The owner of two New York City nightclubs that boldly confronted prejudice recalls their glamorous, gritty heyday.
Shifting race relations have played a crucial role in the artistic evolution of jazz, and here Josephson (1902–88) tells that story from within the mural-festooned walls and smoke-filled air of Cafe Society Downtown and Cafe Society Uptown, the extraordinarily successful nightspots he operated from 1938 to 1947. Doggedly challenging entertainment-industry convention by integrating blacks and whites both in the audience and onstage, Josephson sought to recreate the “political cabarets” he'd seen in Europe, with his gracious, distinctively American flair. Vivid recollections taped before his death—edited, organized and supplemented with documentary material by his widow—offer a bird's-eye view of everything from the ubiquitous presence of the mob and the absence of undergarments beneath singers’ gowns to up-close encounters with the House Un-American Activities Committee. Studded with enlightening quotes from such musicians as Billie Holiday, Teddy Wilson and Lena Horne, comics including Jack Gilford and Imogene Coca, actors, painters and journalists, this complex tapestry of pivotal moments and colorful minutiae is a delightful, albeit occasionally overstuffed time capsule. Josephson, a self-made businessman whose eye for new talent put several careers on steep upward trajectories, ingenuously reminisces about growing up in suburbia and eventually recalibrating the social climate of his adopted milieu, one carefully produced show at a time.
An epic ode to personal integrity, creative vision and entrepreneurial tenacity, shedding timely light on the germination of the civil-rights movement.