The Troy Street Observer

Dec 14, 1946: Rumble at the Rio Casino

Billy Eckstine and his orchestra opened at the Rio Casino for two weeks on December 8, 1946, and on Saturday the 14th, they were playing to a packed house. All went well until the end of the second show, just before closing. Boston’s blue laws required all nightclubs to close at midnight on Saturday to honor the Sabbath, and Eckstine was wrapping up for the night. That’s when the trouble started.

Ad for Billy Eckstine at Rio Casino
Eckstine at the Rio Casino. Ad ran in the Daily Record, Dec 7, 1946.

I’ve read two different accounts of what happened next, one in Nat Hentoff’s Counterpoint newsletter and the other in the Jan 15, 1947 issue of Down Beat. They differ in details but agree on the main points: someone in the crowd insulted Eckstine; some of the crowd and some of the band pushed and shoved; and the Rio announced that it would no longer book black bands.

First the insult. Yes, it was the n-word, and it was hurled at Eckstine when he said he could not play any more requests because of the imminent closing time. In one account, the guilty party was a woman, and in the other it was her companion. Either way, Eckstine cut the music and left the stage to confront the couple. The guy kicked Eckstine, who flattened him, and “flattened” is the verb both accounts used.

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