Surrounding Duke Ellington are some of those present at the reception in his honor held at the Autocrat Club on July 19, 1935. Names are not in order and not all are identified. [Click to enlarge]
Seated: Mrs. Montegut, Melba Borris, Dr. Joseph A. Hardin, Maggie Perez, WilburPerez, Leonie Montegue.
Standing: Dr. Hurve Rachal, Attorney A. P. Tureaud, Alex Laneuville, Thelma LeCesne, Lynette Gautier, Dr. Gautier, Archie LeCesne, Carmen Gregoire, Emanuel Gregoire, Bea Duncan, Carmen Rogers, Grace Ratleff Ellsworth.
On Friday, 19 July, 1935, Duke Ellington arrived at the New Orleans train station and was greeted by several thousand enthusiastic fans. Attired in a green suit with a violet shirt and tie, he and his entourage were rushed to their hotel where they made a quick change before heading to the legendary Autocrat Club on St. Bernard Avenue. The reception hall was filled to overflowing capacity with fashionably dressed ladies and gentlemen who erupted into thunderous applause when Dr. Joseph A. Hardin , master of ceremony, presented the popular musician.
Locals put on a short program for the benefit of the Duke and members of his orchestra. Mr. Hurve Rachal sang solos, while Mr. Elliot Beal rendered two original numbers. Mrs. Beatrice Duncan sang “Solitude” and was accompanied by Mr. Ellington himself. Miss Ivie Anderson, entertainer with the Ellington group, sang “Stormy Weather.” The Duke himself assisted her at the piano when she sang, “I’m a Little Blackbird Looking for Bluebirds.”
All members of the orchestra were introduced to the audience. Autograph seekers almost mobbed Mr. Ellington who very graciously signed as many autographs as time allowed. His stay at the Autocrat Club may have lasted for only two and a half hours, but it was one that remained with Autocrat patrons for a long time to come.
Upon leaving the Autocrat Club, Duke Ellington and his Orchestra headed to the Municipal Auditorium to perform for the white population of New Orleans. Here he was greeted by 1500 white fans while he would be forced to entertain members of his own race at a separate facility and on another day.
The next day, Saturday, 20 July, 1935, found the Duke at a cocktail party given by Mr. and Mrs. Wilbur and Maggie Perez of 321 North Rocheblave Street. Delicious food was served as many from the Creole community mingled with Mr. Ellington and requested his autograph on their dollar bills, handkerchiefs, and even pocketbooks. Mr. A. P. Bedou, New Orleans famous photographer, was present and snapped a photo of the entire group.
Winding up the day’s activities at ten in the evening was a dance held at the Fairgrounds. It was here that more than 8,000 people of color arrived after purchasing tickets costing 75 cents plus tax. Purchases were made at LaBranche or Belfield’s Drug Stores, The Autocrat Club or The Louisiana Weekly on South Rampart Street.
No one was more elated than Albany “Barney” Bigard, a New Orleans Creole, who was a member of Ellington’s Orchestra from 1927-1942. Barney had a chance to show his home town just what he really could do. To the delight of the dancers who had crowded around the bandstand to listen, he led with the saxophone and sometimes the clarinet. A. G. Bigard, Barney’s dad, had to be the proudest person there.
The music and dancing continued over three hours. Before leaving the city, The Duke remarked, “I have received a greater ovation here from an admiring public than anywhere I have been.” From here, The Duke would head to Atlanta, Louisville and Detroit to play more dance engagements.
Albany “Barney” Bigard (1906- 1980)
Sources: Photo of Autocrat event: Amistad Research Center, Joseph A. Hardin Collection; The Louisiana Weekly 20 July 1935 page 2 and 27 July 1935 page 7; Photo of Barney Bigard: New Orleans Jazz: A Family Album (Al Rose & Edmond Souchon) LSU Press, 1984.