The Music of Jim Crow

The Music of Jim Crow chronicles the incredible wealth of blues, jazz, gospel and R&B music to come out of Houston. At the same time, it is a look into the heart of a vibrant city divided by race and the everlasting effect that had on the development of its arts scene.

While national acts from Duke Ellington and Count Basie to T-Bone Walker and B.B. King were the big draw at nightclubs like the El Dorado Ballroom, Club Matinee and the Bronze Peacock, there were also venues on West Dallas and in Third Ward or Fifth Ward that were packed every night with African-American music lovers barred from white nightclubs by rigid segregation.

Houston had two largely parallel societies in the first half of the twentieth century. Each had their own sock hops, ballroom dancing and talent shows. Home grown artists such as Johnny "Guitar" Watson and Joe "Guitar" Hughes used the opportunities to play for larger audiences. Other Houston players like Arnett Cobb, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson and Illinois Jacquet turned chops learned with the locally based Milton Larkin Orchestra into international fame.

By the 1950s, record mogul, Don Robey, was producing some of the greatest music America would ever know, all through his Houston-based Duke-Peacock label and subsidiary labels like Song Bird and Back Beat. Robey's business practices alienated some, but there was no denying his success at finding, recording and promoting an amazing array of Texas artists.

At the height of his success, Robey had over 100 artists in his stable. Big Mama Thornton, Johnny Ace, Junior Parker and Bobby Bland would take locally recorded music high up the charts before Robey sold his operations in 1973.

Desegregation brought the end of many black-owned businesses in Third and Fifth Wards. Among them was Eldorado Ballroom. The once thriving stretches of Dowling Street and Lyons Avenue fell victim to the times.

This film tells these stories in words and in music. Glorious music that is Houston's gift to the world.


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