Wooden clapper from the Cotton Club promoting Ethel Waters

About the Project

The Cotton Club was Harlem’s premier nightclub in the 1920s and 1930s. While the performers were black, the club only permitted white audiences. In 1933, singer Ethel Waters accompanied by the Duke Ellington Orchestra introduced Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler’s song "Stormy Weather." Her rendition received rave reviews and prompted Irving Berlin to cast her in his musical revue, “As Thousands Cheer,” making her the first African American woman to receive top billing with her white co-stars on Broadway. Objects such as clappers and knockers were commonly found in nightclubs. They were used to make noise or acknowledge a great performance and could also be taken home as souvenirs from the evening.

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