Somewhat to my surprise I find that I’ve written the first 1,500 words of the fourth chapter of Hotter Than That: A Life of Louis Armstrong. As you may recall, I wasn’t planning on doing any work yesterday, but when you’re hot, you’re hot, so I guess I’ll lay off the blog for another day or two and keep pumping it out.
In the meantime, here’s a little taste of the day’s work:
Harlem in 1924 was as much an arena for sexual opportunism as it was a center of cultural ferment. Duke Ellington euphemistically described it as “a very colorful place….an attraction like Chinatown was in San Francisco.” Some well-heeled Manhattanites treated it more like Storyville East, and some Harlemites were more than glad to oblige them. Carl Van Vechten, who would celebrate Harlem two years later in his controversial novel Nigger Heaven, was already bringing parties of nightclubbers there, both to revel in the black entertainment and, as often as not, to troll for sex. Though he was a true believer in the Harlem Renaissance, Van Vechten was also a gay man in search of adventure, and there was no lack of it in Harlem, no matter what your tastes might encompass. Langston Hughes would later write sardonically of how “thousands of whites came to Harlem night after night, thinking the Negroes loved to have them there, and firmly believing that all Harlemites left their houses at sundown to sing and dance in cabarets, because most of the whites saw nothing but the cabarets, not the houses….The ordinary Negroes hadn’t heard of the Negro Renaissance. And if they had, it hadn’t raised their wages any. As for all those white folks in the speakeasies and night clubs of Harlem–well, maybe a colored man could find some place to have a drink that the tourists hadn’t yet discovered.”
Once again, later.