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Cafe Society: 1941

April 1941. "Tavern on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois." Acetate negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.

April 1941. "Tavern on the South Side of Chicago, Illinois." Acetate negative by Russell Lee for the Farm Security Administration. View full size.


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Earl "Fatha" Hines

Looks like bandleader and pianist Earl Hines is at the mike. He owned Chicago at the time.

Here's a list of African American female drummers who may have worked during this time: Henrietta Fontaine, Hetty Smith, Mattie Watson, Helen Cole, Dez Thompson, Rae Scott, and Alma Hightower. I haven't seen a photo of any of them to compare to the drummer pictured here.

They're mentioned in the book "Swing Shift: All-Girl Bands of the 1940s" by Sherrie Tucker.

Update: I deleted four of the names after contacting Sherrie Tucker, who was able to eliminate them due to race or age. She'll check on other possiblities and hopefully chime in. FYI, her current project is on the Hollywood Canteen.

"Call for Philip Mor-rees!"

In the 1950s, the Philip Morris TV commercials played a recording of Johnny Roventini's famous call as it used to be broadcast over the radio. The intonation was captivating, deliberate and drawn out. You can hear it at I always thought this was the perfect example of how bellhops used to call out names in hotel lobbies so they could be heard over the noise and bustle.

I can also remember Perry Como doing a live commercial during his show. He turned to the camera, took a long draw, blew out the smoke and said "It's good for you!"

Mark J

Yes, a woman drummer

Interesting how people think life for women started with the ERA. Her clothing is typical for women in 1941, as is her hat. The suit would likely have been blue serge.

This entire scene is so wonderful, I dream about seeing the finished mural, and the face of Snow White. Disney characters are fashioned by artists (me included) the world over, just not expected to be seen on Shorpy. Even the glass of stale beer is captivating.

Nice PA System

I work in the audio industry so I am always interested in old PA equipment. I suspect the vocalist is using a carbon microphone (rugged but somewhat limited fidelity), whose cord can be traced to the amplifier sitting on the piano. Said amp, with nice crackle finish chassis, appears to use popular 6V6 power tubes, which would give it a power of about 15 watts. We can't see the speakers but the cover the amp is sitting on suggests a 12 or 15-inch speaker in the mating cabinet. This would be as loud as a decent jukebox and would let a single vocalist keep up with an unamplified horn band. Today, everyone would feel obliged to have their own mic, including the drummer, and a typical bar system has about 1000 watts, hence the deafening level of sound (what?) in modern clubs. I bet this little combo sounded great.

Transgender & Deco Disney

What an interesting photo. I love both the people and the mural. I'm especially intrigued with the gender of the drummer. The person appears to be a woman (eyebrows, earrings) which would seem remarkable given the time, and the fact that the drummer is often the most traditionally male role of a musical quartet. Also, if it is a woman, the clothing is entirely transgender: a man's suit and hat.

Then we come to the mural: an image that would certainly be litigated today for use of Disney iconography -- compelling for the Art Deco style of the non-Disney components.

Is that some sort of amplifier to the left above the piano player?

Beat of a Different Drum

How common was it to have a woman as a drummer? I had to look carefully but her nails are painted, she's wearing earrings, and that hat, hair and shirt have a distinctly feminine look.

Call For Philip Morris

The cigarette tray atop the piano was found in most nightclubs of the era suspended from the neck of a pretty girl. She roamed the room hawking cigarettes and cigars. The cigarettes, worth about 25 cents a pack, were sold for a dollar and a tip was expected as well. Philip Morris cigarette advertising in store and on radio featured a little man in a hotel bellhop or page boy uniform shouting "Call for Philip Morris". The cardboard cutout of Johnny (Johnny Roventini, a 4 foot 7 inch actor) in vendor display windows made him a nationally known figure.

Seven dwarfs

Dig that hip Snow White theme on the mural behind the piano.

Instrumental Break

Looks like the drummer is about ready to dine on one of Chicago's famous franks.

Snow White

It would appear the Atlas Prager Beer is what is "tops for taste." And I love that Disney mural. If they saw that today, you can bet there would be a lawsuit.

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