black Broadway, Black History, Black Hollywood, Black Tie Events, Broadway, Canon, Canon Camera, Celebrities, Celebrity Photojournalist, Emmy Awards, Grammy Awards, History, Lisa Pacino, Music, New York, Photography, Red Carpet, Theatre, Theatre (Broadway & Off-Broadway), Tony Awards, Under The Duvet Productions and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .
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