August 7, 1944: Hines Plays It Cool at the Tic Toc
The Tic Toc Club, opposite the Metropolitan Theater (Wang Center) at 245 Tremont Street, had as its tagline, “always a famous band,” and from 1941 through 1944, it was the name-band nightclub in Boston.
This was the first, and most important, of three Tic Toc Clubs. The second was at 235 Tremont across from the Wilbur Theatre, from about 1949 to 1952, and the third was on the other side of Stuart Street, at 225 Tremont. It featured good mainstream jazz in the early 1960s.
Ben and Jack Ford took over the Tic Toc sometime in 1941. They also owned the Ford Theatrical Agency, which they started in 1936 and built into a major East Coast booking agency. They handled bookings for Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Lionel Hampton, and others in the jazz world, and they always scheduled their bands into the Tic Toc when booking tours. Others playing the club more than once included Roy Eldridge, Erskine Hawkins, Fletcher Henderson (with and without Art Blakey), Joe Venuti, Fats Waller, and Cootie Williams.
It was wartime, and the city was crowded with free-spending sailors, black and white, all out looking for entertainment. Many came to the Tic Toc for the name bands. So did the civilians, both black and white. Inevitably, there were times when race was an issue.
The incident that got the most attention in the Afro-American (don’t look for the story in the Boston papers) involved Novella Taylor, then a popular singer in Boston. At an Ella Fitzgerald show in April 1943, she was told that certain tables were reserved for whites only. She charged the club with racial discrimination based on the segregated seating, and sued for civil damages. Taylor returned to the club in June, and was threatened by an alleged employee of the Tic Toc, and spat upon by the woman accompanying him. Taylor threw her beer in the woman’s face.
In 1944 the suit was settled in Taylor’s favor.
On August 7, 1944 Earl Hines cooled what the Afro-American called an “interracial clash” and a “near riot” at the Tic Toc. Two members of the Shore Patrol attempted to forcibly remove a black sailor from the club, but other sailors prevented it. The Shore Patrol summoned reinforcements. Other club patrons started protesting the Shore Patrol’s tactics, and with the situation getting out of hand, Hines told the band to play “The Star-Spangled Banner.” Tempers cooled while everyone stood at attention as the anthem played. The Shore Patrol got its man without further confrontation. Everyone applauded Hines for his quick thinking, and the Fords had to be especially grateful that the navy didn’t bust up their bar.
In September the landlord sent the Fords an eviction notice, but I’ve never learned the reason for it. Maybe the club was too loud, or visited too often by the Shore Patrol. Maybe it was too integrated for the Powers That Be in the Theatre District. Everyone’s gone now, so we’ll never know.
On October 4, the sign went up in the window, “Last Time Tonight!” The Roy Eldridge Orchestra played the Tic Toc Club into the history books.
Can’t find the Earl Hines Orchestra playing “The Star-Spangled Banner,” but here it is in 1941, with “The Count.”