It was the Jazz age. It was an age of Elegance and Violence.

  “The Cotton Club” (1984)

Image result for cotton club movie

 

“The Cotton Club” is a 1984 American crime-drama film centered on a Harlem jazz club of the 1930s, the Cotton Club.

The film was co-written by Francis Ford Coppola with William Kennedy, directed by Francis Ford Coppola, and produced by Robert Evans. Choreographed by Henry LeTang, the movie starred Richard Gere, Gregory Hines, Diane Lane, and Lonette McKee. The supporting cast included Bob Hoskins, James Remar, Nicolas Cage, Allen Garfield, Laurence Fishburne, Gwen Verdon and Fred Gwynne.

Despite performing poorly at the box office, the film was nominated for several awards, including Golden Globes for Best Director and Best Picture (Drama) and Oscars for Best Art Direction (Richard Sylbert, George Gaines) and Film Editing. (Wikipedia)

 

 

I remember looking forward to screening this film.  I understood the significance of The Cotton Club during the Harlem Renaissance of the 20’s and 30’s and wanted the 1980’s audience to be curious about the history of the real club and incredible level of talent that appeared there between 1923 – 1940.

Some of the original performers at The Cotton Club included:

Lena Horne

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Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

Duke Ellington

 

Image result for cotton club 1920

Count BasieBillie Holiday,

Image result for billie holiday

Cab CallowayThe Nicholas Brothers

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cotton club 1920

Cab Calloway

 

Among many others.

Image result for cotton club 1920

 

 

The movie is intense. Producer Robert Evans originally wanted to direct the project but later asked Coppola.  There are definite similarities to “The Godfather” in the film due to its violent nature and also the fact that Mario Puzo (author of The Godfather) wrote the original story and screenplay.

Gangsters, racism and love, this film exposes them all.  I do, however, wish more of the movie focus was on The Cotton Club itself and the lives of those characters.

 

Image result for cotton club 1920

 

The story centers around the dangerous love affair of Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) and Vera Cicero (Diane Lane).  She “belongs” to mobster Dutch Schultz (James Remar).  Dutch is a straight up psychopath   We also follow the budding romance between Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines) and Lila Rose Oliver (Lonette McKee).  He wants to get married.  She wants to be a “Star.”  (She’s also hiding a secret about her “other life.”)

Watch and listen as Lonette McKee, also from the movie (“Sparkle”), delivers a taste of the film’s 1930’s Harlem.

The song: “Ill Wind (You’re Blowing Me No Good)”  Composed by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ted Koehler.  It was written for their last show at The Cotton Club in 1934.

 

 

 

One of the most memorable scenes is between the real life and onscreen brothers – Maurice and Gregory Hines.  Clay (Maurice Hines) and Sandman (Gregory Hines) have had a major falling out and at this moment we get to share in their reunion.

 

Growing up, this old school tap dancing duo was compared to The Nicholas Brothers. Gregory Hines remarked in an interview that after seeing The Nicholas Brothers perform that “nobody was going to be the next Nicholas Brothers, least of all my brother and I.”

 

 

Explore the 1984 film but more importantly explore the controversial history of The Cotton Club and the entertainers and music that fueled the Jazz generation.

 

 

That Cat Can Swing! – Dance in Film 💃

Dance and I go way back. I have memories of American Bandstand and “bopping” with the staircase banister. There have been hundreds of dances long before I came along and even since. But, the most incredible dance craze I’ve ever seen by far is “The Lindy Hop”!

Don’t get me wrong, The Nicholas Brothers are my boys and their performances were breathtaking! No matter how many times I watch their dance routine from the Lena Horne/Bill “Bojangles” Robinson film “Stormy Weather”, I hold my breath in disbelief.

Like the Nicholas Brothers, the Lindy Hop is a marvel to behold! An assemblage of gymnastic, caution to the wind, I can’t believe they just did that dance moves. The coordination and imagination alone make this form of dance tops in my book.

I watch the television dance competition program, “So, You Think You Can Dance” for the myriad of styles and routines. However, I challenge even these dancers to impress me with the moves of the likes of the legendary Lindy Hopper Frankie Manning! (featured in this routine from the 1929 film, “Hellzapoppin”, he and his partner are last.)

The Lindy Hop was developed in Harlem, New York City, in the 1920s and 1930s and originally evolved with the jazz music of that time. It was very popular during the Swing era of the late 1930s and early 1940s. Lindy was a fusion of many dances that preceded it or were popular during its development but is mainly based on jazz, tap, breakaway, and Charleston. It is frequently described as a jazz dance and is a member of the swing dance family. (Wikipedia)

Just as jazz music emerged as a dominant art form that could absorb and integrate other forms of music, Lindy Hop gained its own fame through dancers in films, performances, competitions, and professional dance troupes.

 

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Frankie Manning was part of a new generation of Lindy hoppers and is the most celebrated Lindy hopper in history. Some sources credit Manning, working with his partner Freida Washington, for inventing the ground-breaking “Air Step” or “aerial” in 1935. An Air Step is a dance move in which at least one of the partners’ two feet leave the ground in a dramatic, acrobatic style. Most importantly, it is done in time with the music. Air steps are now widely associated with the characterization of lindy hop, despite being generally reserved for competition or performance dancing, and not generally being executed on any social dance floor. (Wikipedia)

 

frankiemanning1

 

The popularity of Lindy Hop declined after World War II, and the dance remained dormant until revived by European and American dancers in the 1980s.

The closest I’ve ever come to Lindy hopping is a gymnastic dance sequence in a community theater production of “West Side Story”. I executed a “back flip” move with my partner which for me stands out as the most exciting dance routine of my community theater career.

I was 40 years of age when I performed the “back flip” routine so, hey, maybe I’ve got a Lindy Hop left in me! 😎

 

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Nicholas Brothers – Flash! (So You Think You Can Dance?)

In honor of Black History Month, I’ll be featuring films either starring or representing African American themes.

Nicholas Brothers

This repost and film duo for the month is the incomparable Nicholas Brothers. Their energy and dynamic dance routines are legendary and unmatched by any other artist then or now. Born during an era when African American entertainers were restricted in film appearances and even cut out for southern audiences, the Nicholas Brothers rose above and beyond the sensibilities of the times.

Nicholas Brothers

The Nicholas Brothers were a famous African American team of dancing brothers, Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold (1921–2000). Their highly acrobatic technique (“flash dancing“), demonstrated such a high level of artistry and daring innovations that they were considered by many to be the greatest tap dancers of their day.

Growing up with musician parents (mother played piano and father drums) who had their own band, the brothers were surrounded by some of the best Vaudeville acts of the time and became stars of the jazz circuit during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance . Fayard and Harold went on to have successful careers performing on stage, film, and television well into the 1990s.

 

Their signature move was to leapfrog down a long, broad flight of stairs, while completing each step with a split. This move was performed to perfection in the finale of the movie, Stormy Weather . In my humble opinion, the “Jumpin’ Jive” dance number in Stormy Weather was the greatest movie musical sequence of all time!

Nicholas Brothers - Jump!

Nicholas Brothers – Jump!

Another signature move was to arise from a split without using their hands. Gregory Hines (with brother Maurice – tap dancing brother and father team Hines, Hines and Dad) declared that if the Nicholas Brothers biography were ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer generated because no one now could emulate them. Ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life.

 

The Nicholas Brothers influenced every dancer that came after. Including Michael Jackson. Here they are together on the Jackson’s TV Show.

Legends of dance that should always be remembered!

“Stormy Weather” – An African American Showcase 🎥 🎶

 In honor of Black History Month, I’ll be featuring films either starring or representing African American themes.

My next film for the month is “Stormy Weather (1943). An American musical film produced and released by 20th Century Fox. Considered one of the best Hollywood musicals with an all African-American cast, the other being MGM’s Cabin in the Sky. “Stormy Weather” is considered a brilliant showcase of some of the top African-American performers of the time, during an era when African-American actors and singers rarely appeared in lead roles in mainstream Hollywood productions, especially those of the musical genre.

Stormy Weather cast

This movie blew my mind!  I saw it as a kid in the early sixties having no idea that there had ever been an all Black cast in a Hollywood production. Most of the premier entertainers of the 1940’s appeared in this tour de force that still stands as one of the best musicals of all time!

Classic Cab Calloway – “Zoot Suiting” it!

 

Directed by Andrew L. Stone
Produced by William LeBaron
Written by Jerry Horwin, Seymour B. Robinson (story)
H.S. Kraft (adaptation)
Starring Lena Horne
Bill Robinson
Cab Calloway
Katherine Dunham
Fats Waller
Fayard Nicholas
Harold Nicholas
Ada Brown
Dooley Wilson
Music by Harold Arlen
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Editing by James B. Clark
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • July 21, 1943
Running time 78 minutes
Country United States
Language English

Lena’s rendition of “Stormy Weather”, featuring  African-American modern dance innovator Katherine Dunham and dancers.

Katherine Dunham and troupe’s “Stormy Weather” full dance sequence.

“Stormy Weather” was the 2nd all Black cast film made by a major studio in the 1940’s. “Cabin in the Sky” (1943) was the 1st, produced by MGM. Lena Horne starred in both and became famous for her rendition of “Stormy Weather” although Ethel Waters first performed the classic at The Cotton Club Nightclub in Harlem in 1933.

Ethel Waters was a famous blues, jazz, gospel vocalist and actress.  Her best-known recordings include “Dinah”, “Stormy Weather”, “Taking a Chance on Love” and “Cabin in the Sky” (She also starred in the film) Let’s enjoy her interpretation of the classic tune by Arlen and Koehler:

The song was written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler who worked as music composers at the renowned Cotton Club from 1930-1934. They wrote many of the jazz revue songs that were performed at the club and are still classics today. Harold Arlen wrote the music and Ted Koehler the lyrics.

Awards

“Stormy Weather” was selected in 2001 to The Library of Congress National Film Registry.

 

Stormy Weather 1

Get ready to have your “mind blown”!  This dance sequence by the Nicholas Brothers is unreal.  Check it out.  Holy crap!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nicholas Brothers – Flash! (So You Think You Can Dance?)

The Nicholas Brothers were a famous African American team of dancing brothers, Fayard (1914–2006) and Harold (1921–2000). Their highly acrobatic technique (“flash dancing“), demonstrated such a high level of artistry and daring innovations that they were considered by many to be the greatest tap dancers of their day.

Growing up with musician parents (mother played piano and father drums) who had their own band, the brothers were surrounded by some of the best Vaudeville acts of the time and became stars of the jazz circuit during the heyday of the Harlem Renaissance . Fayard and Harold went on to have successful careers performing on stage, film, and television well into the 1990s.

 

Their signature move was to leapfrog down a long, broad flight of stairs, while completing each step with a split. This move was performed to perfection in the finale of the movie, Stormy Weather . In my humble opinion, the “Jumpin’ Jive” dance number in Stormy Weather was the greatest movie musical sequence of all time!

Nicholas Brothers - Jump!

Nicholas Brothers – Jump!

Another signature move was to arise from a split without using their hands. Gregory Hines (with brother Maurice – tap dancing brother and father team Hines, Hines and Dad) declared that if their biography were ever filmed, their dance numbers would have to be computer generated because no one now could emulate them. Ballet legend Mikhail Baryshnikov once called them the most amazing dancers he had ever seen in his life.

 

The Nicholas Brothers influenced every dancer that came after. Including Michael Jackson. Here they are together on the Jackson’s TV Show.

Happy Birthday, Ms. Lena Horne!

Lena Mary Calhoun Horne was a singer, dancer, actress, and activist whose 1957 live album entitled, Lena Horne at the Waldorf-Astoria, became the biggest-selling record by a female artist in the history of the RCA-Victor label. In 1958, this timeless beauty became the first African-American woman to be nominated for a Tony Award for “Best Actress in a Musical” (for her part in the “Calypso” musical Jamaica).

Lena Horne

Lena Horne

I’m proud to say that Lena and I are sisters of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. which in the summer of 1980 sponsored a 2-month series of benefit concerts for Soror Horne. Sixty-three years old and intent on retiring from show business, these concerts were represented as Soror Horne’s farewell tour, although her retirement lasted less than a year.

In May 1981, her one-woman show, Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music became an instant success garnering Horne a special Tony award, and two Grammy Awards for the cast recording. The 333-performance Broadway run closed on her 65th birthday, June 30, 1982.

 

Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music

Lena Horne: The Lady and Her Music

 

In 1995, a “live” album capturing her Supper Club performance was released (winning a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Vocal Album). In 1998, Horne released another studio album, entitled Being Myself. Thereafter, Horne essentially retired from performing and largely retreated from public view.

 

In her personal life, Lena Horne married twice, Louis Jordan Jones in January 1937 (divorced in 1944). There were 2 children from that union – daughter, Gail (later known as Gail Lumet Buckley, a writer) and son, Edwin Jones (born February 7, 1940 – September 12, 1970) who died of kidney disease. Lena’s second husband,  Lennie Hayton, was Music Director and one of the premier musical conductors and arrangers at MGM. They married in December 1947 in Paris and separated in the early 1960’s but never divorced. Hayton died in 1971.

Lena’s grandchildren include screenwriter Jenny Lumet, daughter of Horne’s daughter Gail and husband filmmaker, Sidney Lumet. Her other grandchildren include Gail’s other daughter, Amy Lumet, and her son’s three children, Thomas, William, and Lena. Horne also has a great-grandson, actor Jake Cannavale.

Lena was an activist in the Civil Rights Movement. During World War II she refused to perform before segregated audiences and at The March on Washington, she performed and spoke in association with the NAACP, SNCC, and the National Association of Negro Women. Ms. Horne also worked with Eleanor Roosevelt to help pass anti-lynching laws. In 1983, she was awarded the Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement from the NAACP.

 

From her beginnings at The Cotton Club at age sixteen through her appearances in films, television, and on Broadway, Lena Horne’s career spanned over 70 years. Back in 2012 there were rumors about singer Alicia Keys portraying Lena in a biopic. Sounds interesting. What do you think? Guess we’ll just have to wait and see if it ever happens.

 

Lena Alicia 2

 

In honor of what would be Lena’s 98th birthday, I’m featuring her most notable film:

Lena Horne  June 30, 1917– May 9, 2010

Lena Horne
June 30, 1917– May 9, 2010

“Stormy Weather” (1943) American musical film produced and released by 20th Century Fox

This movie blew my mind!  I saw it as a kid in the early sixties having no idea that there had ever been an all Black cast in a Hollywood production. Most of the premier entertainers of the 1940’s appeared in this tour de force that still stands as one of the best musicals of all time!

 

Stormy Weather poster

Directed by Andrew L. Stone
Produced by William LeBaron
Written by Jerry Horwin, Seymour B. Robinson (story)
H.S. Kraft (adaptation)
Starring Lena Horne
Bill Robinson
Cab Calloway
Katherine Dunham
Fats Waller
Fayard Nicholas
Harold Nicholas
Ada Brown
Dooley Wilson
Music by Harold Arlen
Cinematography Leon Shamroy
Editing by James B. Clark
Distributed by 20th Century Fox
Release dates
  • July 21, 1943
Running time 78 minutes
Country United States
Language English

“Stormy Weather” was the 2nd all Black cast film made by a major studio in the 1940’s. “Cabin in the Sky” was the 1st, produced by MGM. Lena Horne starred in both and became famous for her rendition of “Stormy Weather” although Ethel Waters first performed the classic at The Cotton Club Nightclub in Harlem in 1933.

The song was written by Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler who worked as music composers at the renowned Cotton Club from 1930-1934. They wrote many of the jazz revue songs that were performed at the club and are still classics today. Harold Arlen wrote the music and Ted Koehler the lyrics.

Awards

“Stormy Weather” was selected in 2001 to The Library of Congress National Film Registry.

 

Stormy Weather 1

Get ready to have your “mind blown”!  This dance sequence by the Nicholas Brothers is unreal.  Check it out.  Holy crap!!

 

Ethel Waters was a famous blues, jazz, gospel vocalist and actress.  Her best-known recordings include “Dinah”, “Stormy Weather”, “Taking a Chance on Love” and “Cabin in the Sky” (She also starred in the film) Let’s enjoy her interpretation of the classic tune by Arlen and Koehler:

“Stormy Weather”

 

Happy Birthday, Ms. Lena!

Lena Horne 2

 

 

 

 

 

It was the Jazz age. It was an age of Elegance and Violence.

  “The Cotton Club” (1984)

Cotton Club poster

Directed by Francis Ford Coppola
Produced by Robert Evans
Screenplay by William Kennedy
Francis Ford Coppola

I remember looking forward to screening this film.  I understood the significance of The Cotton Club during the Harlem Renaissance of the 20’s and 30’s and wanted the 1980’s audience to be curious about the history of the real club and incredible level of talent that appeared there between 1923 – 1940.

Some of the original performers at The Cotton Club included:

Among many others.

The movie is intense. Producer Robert Evans originally wanted to direct the project but later asked Coppola.  There are definite similarities to “The Godfather” in the film due to it’s violent nature and also the fact that Mario Puzo (author of The Godfather) wrote the original story and screenplay.

Gangsters, racism and love, this film exposes them all.  I do, however, wish more of the movie focus was on The Cotton Club itself and the lives of those characters.

The story centers around the dangerous love affair of Dixie Dwyer (Richard Gere) and Vera Cicero (Diane Lane).  She “belongs” to mobster Dutch Schultz (James Remar).  Dutch is a straight up psychopath   We also follow the budding romance between Sandman Williams (Gregory Hines) and Lila Rose Oliver (Lonette McKee).  He wants to get married.  She wants to be a “Star.”  (She’s also hiding a secret about her other life.)

Watch and listen as Lonette McKee, also from the movie (“Sparkle”), delivers a taste of the film’s 1930’s Harlem.

The song: “Ill Wind (You’re Blowing Me No Good)”  Composed by Harold Arlen, lyrics by Ted Koehler.  It was written for their last show at The Cotton Club in 1934.

 

One of the most memorable scenes is between the real life and onscreen brothers – Maurice and Gregory Hines.  Clay (Maurice Hines) and Sandman (Gregory Hines) have had a major falling out and at this moment we get to share their reunion.  Growing up, this old school tap dancing duo was compared to The Nicholas Brothers.  Gregory Hines remarked in an interview that after seeing The Nicholas Brothers perform that “nobody was going to be the next Nicholas Brothers, least of all my brother and I.”

 

Starring Richard Gere
Gregory Hines
Diane Lane
Lonette McKee
Music by John Barry

 

Explore the 1984 film but more importantly explore the controversial history of The Cotton Club and the entertainers and music that fueled the Jazz generation.