Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Save the Palladium - Club Plantation building in Grand Center. Collected posts from August/September.

More of the postings from the Save-The-Palladium-Building-At-Grand-Center Facebook group -

The St. Louis Palladium is on top of the 2012 Most Endangered List from Landmarks Association.


Only ten over 100 years old remain.

Born in St. Louis, Missouri and dancing from the age of 14, Hortense Allen got her break at producing and choreographing shows at the Plantation, the largest club in town, with a revue and her own chorus line by the time she was twenty.

She produced and danced in shows at the Rhumboogie in Chicago and the Club Harlem in Atlantic City, choreographing hundreds of shows, dancing every style of dance, sewing costumes for her lines, traveling in road shows, playing all the major houses, teaching thousands of younger women. She fought the color prejudice that effectively barred any but the lightest African American women from dancing in chorus lines. She produced shows that headlined boxing champion (and tap dancer) Sugar Ray Robinson, bandleader Louis Jordan, and singer James Brown. "I just let 'em call me as a chorus girl and choreographer, because it was hard, really hard, for a woman, in my time, to be a woman producer, to come up. Because they wouldn't take you."

From JERRY BERGER Q&A, PD Magazine, Sunday, June 2, 1996.
"Looking through old family photos, I found some taken at the Plantation Club on Delmar Boulevard before World War II. Do you have any information on the club?"
-- John Ferguson, St. Louis 

Club Plantation, 3617 Grandel Square, was closed in June 1947 because it was caught in a squeeze between state law, which required early closing hours for such places, and the high fees that entertainers demanded. Anthony Scarpelli, operator of the popular club, which featured big-name entertainers, reportedly attributed the final blow to salary demands by the Mills Brothers. 
The musical group asked for $3,500 for a 12-night engagement. At the time, the Mills Brothers was a popular act on radio and in recordings. Other big-name stars that appeared at the club were Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, the Ink Spots and Louis Armstrong. 
(©1996 St. Louis Post-Dispatch)

In the 1940s, after taking the historic Vandeventer Place neighborhood down, the V A hospital demanded that the city demolish the Club Plantation and everything else near them in Grand Center.
This article is from 1947. That threat was made over 60 years ago and it was repeated a month ago:


The Missouri State Archives program on the history of pre-World War II St. Louis blues music.
Carnahan announces program on the history of the pre-war blues music of St. Louis
Posted: Monday, August 27, 2012 12:27 pm
Special to The American 
Jefferson City, Mo. – Missouri Secretary of State Robin Carnahan today announced a program on the history of pre-World War II St. Louis blues music. The program will be held at the Missouri State Archives, a division of her office, on Thursday, August 30, 2012, at 7:00 p.m. Artist and historian Kevin Belford will be discussing his new book, Devil At The Confluence: The Pre-War Blues Music of St. Louis.

Devil At The Confluence is the first comprehensive book ever published on the history of St. Louis blues music. It tells the fascinating story of the profound connection between St. Louis bluesmen and their city.   Kevin Belford uses original illustrations, vintage advertising and rare photographs to detail the chronology of blues music in St. Louis. For Belford, what originally began as a desire to paint a portrait series on St. Louis blues artists ultimately turned into a 15-year historical inquiry. After combing through census records and other public documents, Belford pieced together musical profiles of many of the forgotten St. Louis-based blues recording artists from the 1920s and 1930s.

Belford reveals the untold history of the St. Louis blues movement and its contributions to American popular music. Show More Show Less
The Missouri State Archives is the official repository for state documents of permanent historic value and is located at 600 West Main Street in Jefferson City. All programs at the Archives are free of charge and open to the public, with seating available on a first-come, first-served basis.

I arrived hours early to do some searching and I was amazed. The Archive library is a pleasure to do research in. The staff is exceptionally helpful and the databases are swift and easy to search through. What an amazing state-of-the-art  facility. If you can't visit, Secretary Of State Robin Carnahan has done a terrific job to get the records available on the website:
This repository is a fine model of helpfulness and access that hopefully other archives will emulate.

The lecture went over very well. The audience was very interested in the stories of St Louis blues. It was a really great crowd in our state's Capitol city, and they genuinely share our pride in our historical legacy. We recieved a very nice compliment from Stephen Siwinski on the Facebook page: "Hands down the most entertaining and informative presentation to grace the James C. Kirkpatrick State Information Center. Big thanks to Kevin for painting such a vivid picture of pre-war blues in St. Louis." Thanks, Steve. If we ever get T-shirts made, we'll send you one.

Saturday, August 4, 2012

The effort to save the Historic St. Louis Palladium / Club Plantation building gains momentum.

There have been a lot of postings to the Save-The-Palladium-Building-At-Grand-Center Facebook group -
and they should be posted here as well, so here they are in random order:

Stride piano player Buck Washington and the legendary rhythm tap dancer John Bubbles Sublett performed with Brooklyn, Illinois' George Hudson in 1944 at the St Louis Club Plantation as announced by this clipping from Billboard magazine.

More graphics donated to the preservation effort.

There was a strange news report made by the John Cochran VA Medical Center with the misleading title, "Sweetie Pie's offered buyout for VA expansion." Strange, because the VA is not trying to buy Sweetie Pie's, nor do they say they want it, nor do they admit to anything. "Associate Medical Director" Keith Repko, having called the TV station out to interview him, does not discuss his scheme, nor any expansion options such as the surrounding lots, North, East and West, and he makes no acknowledgement of the bigger property next door, the 100 year old Palladium building.
Either they want to scare the new employees of Sweetie Pie's or our Veteran's Administration is playing around to create a false dilemma of which building, the new one or the old one, should be razed.

Could VA Hospital Expansion Force Sweetie Pies Upper Crust Out?
ST. LOUIS, MO (KTVI) – An expansion is planned for the John Cochran VA Medical Center, but it could affect...

The Five Red Caps appearing at the St Louis Club Plantation in the Forties playing their hits: Mama Put Your Britches On, Sugar Lips, Mary Had A Little Jam, Boogie Woogie On A Saturday Night, and It's Got A Hole In It.

There will be more to come as the effort gains support. Please spread the word and like the Facebok page! Thank you.

Monday, April 16, 2012

The Lost Interview

Kevin Belford on “Devil at the Confluence”
By Dana Smith from (the now defunct) Creative Saint Louis, from 06/21/10.

Recently I caught up with Kevin Belford and asked him a few questions about his fascinating book, “Devil at the Confluence”.

Your book could be called a crucial missing piece of the Saint Louis music puzzle. Any guesses why it’s been missing for so long?
From the start I found that the understanding of American blues music has, by definition, disregarded Saint Louis’ artists. In the scholarly definition, the blues are regressive music from southern isolated areas. Scholars and musicologists overlooked the blues music from here because the city is not southern and the music was too creative, progressive and too influential to be included in their limited definition of blues.

But, actually, blues music was one of the first widely-popular American music forms along with marching bands, ragtime and jazz. “Devil At The Confluence" contains the names of hundreds of national stars and superstars from Saint Louis in the pre-war period when march music became ragtime and developed into jazz and blues and later those evolved into rock and roll. Most of these Saint Louis artists have no biography or mention in pfrevious blues literature. They were virtually forgotten even though their records were some of the best selling songs in the 1920s and ’30s. But they weren’t from the Delta and they weren’t rustic, old-fashioned songs like what those later blues researchers were looking for.

I think Saint Louisans know this about the local music in our lifetimes as well. The arts of the Confluence city have always been a creative merging of styles and taking the best of what came before to create the new. A legacy from the turn of the century of great music in all fashions that continues to this day and is enjoyed every night in the city – whether the music industry, the press or academia outside of the area appreciate it or not.

Professionally you’re an artist and illustrator and the book features many interesting images created by you but how did you end up writing the book as well? Some of the images will be on display at the Royale, which ones?
Commemorating the Saint Louis legends with my artwork was what I had set out to do. Finding that there is a lack of published information about the city’s artists and the realization of the importance of the information that I found, compelled me to make the book. So the art and design was really only about a tenth of the time that went into this project.

Also, I realized that what I found to be true of the music history of Saint Louis is also true of the rest of the arts of the city. Credit is lacking for much of the city’s cultural progress in so many great aspects like theatre, poetry and literature, dance, architecture and much more. Hopefully this effort will prompt those investigations.

After reading the book, you get a clearer picture of all the important musicians and singers who were vital to the development of not only the Blues but also Ragtime and even Jazz who were creating music in Saint Louis. Can you mention some of these forgotten artists who made critical contributions to Popular Music?
The superstar artists from Saint Louis like Lonnie Johnson, Big Joe Williams, Victoria Spivey and Walter Davis are often listed in the old books on the blues as being from the Delta, Texas or Mississippi when in fact, they all lived and recorded in St Louis and each had family here. There are nearly 200 names of Saint Louis artists in “Devil At The Confluence” and perhaps half or more have made significant contributions to the blues and American music. From the songs, “Frankie and Johnny” and “Staggerlee” to the genesis of songs like “Everyday I Have The Blues” by Aaron Sparks, and “Mr. Carl’s Blues (Dust My Broom)” by Carl Rafferty, St Louis’ artists have contributed some of the most well-known and important aspects of the genre and most of the music authorities never realized or acknowledged this. Yet.

You’ve spent a lot of time on this book and now it’s out and getting a good response. Any new books or projects in the works?
I have maybe a dozen projects going on that aren’t a part of the Saint Louis history like a children’s book that will be out this fall from Lee & Low Publishing. But I really would like to make sure that this new information and history of the city does not remain within the pages of my book. There are the foundations of stories in “Devil At The Confluence” that could be expanded upon by others for perhaps dozens of other books. This legacy of great art and history of creative talent is the sort of thing other cities have built their entire tourism and commerce industries upon. The book credits musicians from our past who never got the credit they deserved. The now-discovered cultural heritage can assist the city, it’s venues and the current artists. And most importantly, this can encourage future generations of talent to know that they are a part of a long and great Saint Louis legacy.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Floyd Smith the St. Louis Club Plantation and the first electric guitar solo.

Where did the idea of putting an electric guitar solo in a song come from?

The St. Louis Club Plantation.

And Floyd Smith.

Benny Goodman wanted him, Charlie Christian was his friend, and he met and jammed with Django Reinhardt. So why doesn’t everybody know St. Louis music legend Floyd Smith?

I first found out about Floyd Smith while interviewing St. Louisan and star of Earl Hines' orchestra, LeRoy Harris. As young boys, Harris and Smith played ukuleles for tips in saloons. Harris would eventually join Earl Hines’ Orchestra and Smith worked in the bands of the St Louis Crackerjacks and the Jeter-Pillars Orchestra. It was while performing at the St. Louis Club Plantation, that Smith began featuring his electric guitar work in the jazz dance band. The Jeter-Pillars’ theme song, Lazy Rhythm, was recorded in the late 1930s and it turned out to be one of those milestone events in American music history, for the tune has the honor of being the first electric guitar solo on a recording. No one could have known at the time, but soon music was going to change from swing orchestras to smaller combos and the guitar would replace the trumpet as the star of the bandstand. And the electric guitar solo would become the aria of the rock and roll genre for a couple of generations.

The sound of St. Louis’ favorite band in the city’s most popular nightclub in 1937 is documented on an Okeh Recording Company 78 rpm record. The Jeter-Pillars Club Plantation Orchestra performs Lazy Rhythm and I Like Pie I Like Cake. This is the first electric guitar solo. The guitar revolution in popular music was still a decade away. And ironically, Chuck Berry lived right down the street, but was well younger than sweet little sixteen at the time.

No one really made a big deal of the pop-culturally seismic event at the time, or how Floyd Smith’s guitar would cause music to change. And this wasn’t merely a fluke either because a couple of years later when Smith was recording with Andy Kirk and His Twelve Clouds of Joy he waxed another historic milestone, Floyd’s Guitar Blues - the very first electric guitar instrumental recording.

Smith went on with the rest of his career while the guitar heroes that came after him took the glory. You'd think that inventing the amplified guitar solo would get a mention in one of the hundreds of those music Halls of Fame and museum-things, but apparently it's not.

Then in 1979, a Guitar Player magazine article about early guitar legends rightfully mentioned Smith’s name, but none of his achievements. Retired in Indianapolis at the time, he felt compelled to correct the inaccuracies in a letter to the editor. Smith seemed proud to say that he taught himself the ukulele and banjo as a young man, but he was modest about his groundbreaking recording of Lazy Rhythm, “I used octaves in my solo. That was the first amplified solo." And for the guitar fans he added that it was done on a Rickenbacker guitar.

"In the Jeter-Pillars band I learned the Hawaiian guitar on which I recorded ‘Floyd's Guitar Blues’ in 1939" he wrote.

He signed the letter proudly with his Musicians Union credentials, "Floyd Smith, St. Louis MO. Life Member, 10-208 Chicago and Local #3 here in Indy."

Certainly the credit for bringing the electric guitar to reign over pop

music belongs to a group of artists like Christian and Berry and others and it's silly to think that individuals can change the course of culture by themselves, but Floyd Smith has never gotten the credit he deserves for his contributions to American music.

And neither did his hometown.

And now the building where he changed music will soon be torn down.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

The St. Louis Palladium.

This is very cool! Famous St Louis architectural photographer Peter Wilson came along one day to the Palladium building and set up a tripod for a couple of shots while we talked about the history and the Club Plantation. He was so casual about what he was doing, that I suspected that he was just snapping reference shots. Then last week he sent me this -

Wow. What a beautiful shot!
This isn't what I saw that day. When I was standing on the sidewalk across from the building, I could find no other view of the structure other than a straightforward composition. Also, it was getting dark early and I assumed there wouldn't be much light to work with. So I am very impressed. Wilson's image really creates an exciting scenery out of the blank shuttered building. No trick floodlights, the photograph shows the natural condition of the building. And in his artwork I can see the antique elegance of the old building - something I now know that Wilson was capturing, but I didn't see while standing in the cold late afternoon on Delmar.
Mr. Wilson's website is here:

And this is cool too! Andrew Torch is a fellow artist and proprietor of Andy's Toys. He mentioned to me one day that he had a poster of a montage of St Louis-related ephemera that showed tickets to the St. Louis Palladium Roller Skating Rink. So I rushed over and got a couple of pictures of them.

Looks to me like it's from the 1930s.
Thanks Andy! Go see his store at 9620 Gravois in St. Louis, it's got all the cool stuff your mom threw away when you went away to school.