[Dixielandjazz] Vegas segregation - Was BG in Vegas

Steve Barbone barbonestreet at earthlink.net
Tue Nov 20 11:16:40 PST 2007

Oops, sorry about the blank reply, Larry.

Yes, I hear you. Many of us journeymen musicians are still treated like dirt
in the "upscale" venues. I and some of my colleagues try our best to avoid
playing in those places. <grin> And personally, I find that with just my
clarinet case, I have been able to access the front doors anywhere. But not
always the bassist or the drummer because of the equipment. Major stars like
say, Brubeck, or Alicia Keyes are welcomed to enter via the front doors
anywhere, and are encouraged to mingle with the guests. It is good business.

In the BG Vegas case, the white entertainers we allowed to enter via the
front doors, and were allowed to stay at the hotels. They were also
encouraged to mingle because they were the "Stars", the draw, etc. Blacks
were not allowed to the same courtesy until Lena Horne and then Sammy Davis
Jr., broke the color barrier.

In Las Vegas, up until the 1960s, Black entertainers like, Pearl Bailey and
Nat King Cole could perform on stage, but could not stay, eat or gamble in
the all-white casino resorts. Or enter through the main entrance. Worse yet,
if a black person happened to get into a resort swimming pool, white people
left, and the pool was drained and re-filled. Lena Horne was an exception.

In 1947 Singer Lena Horne told Flamingo owner "Bugsy" Siegel that she either
stays in the hotel as a guest or she won't perform there. She was allowed to
stay but her linens, changed daily, purportedly are burned. She subsequently
refused to perform in Vegas if she could not stay in the hotel as a guest
and was allowed that "privilege" at other hotels, basically because she was
a GREAT draw, setting attendance records. (money talks)

Sammy Davis, Jr. and his famed Will Maston Trio were by 1953, headlining
shows on The Strip. And in 1955, he was exempted, like Horne from the no
blacks rule in the hotel where he was performing, because of Sinatra's
influence. But, it wasn't until 1959 that Sammy re-broke the color barrier
on a larger scale, thanks to his fellow Rat Pack buddies Frank Sinatra, Dean
Martin, Joey Bishop and Peter Lawford. The Rat Pack had been filming Oceans
Eleven and was the focus of world-wide attention. Led by Sinatra and
followed by a contingent of news photographers, the celebrities made the
rounds of casinos after their nightly shows. If a casino declined to allow
entry to Sammy Davis, Jr., Sinatra passed the word that none of the others
would go in either. Casinos relented to avoid any bad publicity.

Then in early 1960, the NAACP threatened a march on the strip and the result
was the beginning of Vegas' total desegregation. The hotels slowly backed
down. Tropicana, Desert Inn and The Stardust were the first to come to terms

It wasn't until the mid-1960s that the Las Vegas Strip and downtown casino
resorts and hotels fully desegregated, permitting Blacks to get jobs as card
dealers. Discrimination in hotels and casinos was officially ended by Nevada
statute in 1971.

This type of Hotel discrimination against blacks was wide spread during the
1950s, from coast to coast. If you were a black musician, and driving cross
country for gigs, you had very little choice of where to stay overnight.
Almost all hotels en route would have refused accommodations, except those
in black neighborhoods, if any, or private houses.

Steve Barbone

Larry Walton Entertainment - St. Louis at larrys.bands at charter.net wrote:

> ..... he was told that he couldn't enter the hotel by the front
> doors, only through the back.
> And between shows, he had to stay in a back room. No "mixing" with the
> guests...... Benny would not allow a star of his band to
> be restricted in such a demeaning way.
> ___________________________________
> You don't have to be black to be treated this way.  The key word is
> musician.  In the past 10 years things have been different more or less.
> The country clubs still really don't want you coming in the front and
> mingling with the guests while not prohibited isn't encouraged either.  The
> MAC club in downtown St. Louis wants you to go in the back and not use the
> guest elevators and they provide a break room.  No one jumps in the way if
> you do come in the front but knowing how they are from past experience I
> know what's expected.
> Most of the guys that play CC's here don't really mingle with the guests.
> The point is that it's not just a black and white thing but a hired help
> thing.  If you are hired help you aren't a guest and that's pretty simple so
> if they don't want to serve you at the bar or give you a break room or enter
> in the back it isn't a race thing.  It's like the TV series Upstairs
> Downstairs.  There is a distinction made.  If they are paying you then you
> are hired help and hired help are not guests.
> Personally I think some of these things are rude but there is no problem as
> long as "you know your place".
> Most of this junk is going by the wayside and that's good but looking at it
> from their point of view who wants some guy with a cart full of stuff to
> come through the guests and crowd up the elevators or block a front door
> while they unload.  After all they do owe more to their guests than to us
> hired help.
> I know that a lot of you don't see yourselves as hired help.  I work
> occasionally with two guys that could buy and sell most of the C Club set.
> I suspect that they don't really see themselves as that but when they are
> working they are hired help.
> Some people are just too quick to take offense.
> Thanks for the interesting piece.

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