One of the most storied night spots in the South, the Blue Room, which stood across the street at 602 Clay Street, was operated for more than thirty years by flamboyant owner Tom Wince. Ray Charles, Fats Domino, B. B. King, Dinah Washington, Louis Armstrong, and Little Milton were among the many stars who played here. In the 1940s and '50s Wince was the most important blues promoter in Mississippi, booking bands through a network of nightclubs and halls across the state and in Louisiana.
The Blue Room, a multi-purpose complex that included a ballroom, restaurant, gambling casino, guest rooms, and living quarters for owner Tom Wince, Jr., and some of his family, began as a one-room operation selling beer and Coca-Colas in 1937. Wince was born on July 11, 1910 (or 1909 according to Social Security files), in Oak Ridge, northeast of Vicksburg, the son of white plantation owner Tom Harris and Rosie Brown, an African American who lived on the plantation. When Brown married Tom Wince, Sr., her son became known as Tom Wince, Jr. The Winces sharecropped until the 1920s, when they moved to Vicksburg.
Wince, Jr., a hotel bellhop with a fourth grade education, became a wealthy man, a big spender known as "Fancy Tom" for his elegant attire. He had seven wives and fourteen children, most of whom worked at the Blue Room. An avid sports fan, he befriended Joe Louis and other famed athletes, as well the headliners of African American blues and jazz. Wince earned his own status as a celebrity, yet he was also remembered for his friendly greetings to anyone who entered his club, no matter what their stature in life. Wince, who had pockets specially tailored in his pants to hold his pistol, prided himself in providing a safe, courteous atmosphere for top-notch entertainment. B. B. King, Bobby "Blue" Bland, T-Bone Walker, and Muddy Waters were among his favorite artists, according to his son, Billy Wince, Sr. Among others who appeared at the Blue Room's upstairs ballroom, the Skyline, were Ruth Brown, Lionel Hampton, Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson, Jackie Brenston, Erskine Hawkins, Cootie Williams, Joe Liggins, Roy Brown, Andy Kirk, Lucky Millinder, Charles Brown, and the International Sweethearts of Rhythm. Even when segregation was in force, whites attended when certain acts, especially Louis Armstrong, were booked here. Vicksburg's Red Tops were a regular attraction. Jivin' Jones' group from Vicksburg and the Sounds of Soul and Booker Wolf 's band from Jackson also appeared. Teens had their own nights in the Blue Spot room, while a gambling casino and guest rooms were in the back, and next door was the Blue Room Circle restaurant. Wince, who owned several smaller local businesses, also booked acts into many other venues, including Ruby's Nite Spot in Leland and New Club Desire in Canton.
Urban renewal brought an end to the Blue Room in 1972, but by 1974 Wince had opened the Barrel Club at 1021 Walnut Street. The Barrel Club was famed for its prayer room; religion was another of Wince's keen interests. Also a 33rd degree Mason and a ruler in the Black Elks (IBPOEW), Wince died on September 15, 1978. His tombstone in City Cemetery is adorned with a large star similar to the one above the entrance to the Blue Room.
A caption appeared with a photo in a July 8, 1954 edition of JET Magazine: “A giant 10-carat diamond ring, valued at $10,000, was displayed to New Yorkers by Vicksburg, Miss., night club operator Tom Wince during a summer visit.”
content © Mississippi Blues Commission
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