The Law Police Used To Keep Musicians Of Color Off Stage | JAZZ NIGHT IN AMERICA

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Jazz musicians have always faced systems of discrimination in America. One insidious example was the cabaret card, a form of identification required for any musician to work in a New York nightclub from 1940 to 1967. The New York Police Department administered these licenses and revoked them for any minor infraction. As a result, some of the biggest names in the music at the time, like Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, lost their right to work at a crucial points in their careers. In this Jazz Night in America video short, we trace the history of the cabaret card starting with its racist origins and its toll on the music, and we’ll reflect on what might have been. —COLIN MARSHALL

Special thanks to Nate Chinen, whose reporting in his JazzTimes column «The Cabaret Card and Jazz» was referenced for this video:

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Comment (21)

  1. The underbelly of America's filth is being revealed. For what its worth, the past 10days has revealed we are in a new era. Please more of this type of video

  2. As a dj in NYC i am very familiar with the Cabaret License which was finally repealed in 2018. It was heavily enforced in the Mayor Bloomberg era. All nightlife venues had to pay a very expensive cabaret license fee if they wanted to have dancing at their establishment. Didnt matter if you were a huge nightclub or a small bar. i remember djing in smaller venues where the owner couldnt afford to pay the fee, tried to work around the law by hiring djs to draw customers, but at the same time post NO DANCING signs in the building.

  3. Sophie Tucker was known as Jewish, not "Ukrainian", even if that was her birthplace. She was a real New Yorker who had to endure prejudice too (and was highly supportive of black talent in her time).

  4. Thank you for telling an important piece of history! I must say though, with all due respect, a different image than the Cotton Club should have been chosen for the 2:332:40 segment. The Cotton Club was not one of those places in NYC where "races mixed together socially". It was a white-owned club in Harlem that barred Black clientele.

  5. Thanks for this history. I had heard about cabaret cards of course, but never realized how they were issued or enforced, and just how long this practice was in effect.

  6. In miles davis' biography he kept mentioning union cards. I thought it was weird how tight the union controlled who played. Low and behold it was the man the whole time

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