The Harlem Inn, known as “The Showplace of the South,” was once the Delta’s most important venue for touring national blues performers. B. B. King, Little Milton, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Howlin’ Wolf, Tyrone Davis, and T-Bone Walker were among the many stars who appeared, and Ike Turner and his Kings of Rhythm from Clarksdale gave some of their earliest performances here. The Harlem Inn stood at this site until it burned down in 1989, just prior to its 50th anniversary.
The Harlem Inn was built in 1939 by a local African American farmer, Hezekiah Patton, Sr., who launched his nightclub operation with twenty-five dollars provided by an uncle, according to Patton family lore. The uncle, James Patton (1898-1955), was already a successful club owner in Shelby. Hezekiah (1910-1968) first opened a smaller club across the railroad tracks in Winstonville (also formerly known as Chambers and Wyandotte) just west of here, and bought property to build a larger venue at this site after a new Highway 61 route was designated to run parallel to Old Highway 61 in the late 1930s. Business boomed at the Harlem Inn in the 1940s and ‘50s, and according to Hezekiah’s son, Robert Patton, patrons from towns throughout the Delta would take the train to Winstonville for the big Saturday night shows, stay overnight, and return home by rail the next day. The Harlem Inn was one of the state’s premier nightclubs, part of an elite circuit that included the Blue Room in Vicksburg, Stevens Rose Room in Jackson, Club Ebony in Indianola, the Harlem Nightingale in McComb, New Club Desire in Canton, and several black Elks (I.B.P.O.E.W.) and V.F.W. halls. Named in honor of the famed African American district of New York City, Patton’s club apparently had no connection to the many similarly named Harlem inns, clubs, and theaters in other Mississippi towns.
Patton, who continued to farm as well as operate the club, booked many of the biggest names in blues and rhythm & blues at the Harlem Inn, including Ray Charles, Little Willie John, Percy Mayfield, B. B. King, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Ivory Joe Hunter, T-Bone Walker, Howlin’ Wolf, and Big Joe Turner. Ike Turner and Little Milton began playing the Harlem Inn when both were local acts in the early ‘50s; in the 1960s Turner returned to the club leading the Ike & Tina Turner Revue.
After Patton’s death, a family friend, Lamar Crowder, rented the club for a few years, and in the early 1970s Patton’s sons, Robert, Charles, and Hezekiah, Jr., took over, assisted by their mother, Ruby. They maintained the tradition of top-flight entertainment, often drawing packed houses to see Bland, Little Milton, and Tyrone Davis. Jackie Wilson held an audience spellbound here on one of the many nights when the club’s audience of five to six hundred outnumbered the population of Winstonville. The Impressions, Bobby Rush, Joe Poonanny, and others also appeared, as did Delta locals including Little Wynn, the White Family, and T. J. and the Hurricanes. After a fire destroyed the club in May of 1989, Robert Patton recalled that Little Milton, who played at the club over a period of thirty-five years, said, “Your daddy put a blues monument here in Winstonville, and Winstonville will never be the same.”
content © Mississippi Blues Commission
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