Thursday, January 13, 2005

Bahama Village Music

I went to the VFW on Emma Street tonight. (There are two VFW's in Key West. The one on Emma Street is the African-American VFW. The one on Elizabeth St. is not.) The Key West Literary Seminar sponsored an appearance there by one of its invited authors, one Al Young. He was accompanied by noted jazz guitarist Michael Gillis. Young is one of the guest speakers at the Literary Seminar, the second session of which kicks off tomorrow, and wraps up Sunday afternoon with an open-to-the-public session at San Carlos featuring Molly Ivins and Gary Trudeau.

I was talking with someone, actually the Monroe County Sheriff's Office Airport Supervisor, an African-American with some background and knowledge of Bahama Village history. He told me that the building that now houses the VFW was once a busy dance hall, one of several in Bahama Village when it was known as "Key West downtown", or less charitably by some as dark town. He spoke of some the entertainers who appeared there: Ray Charles, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday and no doubt many others. In those days, from the 30's through the 50's, maybe even the 60's, Key West, like Florida, was mostly a segregated state, so there were white clubs and black clubs, and African American performers stayed in "colored" hotels, ate in colored restaurants, and played in colored clubs.

I plan to do some research on the history of Bahama Village, time permitting, and hope to be able to document some of that here.

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