Sidney's Creole Cafe
"Leading Cafe of the West"
Photo provided by Sean at the African American Museum & Library at Oakland Vertical File Collection, MS 179, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library.
The completion of the transcontinental railroad in 1869, which ended in West Oakland, stimulated West Oakland’s economy and put the region on the national stage. An ethnically diverse work force was drawn to Oakland and the increasing employment opportunities provided by the railroad industry. Because West Oakland was already home to an established Black population, Black migrants from the South were naturally drawn here with ease of the transcontinental railroad.(1) In 1921, after the demise of the bohemian Barbary Coast jazz scene in San Francisco, a number of dancehalls, theaters, and cafes sprang up in West Oakland. The non-Black community in West Oakland in the *20s and ’30s—before the “White flight” of the ’40s—stayed to themselves and had little to do with African American social life. Some Whites patronized Black and Tan clubs (nightclubs that catered to a mixed race clientele) although many perceived themselves as “slumming.” Among West Oakland’s most popular Black and Tan clubs were Slim Jenkins’s club (1933-1962) and The Creole Cafe (ca. 1918-1921), both on Seventh Street, but even here the majority of the patrons were African Americans.(2) In 1918, Sidney Dearing launched the street’s first Black-owned music venue, the Creole Café at 1740 Seventh Street, which showcased New Orleans-style jazz and big-band music in West Oakland. In 2019 the Creole Cafe was added to The Music They Played on 7th Street Oakland Walk of Fame and has a plaque on 7th street near the West Oakland Bart Station.
(1) Crossroads : A story of West Oakland. (1996; Quest Productions, video).
(2) Ordinance Rezoning 1600-1642 7th Street - Report by the Community and Economic Development Agency - UC Berkeley
Scan provided by Sean at the African American Museum & Library at Oakland Vertical File Collection, MS 179, African American Museum & Library at Oakland, Oakland Public Library.
Mother Thompson fretted most about the temptations of West Oakland nightlife. Seventh Street had become a flourishing nexus of black cultural activity, particularly for jazz lovers; the widely traveled black railroad workers were cognizant of music innovations across the nation and eager to support visits by the likes of jelly Roll Morton, Kid Ory, and King Oliver. But because it was a product of railroad culture, the neighborhood also featured gambling dens and houses of prostitution, especially after the shutdown in 1917 of San Francisco’s infamous red light district, the Barbary Coast. Louise, Wilbur Graves, and a few others went to Seventh Street to visit Sid Deering’s Creole Cafe, where the sounds of New Orleans jazz radiated.
Louise Thompson Patterson
by Gilyard, Keith, 1952
However, it wasn’t until 1918, with the opening of Sid Deering’s Creole Café – a famous venue of New Orleans-style jazz and big band dance – that 7th Street began to gain notoriety (in Oakland).
The Music They Played on 7th Street Oakland Walk of Fame By Ronnie K. Stewart, Executive Director, West Coast Blues Society - 2016
As the city flourished, Seventh Street became the main drag for West Oakland, with Latino- and black-owned businesses opening along the strip. In 1918, Sidney Dearing launched the street’s first black-owned music venue, the Creole Café, which showcased New Orleans-style jazz and big-band music. In 1921, the Lincoln Theatre debuted as both a cinema and stage, offering everything from film screenings to vaudeville shows.
Lisa Hix, Localnewsmatters.org, May 6, 2020
Sid Deering (Dearing) is proprietor of another entertainment cafe nearby and the "Creole Cafe," visited by "slummers" from both sides of the bay is not far off. This place sells ginger ale for 40 cents a small glass and here white and black patrons dine and watch the entertainment.
Oakland Tribune - Tues - October 5, 1920
San Francisco Examiner - Sat - May 21, 1921
Oakland Tribune - Sat - May 21, 1921
Famous Players at the Cafe
Photo: Kid Ory Original Jazz Band, Oakland 1921-22 with Baby Dodds, Kid Ory, Mutt Carey, Wade Waley and unknown clarinet player. (Photo by JP Jazz Archive/Getty Images)
Local cabaret-blues singers Ruth Lee and Roberta Dudley appeared on the first Sunshine releases, backed by members of Kid Ory’s Creole Jazz Band from the Creole Cafe in Oakland, California. The Chicago Defender for May 22, 1922, confirmed that Lee and Dudley had already recorded “Maybe Someday” and “Krooked Blues,” respectively, which the paper reported were expected to release on or about June 1.
Tucker, Ragtime Billy. “Coast Dope.” Chicago Defender - May 27, 1922, p. 8.
Kid Ory made his first appearance in the Bay Area at the Creole Café in Oakland. The band was as successful in Northern California as it had been in the southern part of the state, and the musicians were playing constantly. Ory was even able to secure an engagement for King Oliver at the Pergola Dance Hall in San Francisco.
The San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation Collection -
The Charles N. Huggins Project
Kid Ory, By Hal Smith - Stanford Exhibit
John McCusker, 2012. Pages 107 and 108
Oakland Tribune - Tue - Aug. 30, 1949
"Henry Starr and his new jazz orchestra"
Oakland Tribune - Sat - April 9, 1921
The first black entertainer to get on a radio show in San Francisco was Henry Starr, a fine Oakland-born musician. He had left Oakland in the 1920s to work in Los Angeles and on the East Coast as a piano player, with some of the very good black entertainers of that period. He was gone for a long time before he came back home. Then he was hired as a star of a variety show known as the Edna Fischer Show on KFRC in San Francisco. It became very popular. Thousands of listeners turned their radios on every morning, and the names of the stars were well-known locally.
Letter to the Editor 2 -- No Title Billie Ross Creole Cafe The Chicago Defender (National edition) (1921-1967); Aug 13, 1921; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Defender pg. 6
Aug. 3, 1921
Dear Friend Tony – Well, I have made another change. I left the Vendome(?) Café in Los Angeles for a better position. I am back with all my old friends at the Creole Café, Oakland. A sad accident a few days ago to some of the musicians and entertainers when a car containing a party of joyriders was overturned and Teddy Murray was killed, almost instantly, and the rest of the party were slightly injured. Miss Melba Clay, Mrs. Kincher, Mr Curtis Mosby, Ten Bravant, Mr. Landry, Henry Allen were those injured.
The Café is doing very good. The Creole Jazz Band is doing nicely. Here is the lineup: Early Whaley, Saxophone; Leon Hereford, violin and saxophone; James Porter, trumpet (?); Melba Clay, piano; Fess Fields, piano; Baron Willie (Will) Moorehead, trombone; Henry Allen, drums. Now we have the entertainers; Miss Lethia Hill, Miss Evelyn Goff, Mr. Clifford Ritchie, Martha (Bettie?) Ritchie. and Billie Boss. This lineup furnishes anything from light opera to comedy. We feature all of the latest _____ of the day. Mr. Sydney (Sidney) Derring (Dearing), the proprietor, is not sparing expense to please his patrons and they surely come in droves every night to his popular café.
Well, Tony, I will close until next time. Remember me to the bunch –
Billie Ross Creole Café 1749 7th St
The End of the Cafe
The first-known venue to feature African-American music on Seventh Street was the Creole Café, where pioneering New Orleans “tailgate” trombonist Kid Ory (then an Oakland resident) appeared regularly in 1921 with his Original Creole Jazz Band. A year later, the group traveled to Los Angeles and became the first black jazz band ever to make a recording.
The Jan. 7, 1922, issue of the California Voice, the oldest black newspaper on the West Coast, contained an editorial titled “Oakland’s Shame.” Bemoaning the recent decline of a number of black-owned businesses in West Oakland, it read in part: “The Creole Café, the finest of its kind west of Chicago, can attribute its failure to lack of patronage by the Race, hence they were forced to ply for patronage to the whites and slowly but surely race prejudice crept in; this was the beginning of the end.”
If racial tension doomed the Creole Café, it apparently had subsided by the time Harold “Slim” Jenkins opened a nightclub and restaurant next door to the cafe’s former site on April 7, 1933—the day that Prohibition ended. Born in Monroe, La., Jenkins came to California right after World War I, worked as a waiter, and saved his money. Slim Jenkins’ Supper Club became one of the most celebrated black nightclubs in the state. It attracted a racially mixed clientele, including several mayors of Oakland and other of Jenkins’s white friends in the city’s Republican establishment. Unlike the Creole Café, it managed to stay in business for 39 years.
Blues on Seventh Street | Recollections of the West Oakland scene in its heyday. By Lee Hildebrand
Oakland Tribune - Wed - Nov. 16, 1921
Oakland Tribune - Sat - Nov. 19, 1921
Oakland Tribune - Wed - May 7, 1924
Before the Creole Cafe was at 1740 Seventh Street, it was a “Chinese Lottery House” conducted by Lim Ben (Oakland Tribune July 22, 1914), sometime after Sidney closed in 1935 Slim Jenkins occupied the building, and before its demolition according to the San Antonio Register on Friday, June 19, 1959 it was the Seventh Avenue Baptist Church.
The West Coast Blues Hall of Fame will honor its 2012 inductees during its annual award show March 25 (2012) at the Hilton Oakland Airport. Jazz giant Herbie Hancock, Don Cornelius, the late “Soul Train” host, Chicago’s legendary Paul Butterfield Blues Band and BAM magazine founder Dennis Erokan lead an impressive list of new Hall of Fame members.
In all, 15 individuals and institutions (such as Sid Deering’s Creole Cafe, one of the first jazz clubs in Oakland) will be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It’s a very diverse group, but all of the inductees share one thing in common: They helped keep the blues alive.