Black Bottom Saints
Alice Randall, seen widely as one of the most significant voices in contemporary African American fiction, was born in Detroit and can attest that there is more to the city’s rich musical history than Motown.
In a discussion of her acclaimed new novel Black Bottom Saints, she brings to life a once-real, now-disappeared Black neighborhood just off Detroit’s downtown that was nationally renowned for its vibrant big band, blues, and jazz scene. From the Great Depression through the 1950s, the likes of Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Pearl Bailey, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie were regulars in Black Bottom’s clubs and bars.
It was razed – lost to urban renewal – in the early ’60s.
Randall fleshes out the stories of 52 mostly real-life stars and revered locals through the deathbed reflections of Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson, a celebrated (and real-life) gossip columnist for Detroit’s African American newspaper, the Michigan Chronicle. Among Black Bottom’s “saints” are a handful of entertainers who also made their way to Kansas City – from Sammy Davis Jr., who lit up the Drum Club, to LaVern Baker, who sang at the old Orchard Room at 12th and Vine.
Randall is joined in the online conversation by Kaite Stover, the Library’s director of readers’ services.
The best-selling author is a professor and writer-in-residence at Vanderbilt University, where she teaches courses on soul food, African American children's literature, African American film, and creative writing. Black Bottom Saints is her fifth novel.
Watch the presentation live at YouTube.com/kclibrary.