Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles is located in one of the last remaining buildings from the Chicago Blues/Jazz History. The corner of 39th King Drive (South Parkway) and Oakwood Boulevard is the site of the former Ritz Hotel and Ritz Lounge. Some of the great musicians who stayed at the Ritz Hotel are Fats Waller, Earl Hines and Duke Ellington. Chicago native and Wendell Phillips High School Alumni Dinah Washington performed at the Ritz Lounge which was owned by Jimmy Cooper.
These are stories about the Historic Ritz Hotel and Ritz Lounge as told by author Dempsey Travis "An Autobiography of Black Jazz".
As related by Tenor Saxophonist Franz Jackson, "Waller usually had a portable organ in his room. He often tole me the story about the Christmas Eve he spent in Chicago at the Ritz Hotel located on South Parkway (King Drive) and Oakwood Boulevard. That night after he finished work he went to his room with a friend and started working out on the organ. The room was literally rocking when it slowly began filling up with piano players. Duke Ellington, who was staying in the hotel, was the first to drift into Waller's room, followed by Earl Hines, who was working next door at the Terrace. Billy Kyle, the pianist with John Kirby's Orchestra, was also staying at the hotel, and he came downstairs to Waller's room feeling good and just flopped down on the bed. Not too much time had passed before Duke pulled out his handkerchief, pretending to wipe his nose. Earl Hines started rubbing his eyes as though they itched. There was not a dry eye in that room because all the "cats" had become homesick and were moved by Waller's sensitive rendition's of "Silent Night" and other holiday songs."
As told by Tenor Saxophonist David A. Young; "In 1942, I joined Lucky Millinder's Orchestra. It was loaded with talented musicians, "Dizzy" Gillespie and "Cat" Anderson were in the trumpet section; 'Panama' Francis was the organist. There were a total of sixteen singing cats in the band.
The Millinder band was actually a back-up touring orchestra for the Four Ink Spots who were at the height of their popularity during that period. Their "If I Didn't Care" number was still breaking up the house. But for some reason, tall, slim and handsome Bill Kenny, the lead singer and star of the "Spots", was jealous of the short, chocolate brown Deak Watson. On many occasions after they had taken their bows and were waiting offstage for the applause, Bill Kenny would haul off and hit Deak Watson in the mouth and then both of them would run back on stage as if nothing happened. Hoppy Jones, the baritone who owned and organized the group for radio station WLW in Cincinnati, would frequently remind Bill Kenny, who was born in the West Indies, that when they picked him up he was on his behind and they could leave him that same way. That would have been easy because Bill Kenny gambled away his money almost as fast as he made it. He would sometimes lose as much as $4,000 a night with Jimmy Cooper who ran a twenty-four crap game at the DuSable Hotel at 764 East Oakwood Boulevard. Charlie Cole, one of the owners of the DuSable Lounge, used to say that Bill Kenny worked to gamble,. Jimmy Cooper made enough money out of those games to buy the Ritz Lounge, which was located in the basement of the Ritz Hotel at 409 East Oakwood Boulevard, just twenty-five feet east of South Parkway [now King Drive].
I went into the Ritz Lounge in February 1947 with a six-piece combo which included Pee Wee Jackson on trumpet, Goon Gardner on alto sax, Curtis Walker on drums, Rudy Martin on piano and Bill Nettles on bass. The Ritz had a blues loving crowd. Jo Jo Adams, a blues singer, was one of the main attractions at the lounge when we started. He obtained a better gig at Club DeLisa and gave Jimmy Cooper his notice.
Billie Holiday was in town working at the Colosimo Cafe at 2126 South Wabash Avenue. Lady Day and Jimmy Cooper were very good friends. Cooper and I went down on South Wabash to persuade her to come out and work at the Ritz Lounge after she closed at Colosimo's.
Billie said; "Jimmy, I can't do it, but I know a black bitch who has never made more than a hundred dollars a week in her life who could do you a lot of good. You take this bitch and put her in your place and when she opens her mouth and starts singing, the plaster on the wall will start shivering. Here is her telephone number. Her name is Ruth Jones, but she works under the name of Dinah Washington."
Jimmy laughed. "I don't want the bitch," he said, "but I have got to have somebody."
Dinah had been a student at Wendell Phillips. She had won an amateur contest at the Regal Theater and gigged around the country with Lionel Hampton's Orchestra for seventy-five dollars a week. Her best know record up until that time was a bold and unabashed rendition of "Evil Gal Blues," which she waxed with Lionel Hampton's orchestra for Keynote Records in 1943.
Dinah Washington was the first big time act to appear at the Ritz Lounge. Her salary was $250 per week. She had not been at the club ten days before we started having standing room only crowds in that non-air-conditioned room. On weekends, people would stand in lines extending one-half block east of Oakwood Boulevard just to hear Dinah and sweat. Mike DeLisa and his henchmen from Club DeLisa would come down almost every night trying to figure out what made this black blues singer such a sensation. The two solid months that Dinah remained at the Ritz during her first engagement, the club stayed packed as tight as a can of sardines nightly. Jimmy Cooper was so glad to get her back later that year when she returned from a road trip that he increased her salary to $750."
As you dine on the mouth-watering Southern Soul Food at Chicago's Home of Chicken and Waffles imagine the jazz and blues great performers who made the Ritz Hotel and Ritz Lounge jump with music.
Chicago's Hone of Chicken and Waffles
3947 South King Drive
Chicago, IL 60653