'Cotton Club' event recalls the Jazz Age

Oct. 31, 2013 @ 07:45 AM

In an America muzzled by Prohibition and teetering on the precipice of the Great Depression, jazz lived at the Cotton Club.

In Harlem in the late 1920s, a who’s-who of jazz performers – Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald – cycled through the Cotton Club, which looked over New York City from the top floor of a building on Broadway and Forty-Eighth.

The club closed in 1940, but organizers of an event this weekend in Lenoir hope you’ll get a chance to step inside the Cotton Club, just for one night.

“The Cotton Club” is a fundraiser for Pop Ferguson Blues Inc. scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Saturday at The Distillery in downtown Lenoir, at the corner of West Avenue and Boundary Street. It will help fund the annual blues festival and the educational-outreach arm of Pop Ferguson Blues Inc., which develops educational programs for K-12 students.

“The Cotton Club is to say, folks, 'Here’s a piece of history,'” Clyde Ferguson Jr. said. “The theme for the blues festival this coming year is Roots, Branches and Stems. This Cotton Club, which is from the roaring '20s, from the jazz age – at the opening of the Jazz Age – that’s one of the stems from blues.”

Everything at the event – the food, the alcohol in coffee mugs, the big, black cars parked outside – will come together to support that theme.

So will the music: from Martinat’s Swing Band, an array of dancers and flappers, and from Shirley Russ and her daughter, Rosa Russ.

Shirley Russ now lives in Raleigh, but she has toured through Europe with the Harlem Opera Company and played Mariah in “Porgy and Bess” everywhere from Lincoln Center to South America.

The event will be a glimpse into the past, a one-night recreation of 1928 and Prohibition and the Cotton Club – but it will also be a tribute to Pop Ferguson and to Clyde, said Joe Delk III, who organized the event.

“With two incredibly talented musicians here in our own community – Pop Ferguson, who’s now almost 85, and his son Clyde – we thought it would be a great idea to have a party,” Delk said.