Duke Ellington in the Big Easy – 1935

Duke Ellington in New Orleans

Autocrat Club

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, Wilbur Perez, Leonie Montegue.

StandingDr. 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.

Municipal Auditorium

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.

Cocktail Party

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.

The Fairgrounds

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.

 Barney Bigard

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.


9 thoughts on “Duke Ellington in the Big Easy – 1935

  1. I think that is Aunt Grace to the rear and directly behind the right shoulder of The Duke. Even though I was young at the time I remember those days and they were good. I remember attorney A.P. Tureaud lived in the next block from us on Pauger between Rocheblave and Dorgenois on the downtown side in the big white two story house in the middle of the block. Everybody in the 7th Ward knew everyone else and that was GOOD. Things began to change after the start of WWII. Creoles began leaving for Defense Jobs in places like L.A, Chicago , New York. etc. etc, even the Italian, Irish and Spanish were leaving, and that was BAD.

  2. Most of the people in the photo belonged to the Autocrat Club or were the wives/close relatives of Autocrat members. Was your aunt married to or closely associated with a member? If you are convinced this is your Aunt Grace, please send me her full name and I will add it to the list of those already identified in this article. If any one else recognizes a family member, please do the same. Thanks so much for your comments. We love hearing from our readers…..Lolita

    • I am almost Positive that is my Aunt Grace. Her Full name is Grace Ratleff Ellsworth. She was married to Joseph Michael Ellsworth who was a member of the Autocrat Club. I gave her location in my previous comment , she is the shortest female in that area.

      Sincerely Roy J. Ratleff

  3. Mr. Hurve’ J. Rachal, aka Dr. Hurve’ Rachal, was my great uncle. He was my maternal grandmother’s youngest brother.

    • My great uncle, Dr, Hurve’ Rachal, is standing in the second row, second from the left. He is wearing a white shirt and a long dark tie.

  4. Write more, thats all I have to say. Literally, it seems as though you relied on the video to make your point. You obviously know what youre talking about, why throw away your intelligence on just posting videos to your site when you could be giving us something enlightening to read? ecfdgagafbffeaaa

  5. Mr. Smith…I believe you may be referring to another article since there is no video connected to this one on Duke Ellington. There are two other articles on our website that contain videos so I assume these are the ones to which you are speaking. I will bring your concern to the attention of its author.You can also post your comment under the correct article also. Thank you for sharing and hope to hear from you in the future.

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