The Troy Street Observer

March 28, 1940: Kitty Brando’s Opens on Arlington Street

Kitty Brando’s nightclub opened on Arlington Street on March 28, 1940. Today a parking lot marks the location of 111 Arlington Street, behind the Castle. During the 1930s, though, that address housed the Brown Derby, one of the high-stepping Bay Village nightclubs in what columnist George Clarke called “the Conga Belt.” On March 28, after a change in ownership, the club emerged as Kitty Brando’s, named after its new owner. (Her real name was Kathleen Barrie.)

Brando wanted better music than was offered at the other big Bay Village clubs (the Cocoanut Grove, the Latin Quarter, the Mayfair), so she hired New York violinist and bandleader Joe Candullo to run the band. Candullo had been very successful in the late 1920s with his Everglades Orchestra, and was working in some of the lesser New York hotels when Brando brought him to Boston. Candullo was probably responsible for the outstanding after-hours jam sessions there. Clarke described one in mid-April where Chu Berry, Cozy Cole, and others from Cab Calloway’s Orchestra (he doesn’t name Dizzy, though), then at Southland, met up with Louis Prima, his tenor man Bob Stuart, and a few others for a session. Prima’s orchestra was then in town at the Casa Manana.

Brando’s club didn’t make it, but it’s hard to say just when it closed. Candullo was working at the Latin Quarter that October before heading back to New York.

In 1951, Brando was back with another club called the Brown Derby, at 1358 Boylston Street in the Fenway. This one lasted well into the 1960s. She started with jazz, and a lot of it. Serge Chaloff had a long residence, as did J.C. Higginbotham, but it was alto saxophonist Tom Kennedy who was the star here. His band, the Fabulous Four, started at the Brown Derby in October 1955 and played until spring 1963. Well-known local jazzmen played with Kennedy at the Brown Derby: pianists Rudy Riley and Ernie Trotman; bassist Jim Clark; and drummers Harold Layne and Harold Ford.

It’s not clear when Brando left this club, either, but by 1967 it was called simply the Derby and offered folk music. There’s no record of her starting another club in Boston, but she might have done so in Florida. Nonetheless, she was a pioneer, a woman running a Boston nightclub at a time when all the club owners–all of them–were white men. Hats off for that.

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