In 1987, Congress passed House Concurrent Resolution 57 designating jazz “a rare and valuable national American treasure.” The resolution recognized jazz as a “unifying force, bridging cultural, religious, ethnic and age differences.” Indeed, jazz played an important role in paving the way for the Civil Rights Movement.
The Downbeat, located at 11th and Ludlow streets in Philadelphia, was the first racially integrated club in Center City. The building is still there.
Café Society Swing, written by Alex Webb, tells the story of the legendary Café Society, the first integrated nightclub in New York City. The jazz spot played host to, among others, Fats Navarro, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Count Basie, Sarah Vaughn, Lena Horne, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Joe Turner. Philly Joe Jones was the house drummer. Café Society is where Billie Holiday first sang “Strange Fruit” in January 1939.
By the way, Philly’s Café Society was located on “The Golden Strip,” Columbia Avenue (now Cecil B. Moore).
All That Philly Jazz, a digital history project, will breathe life into Philadelphia’s jazz heritage. The website will be launched in February. For updates, follow us on Twitter or like us on Facebook.com/AllThatPhillyJazz.