Original Cotton Club

The club first opened in 1920 as Club De Luxe, owned by heavyweight boxing champion Jack Johnson and located on 142nd street and Lenox Avenue. In 1923, gangster and bootlegger Owney Madden bought the club and renamed it the Cotton Club.

The 1920s were the heyday of Harlem slumming, and the Cotton Club explicitly pandered to the rich slumming audience. It offered its exclusively white patrons an exotic spectacle of Black Harlem, complete with jungle themes and blackface. At the same time, even the black performers were discriminated against on the basis of skin tone, and only near-white dancers and chorus girls were hired. Nevertheless, the club featured later legends of jazz such as Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Billie Holiday, Nat King Cole, Ella Fitzgerald and Josephine Baker. Lena Horne also began her career here, dancing as a chorus girl.

The Cotton Club was extremely successful and even featured in gangster movies. It changed its location during the race riots of 1936 and moved to 48th and Broadway. The old building was demolished along with the Savoy to make space for housing projects. The club didn’t thrive in its new location and was finally closed in 1940.

Today the Cotton Club is a dinner and jazz dance club at 125th and Riverside drive, resembling the original Club only in name.


Current Cotton Club

Photos of Original Cotton Club Architecture

Duke Ellington at the Cotton Club