PLEDGE NOW
The Chitlin’ Circuit And The Road To Rock And Roll

The amazing story of African-America’s “Chitlin Circuit,” and the road to rock and roll.

A crossroads business serves as store, bar, juke joint, and gas station in the cotton plantation area, Melrose, La., June 1940. (AP)

A crossroads business serves as store, bar, juke joint, and gas station in the cotton plantation area, Melrose, La., June 1940. (AP)

Across the country in segregated 20th century America, there was a world where black musicians soared even when the color line held them down.

It was Beale Street in Memphis, the Bronze Peacock Dinner and Dance Club in Houston, an old tobacco barn in South Carolina, where the music went all night long. It was the Chitlin’ Circuit.

Grand ballrooms and steamy juke joints. The venues where African-Americans were free to play and be. Where, says my guest today, rock was born.

This hour On Point: a new history of the Chitlin’ Circuit..

-Tom Ashbrook

Guests:

Preston Lauterbach, the author of “The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘N Roll”

Bobby Rush, a musician, composer and singer.

Mark Anthony Neal, professor of African-American studies at Duke University.

Show Highlights

Tom Ashbrook: Let’s go to Jackie, calling from Naugatuck, Connecticut. Jackie, thanks so much for calling. You’re on the air.

Jackie: Hi, how you doin’? Thanks for taking my call.

Ashbrook: Yes, sir.

Jackie: I listen to you radio station all the time. I love you guys. I’ve never called. This is my first time calling in. But I’m interested in the subject today—I’m interested in all these subjects—but this is close to home because I’ve been a musician for 45 years, a bass player. And I started off in the late ‘60s.

Ashbrook: Wow.

Jackie: And I did the Chitlin’ Circuit for the longest time, for many years. I was in an all black band. And we did the Chitlin’ Circuit everywhere—military bases from Pensacola, Florida to Fort Pease Maine and everything in between. We did the cotton clubs; we did a lot of stuff.

Ashbrook: What was it like to be out there, Jackie? You were right in the middle of it playing bass! What was it like to be on the circuit?

Jackie: Oh man, it was, it was, it was beautiful. It kept me out of trouble because I grew up—I came here from North Carolina but I grew up in Bridgeport and almost all of my peers were either, you know, dying from overdoses or whatever. And I think the thing that kept me out of trouble was my love for music, and I just—we just played all the time. And we did—like I say—we did the Chitlin’ Circuit which were like the clubs where, you know, they wouldn’t hire you. You know, if you were black you got hired there. There were no blacks really playing in white clubs; there wasn’t too much crossover then. And I actually seen it go from Chitlin’ Circuit thing to crossing over. And I read a big article in Seymour, Connecticut where some newspaper man read about our band, about the fact that we were the first black band to play in Seymour and how dare we, was it going to go off and everything. The place was packed for the whole weekend.

Ashbrook: You know, I’m looking at a picture here, from Preston Lauderbach’s book The Chitlin’ Circuit, and it’s riot police on the Rialto. This is a Memphis police patrol on Beal Street in March 1968. They’re marching each past Sunbeam Mitchell’s club there. What was it like to be black and working the circuit in the South in the ‘60s, Preston—I’m sorry, our caller, Jackie, Jackie, Jackie. Excuse me. What was it like, Jackie, to be in that part of the country playing all those years?

Jackie: You just had to be—you had to be quiet, you didn’t do any talking, the manager did all the talking. You would just play your music. Some people would respect you because of your ability and they would talk to you, but you kinda stayed away from, you know, different kind of people that didn’t want to see, you know, doin’ it and stuff. That’s why you stayed in, like, your black areas and stuff. Police always pull you over, trying to, you know, pull you over, make you take everything out of the car, saying “Well, you got drugs?” “No, I don’t, sir. I’m just playing and I’m from…” wherever I was, you know. […]And they’d be like, “What you doin’ out here, boy?” But the people that we played for, they appreciated it a lot.

Ashbrook: And right in the face of that, some really great music. Jackie, we appreciate your call. Thank you so much for calling in!

This hour, we’ll hear a series of Chitlin’ Circuit songs:

Good Rockin’ Tonight by Roy Brown
It’s All Right Baby by Joe Turner
How Come by Joe Liggins & the Honeydrippers
Knock Me A Kiss by Louis Jordan
I got loaded by Peppermint Harris
Hound Dog by Willie Mae “Big Mama” Thornton
Bite again, Bite again by Wynonie Harris
Boogie at Midnight by Roy Brown
Pledging My Love by Johnny Ace
Rocket 88 by Jackie Brenston & his Delta Cats
Tutti Frutti by Little Richard
Eight Men, Four Women by O.V. Wright
Sue by Bobby Rush
Hole in the Wall by Mel Waiters

More:

Louis Jordan and hit Tympany Band sing ‘Let The Good Times Roll”

Lil’ Green sings “Kockin Myself Out”

Roy Brown sings “Good Rockin’ Tonight’

Here’s Big Mama Thornton singing “Hound Dog”

Lil’ Green sings “Romance In The Dark”
http://youtu.be/O7vg_4Ea9Bs

Little Richard sings “Tutti Frutti”

Big Mama Thornton, John Lee Hooker, Big Walter Horton & Dr Ross

Johnny Ace singes “Pledging My Love”

Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats “In My Real Gone Rocket” 1951

Watch Bobby Rush preform “Standing the Test of Time”


Here’s Bobby Rush live

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
ONPOINT
TODAY
May 3, 2016
Geri Taylor, camera in tow, at the Hoover Dam in 2014. Photography had been a sideline for 30 years, but now she could really devote time to it.
Courtesy, New York Times. MICHAEL KIRBY SMITH FOR THE NEW YORK TIMES.

We look at how one women prepares for the full onset of Alzheimer’s disease.

May 3, 2016
IMAGE DISTRIBUTED FOR ALDI - Grocery shoppers experience ALDI during the grand opening of the first of eight Southern California locations on Thursday, March 24, 2016, in Moreno Valley, Calif. ALDI, one of America's favorite grocery stores, will open approximately 45 stores in Southern California by the end of 2016. (Photo by Casey Rodgers/Invision for ALDI/AP Images)

From chicken wings to kale smoothies, we look at what we eat, and how challenging it is to eat well in America. Plus, what we’re learning about how our bodies fight to keep weight off.

RECENT
SHOWS
May 2, 2016
ADVANCE FOR MONDAY, MAY 2, 2016 AND THEREAFTER - In this April 19, 2016 photo, Laurie Millan, a para-professional and tutor, works with a student during an after school tutoring session at San Francisco International High School, in San Francisco. While some districts in numerous states have discouraged migrant minors from Central America from enrolling in their schools, the school accommodated its youths by rewriting young-adult novels at a basic level to spark the newcomers' interest in reading.  (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

Is grit the secret sauce that drives success? More important than both talent and intellect? We’re talking the power and limits of grit.

 
May 2, 2016
A man walks on the rail tracks of a train station turned into a makeshift camp crowded by migrants and refugees, at the northern Greek border point of Idomeni, Greece, Friday, April 29, 2016. Many thousands of migrants remain at the Greek border with Macedonia, hoping that the border crossing will reopen, allowing them to move north into central Europe. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)

A top former US diplomat says refugees and tribalism are pulling Europe apart and that the US needs to get involved- to help Europe by helping refugees.

On Point Blog
On Point Blog
‘Embedded’: How Violent Gangs Are Terrorizing El Salvador
Thursday, Apr 14, 2016

NPR’s Kelly McEvers on her reporting in El Salvador for the podcast Embedded, and how gang killings brought San Salvador’s bus service to a halt.

More »
Comment
 
That Cheap Dress On Facebook? It Isn't Worth It
Monday, Apr 11, 2016

Know those shockingly cheap clothes you see advertised on Facebook? There’s a catch.

More »
Comment
 
The Boston Globe Imagines — And Rejects — A President Trump Front Page
Monday, Apr 11, 2016

The Boston Globe editorial page imagines — and rejects — President Donald Trump.

More »
Comment