Welcome to the Crown Propeller Lounge!

cpl card

Sleeve for souvenir photographs from the Crown Propeller Lounge, probably 1940s.
Courtesy of the Schlossberg Family

The Crown Propeller Lounge – after which this blog is named – was one of Chicago’s most important venues for R’n’B and Jazz during the 1950s. The town’s larger talent appeared here as well as every other  R’n’B star coming through town (and a lot of jazzers): Tiny Davis, Wynonie Harris, The Moonglows, Stomp Gordon, Jo Jo Adams, Big Maybelle, Ray Charles, The Flamingos, Andy Tibbs, Danny Overbea, Nellie Lutcher, Valaida Snow, Amos Milburn, Johnny Hodges and his Orchestra, Big Joe Turner, Sonny Stitt, Jimmy Rushing, Al Hibbler, T-Bone Walker, Dizzy Gillespie, Arthur  Prysock, Bill Doggett, The Orioles, Illinois Jacquet …  A program quite to my liking, I must say, so that’s why this blog is named Crown Propeller’s blog.

Some weeks ago I was contacted by a lady, who is married to the grandson of Mildred “Mitzi” Schlossberg and Norman Schlossberg, who used to own the Crown Propeller Lounge. The lady asked me, if I had any material she might use for making a birthday collage for Mitzi who turned 97 (!) in January. I could help her just a little, since (other then say for the equally famous Club DeLisa) photographs and memorabilia from the Crown Propeller are rather rare.

cp_outsideOne of only two known photographs showing the Crown Propeller Lounge from outside (the other one is here). Judging from the cars in the picture, this photo was taken after the closing of the Lounge in 1959 (photo taken from Sandor Demlinger’s and John Steiner’s beautiful book “Destination Chicago Jazz”). To the right of the Crown Propeller one can see the entrance to Crown Liquors, another business owned by the Schlossbergs.

I asked her to be on the lookout for memorabilia from the Crown Propeller when she was going to her husband’s grandmother’s house and she promised to do so. Then some weeks later I could not believe my eyes when I got a mail from that lady containing some gorgeous photos, which I am presenting you here, courtesy of the Schlossberg Family. I have added some music typical of the Crown Propeller’s programming to go along with it as well as some advertisements featuring the people in the photographs.

cp 2(Click to enlarge) Norman Schlossberg (2nd from left), Mitzi Schlossberg
(center) and unidentified others at the Crown Propeller, possibly
late 1940s. Courtesy of the Schlossberg family

The  – undated – photo above was contained in the beautiful souvenir cover seen at the top of this post. It is possible that this photograph was taken in the 1940s when the Crown Propeller  ran a  musical policy that was different from what the lounge later became known for.

Usually the time span for the Crown Propeller’s existence is given  as 1951–1959.  This  seems to be based on an ad from Chicago Defender of August 4, 1951 announcing the opening of the Crown Propeller (strangely enough regarding the newspaper’s date) on August 3rd with singer Ethel Duncan and violinist Leon Abbey’s trio.

cd_51_08_4pdf

From Chicago Defender, August 4, 1951.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

But the Crown Propeller Lounge had existed before that. The earliest mention I could find is in Billboard of November 14, 1942, where Everett Hull and Victory Boys are announced to appear at the Crown Propeller for four weeks. Billboard of December 19, 1942 mentions Don Jacks as returning to the Crown Propeller on January 12.  Other acts mentioned in Billboard as playing at the Crown Propeller are in 1942 trumpeter Johnny Gibbs with singer Dolores Janis (December ), and in 1943 The Victory Four (Everett Mull, Leon Shash, George Mitchell, George Michaels), Don Jacks (March 20: “picked up another four month holdover at the Crown Propeller”).

billboard-yearbook43

From the Billboard Yearbook 1943

The Billboard Yearbook 1944 mentions Don Jacks as having had a two-and-a-half-year engagement at the Crown Propeller, so the Crown Propeller may already have existed in 1941.

There are no mentions for the Crown Propeller in Billboard’s regular issues of 1944 and 1945. The issue of December 14, 1946 mentions Little Sans and Lee Trio at the Crown Propeller, in Billboard of January 15, 1947 the same aggregation is mentioned as having extended four weeks at the CP.

I do not know if the changing of musical policy at the CP came with a changing of venues or if it always had been on 868 East 63rd. From the mentions in Billboard during the fourties I can only gather that it had always been on the South Side of Chicago. Anyway after the (re-)opening on August 3rd, 1951, the Crown Propeller was never looking back to the days of accordeon-and-fiddle bands again.

cd_51_08_11pdf

R’n’B and Jazz – the Crown Propeller takes a new direction.
From Chicago Defender, August 11, 1951.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

The next photo the lady married to the Schlossberg’s grandson send me is also undated. It shows The 4 Tunes (also known as The Four Tunes), a very famous vocal group in the early 1950s about which you can find a lot of information in Marv Goldberg’s article.

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(Click to enlarge) The 4 Tunes (left) and some fans at the Crown Propeller,
date unknown. Courtesy of the Schlossberg family

I can find no reference for a 4 Tunes appearance at the Crown Propeller, so the photo has to remain undated for now.

One of The 4 Tunes’ greates hits was “Marie”, recorded for Jubilee in 1953. It’s one of my favourite uptempo R’n’B vocal group pieces when I am appearing as DJ Crown Propeller at  the Klub Helsinki. Here is a nice clip from youtube user ilbmlb51 showing the original 78 rpm playing:

The next photo that the lady send me is really fantastic:

cp 1

(Click to enlarge) Dancer Lupita Peruyero, Joe Louis, Norman Schlossberg, Sarah
Vaughan, King Kolax and Mitzi Mars at the Crown Propeller, probably 1952.
Courtesy of the Schlossberg family

Second person from left is boxer Joe Louis, World Heavyweight Champion from 1937 to 1949. Behind him is CP owner Norman Schlossberg and the man front right is local trumpeter and bandleader King Kolax (1912–1991) who is known to the wider jazz world for employing John Coltrane for a while in the late 1940s. There is a lot more to know about Kolax though, and you can find it all on the King Kolax page of the Red Saunders Research Foundation. The woman in the middle is Sarah Vaughan (see comments section) and the one on the right also looks familiar to me, she might be a singer or some other celebrity.There are several possibillities regarding the question when the photo above was taken. Judging from the known ads for the Crown Propeller, Vaughan never was part of the program there. But she was in town several times each year, mostly as part of some jazz package tour . As for King Kolax and his Orchestra: He played at the Crown Propeller in January 1952:

cd_52_01_19

   From Chicago Defender, January 19, 1952.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

And then again in March:

cd_52_03_22From Chicago Defender, March 22, 1952.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

In May 1952 Kolax was also at the Crown Propller, when Sax Mallard (about whom more later) was also on the bill.

cd_52_05_31

From Chicago Defender, May 31, 1952.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

cd_52_06_14

From Chicago Defender, June 14, 1952.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

Then Kolax’ band was acting as house band from mid 1954 to January 1955. One of the CP’s main attraction at that time was still the “Aqua-Tease” of sea nymph Atlantis with whom the Croen Propeller had started in 1951. In 1954 Kolax joined Atlantis in the 500 gallon tank for a photo published in Jet magazine in September.

jet_54_09_16jpg

Jet, September 16, 1954.

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From Chicago Defender, November 13, 1954.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

Probably his success at the Crown Propeller lead King Kolax to record for Vee Jay in December 1954 (and later in Sepetember 1955). Parts of these sessions are said to having been arranged by Sonny Blount, later known throughout the cosmos as intergalactic band leader Sun Ra. “Vivian” from December 1954 is one of the tracks of which  some people – including me –  think they might be a Ra arrangement. The band consists of  Kolax (tp), Harold Ousley (ts), Prentice McCarey (p), “Cowboy” Martin (b),  and Leon Hooper (d,  perc).

In October 1956 King Kolax returned to the Crown Propeller for two weeks (Della Reese was followed by Louis Jordan and then by Charles Brown who brought their own bands):

cd_56_10_20

From Chicago Defender, October 20, 1956.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

Kolax was also engaged by the Crown Propeller in February 1957, but it is not clear how long this gig lasted.

The next photo the lady send me send me shows another local Chicago legend: Saxophonist Oett “Sax” Mallard (1915–1986). This photo also could have been taken on different dates.

cp 4(Click to enlarge) Mitzi Schlossberg and Oett “Sax” Mallard
(with retouched glasses) at the Crown Propeller, exact date unknown.
Courtesy of the Schlossberg family

Sax Mallard, about whom you can find a lot more information on the Sax Mallard page of the Red Saunders Research Foundation, made his name recording blues with people like Roosevelt Sykes, Tampa Red, Big Bill Broonzy in sessions for RCA-Victor in the 1940s. For a while in 1943 Mallard substituted for Otto Hardwick in Duke Ellington’s orchestra. Starting in 1947 for Aristocrat Mallard had the chance to record some tracks under his own name.

Here is a video of a copy of Checker 750  from my collection. “Slow Caboose”, a typical tenor sax fuelled piece of jukebox fodder, was recorded in January 1951 with Sax Mallard (ts) an unidentified trumpeter, probably Jimmy Bowman piano; probably Ernest “Big” Crawford on bass and Osie Johnson drums (Johnson also does some dramatic baritone singing on another side from this session). This one is so echo-filled that you might imagine yourself being in deep in dub land.

Mallard’s band was the Crown Propeller’s house band at different times, starting with some months in 1951 and 1952.

cd_51_09_01

From Chicago Defender, September 1, 1951.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

cd_51_09_29

From Chicago Defender, September 29, 1951.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

cd_51_11_24

From Chicago Defender, November 24, 1951.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

During the early fifties Sax Mallard backed quite a few singers and r’n’b vocal groups on records.

In March 1953 he went to Chicago’s Universal Recording studios where his group was backing Mitzi Mars in a session for Checker Records:

mitzi_mars2
From the Crown Propeller Collection.

One of Mitzi Mars’ tunes with Sax Mallard’s band backing her – “Roll ‘Em” –  was uploaded on youtube by youtube user Rosenda Moore:

From November 1953 to summer 1954, Mallard’s Combo was the Crown Propeller’s house band again. During this time the Crown Propeller’s main attractions were people like Jimmy Witherspoon, Billy Brooks, Scatman Crothers, Lowell Fulson, Ray Charles, Big Maybelle, Wynonie Harris, Amos Milburn and Valaida Snow.

cd_53_11_19

From Chicago Defender, November 29, 1953.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

cp_54_01_09

From Chicago Defender, January 9, 1954.
Taken from Franz Hoffmann’s “Jazz Advertised”

.

Sax Mallard’s last appearances at the CP took place in August 1957 (two weeks) and again from December 1957 on (length of engagement unknown) At that time the Crown Propeller was already in decline. The club closed in 1959 and by early 1960 the Schlossbergs had moved to Florida.

Finally the lady married to the Schlossberg’s grandson send me another nice photo of Mildred “Mitzi” Schlossberg. Obviously this was taken in a year where January 17th was a tuesday which points to 1950 or 1956. Neither an “Amateur Night” nor a “Crazy Auction” is mentioned in the Crown Propeller ads for 1956. So I would say 1950.

cp 5

(Click to enlarge) Mitzi Schlossberg and probably not Cary Grant at the
Crown Propeller Lounge, probably 1950. Courtesy of the Schlossberg Family.

Again I have to thank  the Schlossberg Family for these beautiful photographs that allow a rare glimpse inside the Crown Propeller. The lady married to the Schlossberg’s grandson has promised to look if she can find anymore memorabilia of the Crown Propeller Lounge. If she does, I will keep you all informed.

Enjoy!

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11 Responses to “Welcome to the Crown Propeller Lounge!”

  1. hi dj crown propeller, great and wonderful work have you left on here. Thanks Hubi

  2. the woman on the joe louis photo looks like sarah vaughan to me!

    keep boppin´
    marcel

  3. Hi, Marcel

    I know she looked familiar. Comparing to other photos of Vaughn around the time in question, I am 95 percent sure you are right

  4. This is a Great collection of photos and memories of the Crown Propellor Lounge,I have met musicians who worked there

  5. Way Out Wardell Says:

    What a tremendous story and what a treasure trove of photos. Photos of the Crown Propeller are rarer than hen’s teeth, which is strange considering how popular it was. In fact, most of 63rd Street’s entertainment attractions aren’t well-documented in photographs, especially after WWII, and this area (the Woodlawn neighborhood, which is one mile square) had no less than seven movie theaters, six ballrooms and countless taverns and clubs.
    The change in musical policy coincides with a demographic shift in the neighborhood itself – segregation kept blacks and whites separated by Cottage Grove Avenue; in 1948, the color line ‘broke’ and the black clubs then spread from west to east. Mitzi and Norm lived south of there, in the South Shore neighborhood.
    I have one interior photo sent to me by a gentleman who lived in the neighborhood in the 1940s on my Flickr page (which you have linked to above in your story). You are most welcome to add it to your fantastic site.
    I found a few references to the Crown’s closing in the early 1960s in various issues of Jet Magazine – 1963 seems to be the year it closed for good. The original use of the building was as a piano and musical instrument store for the Lyon & Healy Company.
    All the best!
    -Way Out Wardell

  6. Way Out Wardell Says:

    Two more points of interest:
    The MC mentioned on the poster for the ‘Crazy Auction’ is Benny Dunn, who was a well-known club owner and promoter in Chicago. He owned the Black Orchid (bookings were Sinatra, Danny Kaye, etc.) and was the entertainment coordinator for Hugh Hefner’s TV show and then the Playboy clubs. Dunn died in 1989.
    I’d guess the photo of Sax Mallard & Mitzi was taken during the holiday season, given the decorations on the walls behind them.

  7. Way Out Wardell Says:

    Meant to add:
    The woman sitting to the left of Joe Louis is the dancer Lupita Peroyero – she’s mentioned in the May 1952 newspaper ad and that’s her photograph printed in both of those ads.
    The woman to the right of King Kolax is Mitzi Mars. Her daughter, Sonji Roy, married Cassius Clay in 1964.

  8. […] venues for R’n'B and Jazz during the 1950s. You can read more about it on my old blog entry here. After reading that post, Mike Medina (aka WayoutWardell) contacted me and identified more of the […]

  9. My late father, Ray Bopp, always talked about singing with the band at the CP in the forties at 63rd & Cottage. The band’s drummer was Barrett Deems, who worked with Louis Armstrong.

  10. Thank you so much for the wonderful history that has been shared through your blog. I found a picture of my Grandmother at the Crown Propeller Lounge on July 13th 1955 in one of the original picture sleeves and I was hoping to find some history behind the photo- she made her way from Little Rock, Arkansas to enjoy the ledgendary lounge on 868 East 63rd Street!

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