Chitlin’ Circuit: Where Some Black Famous Artists Got Their Big Break

Written by Jae Jones

Long before there was Rock n’ Roll in the 1950’s, before places began to integrate, performers traveled to what was known as the Chitlin’ Circuit. Not to be confused with the Chitlin’ Strut, which was a festival and known for good Southern food. The Chitlin’ Circuit was all about good music. The 1940s and 50s, in the south part of the United States, Northeast, and Mid-West had auditoriums and halls.

Black entertainers, many of the well-known ones today could go and perform at these locations. “Segregated transportation, and no hotel accommodations made it difficult to make a living. Mostly in the segregated south, artists honed their skills and later moved to more hospitable areas of the country. Most of the notable black artists, bands and orchestras, traveled the circuit of large and small halls to make a living and establish a follow, get recording contracts and start their careers.” (Black History-101)


The Chitlin’ Circuit was big and everyone who was trying to be well-known wanted a part of it. The Ferguson Brothers, were one of the biggest “black owned talent agencies during that time.” The agency would contract talent and even help sell the tickets for the show. However, as soon as the radio era emerged, entertainers would get on air and promote themselves.

“In Detroit it was The Casino Royale, The Mozambique, The 20 Grand, Roostertail Ben’s High Chapparell, and Ethel’s the Fox Theater. In Cleveland it was Leo’s Casino, the Music Box and Geason Show Bar. Similar places existed in and around parts of Alabama, Mississippi, Tennessee and other states with large black populations. In the northeast, the famed Cotton Club and Apollo Theater in New York were part of the circuit.”

[brid video=”14597″ player=”3329″ title=”The Chitlin’ Circuit (Deep House in the Deep South)”]

A former Chrysler plant worker, left Detroit and moved south to create an empire on Beale Street, in Memphis Tennessee. Andrew “Sunbeam” Mitchell, grew his food and music business. The Mitchell Hotel and the Domino Lounge, opened in 1945. He would be “soon to be” famous names such as Nat “King” Cole, Little Richard, Bobby “Blue Bland, and B.B. King. His business wan an important location on the “Circuit.” Mitchell later sold his properties and moved to Georgia. Once in Georgia he started the Club Paradise.

“As the story goes. Jimi Hendrix originally from Seattle, Washington spent time on the “Circuit”. When he was discharged from the army at Fort Campbell Kentucky, he had only $16 in his pocket. He went back to the man he sold his guitar to and borrowed it. In Clarksville, Tennessee, Hendrix played in a band “The Casuals”. After travelling with the band, Jimi took his talents to New York’s Apollo Theater. He won a talent contest but not much money, but returned to Clarksville and his old band.”(Black History-101)

The Isleys was another well-known name on the Circuit. However, not just musicians worked the circuit there were comedians such as Redd Foxx, Jimmie Walker, and Richard Pryor on it as well. The Chitlin’ Circuit is now a part of mainstream history. If you do visit Greenville, Mississippi there is a Historical Marker of the Circuit.


video by: LeenieDenise


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About the author

Jae Jones

Jae Jones has been writing professionally for over 10 years. She holds a degree in Business Administration, and enjoys writing on various topics.

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