The "Chitlin' Circuit" was the name given to a lot of clubs and venues throughout the Eastern and Southern US States.They were safe for African American musicians, comedians,and entertainers to perform at during the age of Jim Crow laws forcing their segregation (ending in the 1960s). Chitlin is slang for a soul food dish made from pork.
Some of the venues on the Chitlin' Circuit were the Cotton Club and Apollo Theaters in New York City, Regal Theatre in Chicago,Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., Fox Theater in Detroit and the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia, and a bunch of 1 night stand places in the middle. A lot of these acts played Idlewild to incorporate some relaxationalong with work.
Many of these fabulously talented artists started on the chitlin' circuit, including Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald,Lena Horne, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Charles, The Supremes,
Jackie Wilson at the Paradise Club
Moms Mabley, Ike and Tina Turner,George Benson, B.B. King, Richard Pryor, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Redd Foxx, Patti LaBelle, Jimi Hendrix, Gladys Knight & the Pips,The Temptations, John Lee Hooker, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, The Isley Brothers, and The Four Tops. ( The dancers were love with Otis)
And a Motortown Revue Dancer named Donna Dixon….I met Donna on the phone as she called into me for tech support a few years ago. It was just before the holidays and we struck up a long conversation as I fixed her computer problems. Donna was a backup dancer for the Funk Brother's band. They were the massively talented studio musicians that created the "Motown Sound"
See a bit of their movie:Standing in the Shadows of Motown HERE The touring company of acts from Motown were called the Motor Town Revue.Donna told me all the gossip "on the road"with the famous groups.She also sadly told me then how Levi Stubbs had just had a large stroke and was wheel chair bound. He would never perform again. See my post about him HERE
Donna told me about playing in the summers at Idlewild,Michigan's Paradise Club. This was an area of Michigan that I had never heard about and found it fascinating that there was very little information about Idlewild. Here is a little history from the book: Idlewild: The Black Eden of Michigan
Once considered the most famous African-American resort communityin the country, Idlewild was referred to as the Black Eden of Michigan in the 1920s and '30s, and as the Summer Apollo of Michigan in the 1950s and '60s. Showcasing classy revues and interactive performances of some of the leading black entertainers of the period, Idlewild was an oasis in the shadows of legal segregation.
Donna suggested I read a book that mentioned her and Donna's picture is in it twice! The book was written by Dr. Ronald J Stephens an acclaimed expert on African American History at several large universities.
It was a fascinating hour long conversation with a woman that has lived a fascinating life in Detroit. She is still as as sparkling as her costumes were back then.