Elmer Simms Campbell’s pictorial night-club map showing Harlem’s hotspots for entertainment, dining, and drinking appeared as a centerfold in the January 18, 1933, edition of the short-lived weekly Manhattan Magazine. His work was an important contribution to Harlem’s cultural renaissance—it serves as a time capsule—the itinerary and guide of a typical Friday night at the peak of the Harlem Renaissance.
Let’s begin our journey of the scene on Seventh Avenue (present-day Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard) at Connie’s Inn. West Virginia-native arranger and composer Don Redman (1900–64) and his band played here. Connie’s Inn was a hot-spot for Black performers (singers, dancers, and musicians), but the establishment did not allow Black audience members.
Next up is the now-defunct Lafayette Theatre, which was the first New York theater to desegregate. Campbell’s vignette highlights that “Friday nite is the midnight show. . .Most Negro Revues begin and end here.” Let’s continue north past W 134th and W 135th streets to Gladys’ Clam House, where LGBTQ+ icon Gladys Bentley played the piano clad in her tuxedo. It’s the first venue on our tour marked with a star, which means, as noted in the map cartouche, “[t]he stars indicate the places that are open all night.”
We pass Small’s Paradise and the Yeah Man on our way to W 136th Street. The Cafe au lait girls at the former establishment are noted to be the “color of coffee and cream” and the waiters “tap dance to and fro with trays bearing glasses of water.” Grab some hot peanuts, a shorty of gin, and head to Lenox Avenue (present-day Malcolm X Boulevard) to watch Cabell (Cab) Calloway III (1907–94) and his Orchestra perform at the Cotton Club.
Perhaps at the Cotton Club we would catch Minnie the Moocher, a scat-jazz performance, which today is preserved in the National Recording Registry for its cultural, historical, and aesthetic significance. We continue our tour leaving behind Calloway and his scat calls of “Hi De Hi De Hi De Ho!”
I hope you won’t be too disappointed if we end our guided tour at the Radium Club with headman Jeff Blount for a “[b]ig breakfast dance.” Note that the cartographer’s “only important omission is the location of the various speakeasies but since there are about 500 of them you won’t have much trouble.” Although this map may be considered by many to be Campbell’s most important contribution to the cultural movement, he also illustrated seminal Renaissance works such as Sterling Brown’s poetry in the Southern Road and Langston Hughes and Arna Bontemps’ collaborative children’s book Popo and Fifina, Children of Haiti. He also collaborated in jazz compositions with his pal Cab Calloway.
Let’s take a deeper look into the influential American who created this cartographic masterpiece. Elmer Simms Campbell (1906–71) was an illustrator and the first Black American to be nationally syndicated with his cartoon Cuties.
Campbell was born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1906. He moved to Chicago at the age of six shortly after his father died. As a child in Chicago, his mother taught him to draw with watercolors. By the time he was a teenager, Campbell was already a cartoonist for E-Weekly, the Englewood High School newspaper, and was a nationally recognized cartoonist. After high school, he attended classes at the Chicago Art Institute while working as a waiter in a railroad dining-car. It was while serving tables that he refined his art—his skills and technique of creating caricatures—his secret was to draw people as they truly appeared.
Campbell rose to art editor for Esquire, and was the creator of Esky, the magazine’s mascot. He produced ads for major magazines and entertainment companies all over the United States. His career spanned over 30 years and he enjoyed great commercial success as an illustrator for publications such as Esquire, the New Yorker, Cosmopolitan, and Playboy. He was recognized posthumously and inducted into the Society of Illustrators’ Hall of Fame. And, as duly noted by Cab Calloway in his memoir, Of Minnie the Moocher and Me:
no one knew [Harlem] better than my friend E. Simms Campbell.
Come explore more of this map in-person in the Geography and Map Reading Room.
Harlem Neighborhood Block Association. Harlem Newsletter. Harlem, New York. Accessed on February 8, 2023. https://hnba.nyc/.