Lottie “The Body” Graves Claiborne
Lottie Claiborne was born October 31st, 1930 in Syracuse, New York. As a teen, she studied dance with Allan White Productions. While modeling, she was given the name “Lottie the Body.” She quickly became known as an accomplished dancer, sharing the bill with well-known musicians and singers such as Carmen McRae. In the early 1950s she relocated to the Bay Area, becoming one of the most popular dancers in The Fillmore clubs. She met Harlem Globetrotter basketball star Goose Tatum at the Champagne Supper Club, and the two became a fixture in the neighborhood. When the couple broke up, Lottie moved to Detroit, where she still lives with her husband, Willie Claiborne. She continues to attend burlesque conventions, giving demonstrations and speaking about her time as an exotic dancer.
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Harlem of the West SF Project Interview: Lottie “The Body” Graves Claiborne Interviewer: Elizabeth Pepin Silva and Lewis Watts Copyright 2017, Elizabeth Pepin Silva/ Harlem of the West SF Project
Please contact the Harlem of the West SF Project if you would like to use any part of the interview. Use is free, but the Harlem of the West SF Project must be credited. The entire interview may not be reproduced.
INTERVIEW BEGINS AT LOTTIE’S HOME IN DETROIT, MI
ELIZABETH PEPIN SILVA (EPS): Name and residence?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: My name is Lottie Graves Claiborne. And I grew up, really in parts of New York City. And me and my family moved to Syracuse, New York, and that’s where I was born at. And it was, I grew up parts of my life there. And I studied dance and I, with the Allan White Productions, and I, the material that I learned there, I incorporated with others, from watching others, and I made a routine for Lottie the Body.
I was modeling up at Syracuse University, and a young guy named Peewee, he’s gone now. He named me Lottie the Body. My name is Lottie, ok? And in New York, Harry Santley (?), a photographer studios did a lot of lobbies on me.
And then up in there, I was so good I could travel and it just so happened that I was booked here in Detroit. I was co-starring with a lot of artists, some of the Motown artists, ok? And Billie Holiday was working in San Francisco – no in LA. At the House of Blue Lights. And I auditioned for the job and I got it.
And from there, I starred in different clubs, and then I come back to the East Coast, and I worked in a lot of clubs in Boston and Connecticut and especially around the East Coast. And that’s when I was in Buffalo. And whom was I with? Carmen McRae. Jazz pianist and vocalist, ok? And so she says I need someone to co-star with me. So she… I was her co-star, and I went back out to San Francisco. And I met a handsome young man, he was in the Air Force. And when I went back home, he was stationed at Samson Air Force Base. It so happened that I was performing out there. At the Greenhouse. And we got married and moved out to San Francisco.
And I stayed in Oakland. I auditioned at Slim Jenkins’ and 7th Avenue. And when I closed there, was a girl taking, there was a photographer. (says names but it is garbled) and she says why don’t you go over to San Francisco, said, well, my uncle has a club there, but I don’t know him. And I have never seen him. So she says, his name is Curtis Mosby. I said, really? I says oh.
So I went over, and he hug and kissed me and his wife, see, I think she’s gypsy, and they fell in love with me and they booked me in there, and from there I went… god, all over the world. From Japan and such. And I came back, I met Goose Tatum. Again. Because in Syracuse I was a majorette. And we used to march when the black, in the black baseball group, the Kansas City Monarchs. And he was a first baseman at that time. And I met him and we walked through the park, and later on, I was divorced from the Air Force lieutenant, we got married. And I traveled. We stayed together for four years, and we were the best of friends. And when I left the team and him, while he died in…when he passed in 1987, I think. He had, he hurt his leg and he had sugar insulin issues and gangrene set in. And I wasn’t with…one of the Globetrotters came to me. I was in Indianapolis, at the Indianapolis 500, I was doing the shows there. And he told me that Goose wanted to talk to me, and I says, I don’t want to talk to him. He said, the man is dying and I couldn’t break the show 'cos it was Aretha Franklin, Roy Hamilton, Redd Foxx and Slappy, and that was on that show. And was a big production show because it was Indianapolis 500. It was their last day and they have a huge, huge send-off.
So I didn’t go, and he passed on. But then after that, later on, I remarried. And carried my life on.
EPS: So lets go back to when you were a child? Did your mom or dad… were they dancers at all?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, no, no. No, my mom did, she was a domestic. My dad was in the service. And we lived in Alaska. And then we came back to the states, and then I went back to Alaska. And then that’s when my father passed. And my mom passed.
EPS: When you were still a kid?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, no, no, no. I was an adult. I was performing. I was performing in Fairbanks at the time. When my mom passed, and I was in Anchorage when my dad passed. Yeah. It, and I, my two brothers are gone. My brother was a drummer and my other brother worked for the city. And my sister, she’s, I only have one sister, and she’s in Syracuse getting ready to move to Florida. (LAUGHS)
EPS: Was she a dancer, too?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: No, no. She played piano. Yeah, we had a big old, Greenleaf stand, you know, was a big old, upright pianos and she you know, she played by ear. She was great. She was really great. And she’s Jehovah Witness and we, I’m Catholic, so we just like that. (LAUGHS)
EPS: That’s a lot different! Did your brother play jazz drums? Or what kind of drums?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: He played jazz. Dixieland jazz. He played with, they were, I think they were Italians, and he was the only black in the group. Yeah, and they played all over, as a matter of fact, they played for his funeral. And some of those ladies that was so old, they played banjo and I forgotten some of the instruments, and he was a drummer.
EPS: Did you start dancing in your younger years, like 8 or 9?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes, yes.
EPS: Oh, so early.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, I was a great dancer. Baseball, excellent. Basketball, excellent. Was all around everything (LAUGHS).
EPS: So you were a really athletic woman.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah.
EPS: What year were you born?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: I was born October 31st, 1930.
EPS: You were a Halloween baby?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah, came in on a broom. (LAUGHS)
EPS: Or a shooting star! In high school is when you got the routine down? What would become Lottie The Body?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes, I would mix up a lot. And on the weekends, I worked the clubs.
EPS: Even in high school?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes. And I worked the clubs on the weekend at home, because we had, there was, I didn’t work Three Rivers Inn. That was where Sammy Davis and (?) but I worked like Andre’s, Andy’s Inn, Andy, there was all big restaurants. You know, back east, they have like a dinner shows. And I was fortunate enough to get into those. And my wardrobe was, I had beautiful wardrobe. Oh, yes. And for, matter of fact, a lady in Kansas City did a lot of my wardrobe, and a lady here, she moved to New York to do, for work for the theaters. And beautiful And then I had some lady in Cuba when I was living in Cuba.
As matter of fact, I have forgotten about some of those things. I was there in Cuba the night that Castro became the president. And he spoke all night long, and we stayed in, we stayed at, had a villa down at the Isle of Pines. And we had to stay in the house all night. You couldn’t come out. And there was orange juice (LAUGHS) and boloney sandwiches, those things, and he ran his mouth all night long. All day and all night, non-stop. We said, so at that time we were in the city, at the Riviera, Hotel Riviera. The Cabana Riviera was the most beautiful hotel. That was the latest one that they had built. And we’d go over to the International, it’s George Ralph and have fun. George Ralph was very dear friend of Goose, and also Castro’s brother. I had some pictures of them at the airport meeting us. I don’t know what happened to them.
EPS: You were there with Goose?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah, we played the game. We played the game, the night before we went to dinner at the Tropicana, when the bomb was thrown in there. Tropicana was the most beautiful night club. All the dancers was in the trees, and the colors, the lighting. It was just so beautiful. And they, dinner served at your table, you know. And they would make your juliene and your food right at your table. It was fascinating life that I have lived. That part of my life.
EPS: So lets go back to how you got to San Francisco for the first time? How old were you when you first moved to San Francisco?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: San Francisco? I was 18. And you know, and San Francisco was exciting. And I went to work the Champagne Supper Club, with the La Frontine Production show.
EPS: And this was the very first time when you were 18 is how you…
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: In, I lived Oakland. Ok, after I left Oakland, at Slim Jenkin’s club.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: I went over there.
EPS: Right. So you came across the bridge?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: To cross the bridge, and went down to Fillmore, and then walked in and oh, all these beautiful girls in the chorus line. And they had big tank, he had a tank that stood in the middle of the floor with all the fish and crabs and lobsters that they would get them out fresh for you.
EPS: This is at the Champagne Supper Club?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah. And the show started 12 o’clock. The last show was at 5 in the morning. You know, it was like that in San Francisco – everybody would leave from there and go over to Bimbo’s ok, and party with the jazz. They had jam sessions.
EPS: You married the serviceman, you guys moved to Oakland?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: We put us in Mt. Pleasant Air Force Base. You know where that is? (EPS: Um um..) Mount Pleasant, California?
EPS: Do you know where that is Lew?
LEWIS WATTS: NO.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: It’s in the hills. They have a big jail up there, too.
EPS: Oh, Pleasanton! Santa Rita.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Pleasanton. Yep. We stayed there for a little while, and then I moved in, we moved into Oakland, we moved into San Francisco, 'cos I was staying in Oakland, and he was on a TDY, he had to go to Biloxi, Mississippi, on a TDY.
And so a girlfriend that I met that was on the show, she was Miles Davis’ girlfriend, and she was a dancer. She says, hey. Let’s go down to the Embarcadero and apply for a space 'cos you know, they had night clubs on both sides of the street. You just go, go, go, 'til you see somebody taking off their clothes. (LAUGHS)
EPS: Is this in Embarcadero San Francisco or Embarcadero Oakland?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: There was only the Embarcadero in San Francisco with all the night clubs. Ok, then I worked, stayed there for two years, and then that’s when I left, I got the contract to go to Boston to work. And co-star. And then the, you know, got the contract from there to go to LA to work Strip City, with Redd Foxx, his wife, a couple of chorus girls, and some other dancers. And then I went to the downtown San Francisco, they had the Coffee Dance. So then I would come back to Detroit and I co-starred with many of the Motown acts. And that’s at 20 Gram?. But back in San Francisco, I used to go down to Leola’s (Blue Mirror), and then I’d go over to the No-Name Club. Club Alabam, and up at the, Jack’s.
EPS: Which one was your favorite?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Leola, because Leola was, she was a very beautiful lady. And I’ve forgotten her husband’s name. But she was hostess, owner, she was just everything in the club, you know? And people that would come in, she would just grab them. And I was kind of special to her.
EPS: Why do you think that?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Well, it’s 'cos…
EPS: Why did Leola love you so much?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Well, I was new. And it was on my way to – she even showed me the house that I bought on Steiner.
EPS: She lived up there, didn’t she? She had some big mansion there, too?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah, I had a big one, too.
EPS: Leola’s house was on Scott.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, Scott, and I was on Steiner and Hayes.
EPS: Those are big houses.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah. The park is here, and Winterland is on the other side of the park, and then that was my house on this side. Yeah, I used to walk up that hill – you know they were shooting a movie, they used to do a set up – what name was that, I’ve forgotten now. They used to shoot on Hayes Street.
EPS: The Streets of San Francisco?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Streets of San Francisco. Yes. And Laguna. But I stayed on the Octavia, that was before I got that house.
There were some of those birthday parties that they had given me, oh, my god. I’ve had some fantastic birthday parties, that money would be…
EPS: At Leola’s?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Ohhh. Throughout the country. I’ve been very fortunate, thank god. But so many people have just loved me. Say, for instance, the holidays come, and things that I have done that I never knew that I was that strong with them, by helping them to become stars, like my dear sweetheart over here. She is so beautiful, Betty LaVette. Have you heard of her? I helped Betty LaVette to be where she is. Ok. Linda Hopkins I helped. Barbara Morrison. Great artist.
LEWIS WATTS: Is the LaVette family all from Detroit?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah. They live in New York. She lived… She married a Jewish guy in Pittsburgh. And he’s an artist – not an artist but an antique dealer. And she did a book, beautiful book. So I received a book, and on the inside of the book said “to the lady that helped me” she put a $100 bill in there. For Christmas. I mean, I have friends in show business that’s, just that good to me. They send me money. They, I know you probably think I’m about a money person, but it’s just that they appreciate me helping them to walk the way they going. And it, to me, it’s, I think it’s a blessing, you know? You only get what you put in. That’s how it comes to you. And just like you guys, I’m so thrilled. To meet you and I mean I couldn’t even sleep last night. And you’re so beautiful, both of you. I mean, it’s a pleasure and I thank God that I’m your friend, and you’re my friend.
EPS: So back to the Fillmore. You came to the Fillmore and was Curtis Mobley related to your mom or dad?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: My dad’s, my dad’s uncle. That he hadn’t, he didn’t know my dad was dead. I guess my dad didn’t know he was alive 'cos he was my dad. And he had one son, and he married this gypsy lady who had a daughter. And a son. And they were really, really sweet, you know? They, the lady, she was just adorable. They treated me, they got me apartment. Yeah.
EPS: In the Fillmore?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: They got me an apartment that wasn’t on Laguna. Not Laguna, Octavia. Ok? And going Octavia and Fillmore. No… Post. You know, when you get young, your memory starts moving around.
EPS: You are doing great! I can’t remember what I did last week.
LEWIS WATTS: Yeah.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Why thank you!
EPS: So you got an apartment…Were you still married to the serviceman?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah.
EPS: But he was off in Biloxi, and you were in the Fillmore and you started dancing at your uncle’s club.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, yes. Champagne Supper Club.
EPS: There was the fishtank… was it a big club?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: It was huge club. Huge club. Let me tell you a funny story. All, they had all the girls, the chorus girls, the principles, there’s a singer and a dancer. And the comedians was with the male dancers on the other side. So there was a girl, there was Sampson and Delilah act, ok. So she was reaching in to get her costume, and she felt this hair, and she screamed. And everybody, we all turned around, and there was a guy had been in there no telling how long. He had gotten into the dressing room. So he had to go through the kitchen, they had a huge brick little house that the meat would hang up in there, ok? They would barbecue all that stuff, and people would come and have a like a whole slab, a family.
EPS: This is at the Champagne Supper Club?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Champagne Supper Club. Well, that’s what it meant by the supper. You know, and all, a lot of the acts that was appearing in San Francisco, they would come there so they could eat and see the show. Because it was a chorus line – it was a whole production show. The La Fontaine. It was beautiful. Those girls oh, they had the wardrobe was unbelievable. And his name… he had big, big band.
EPS: Saunders King?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: No, Saunders King worked with him. I wrote down some of these things. His name was Happy Johnson. Did you hear about that? Ok, did you hear about Ernest Page was one of the owners? Lacy –
EPS: Ernest Page was an owner of the Champagne Supper Club? With your uncle?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah. I don’t think no one person could have paid that kind of a money, 'cos Miles Davis was on the show. You see, the show stayed. They would bring in different artists. It was a production. And uh…
EPS: So you guys were the dancers would always perform? And then they’d bring in one big act?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: They’d bring one big act, like Miles Davis and Ben Webster. They brought in… different bands, sometimes different bands would come, different artists. There’s – whom did I see there? Was really… Bessie Smith. When I first got there, she had, was her closing week. And it was packed, packed.
EPS: Did Billie Holiday perform at the Champagne…?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, yes. There was so many different artists that performed there. Sam Cooke, yes, that’s who I was trying to remember. When Sam Cooke was at the motel out there, that the girl had cut him, he was working there.
EPS: In ’62?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes.
EPS: So people would have dinner and then you’d come on and dance?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: We’d do the show.
EPS: How long was the show, usually?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: We did two shows. The 12 o’clock show. And the 6 o’clock show. No. The 4 o’clock show, 'cos you were out of there at 6.
EPS: Four AM?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes. It gave the people chance to relax and then the band would play and they would turn the lights down low. And they had big bottles at the tables, big huge bottles of champagne. This is why the club was Champagne Supper Club, 'cos they had the best of champagne.
EPS: This was the early ‘50s or the mid-‘50s?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: This is the early ‘50s.
EPS: How many people could fit in that club, a couple hundred?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes. Oh, yes, yes. Then the dress, dress, dress. Even your hostesses, and with the hat check department. The girls was just beautiful. He believed in having pretty ladies and great performers, there was no problem about that. We had a singer, his name was Norman… he had such a great voice, a lot of people would come just to hear him. It was show business. And in between the shows, we had a couple of hours, so we’d go across the street to the Club Alabam or around the corner and go across to the No-Name Club.
EPS: Who owned the Club Alabam? Because I haven’t heard much about that club.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: The club Alabam, which was once owned by Curtis Mosby, but I forgot, I don’t know the people that owned it. I think he was Hawaiian guy, 'cos they had some Hawaiian dancers over there.
EPS: Oh, at the Club Alabam?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes, Yes.
EPS: I heard that it was a Hawaiian guy who owned that club for a while. What was that club like?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: It was real nice. (EPS: Really?) Because you know, you have quite a few Filipino people there. And they would hang out in Fillmore. Lot of them – Jacks received a lot of, Jack’s Intimate Club and you know, they had the tables along the wall and the bar’s over here coming in, yeah. And...
EPS: Wow. What street was Club Alabam on?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Post. Post and Fillmore, right on the corner. And you turn left, you go by the Booker T. Hotel. And I had a record store right across the street from the Booker T.
EPS: Melrose Record Shop?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes. I had a right across the street from the Booker T. I had a record shop.
EPS: You owned a record shop?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes.
EPS: What was it called?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: It was Lottie The Body’s Records.
EPS: Really? How long was it open for?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: I only kept it a couple of years and turned it over to a guy, I’ve forgotten his name now. And I don’t know if he got the money out of it
Dorothy Poole’s mother had the clothing store around the corner on Post and Fillmore. She had a clothing store. And there was right down from the fish market. I mean the poultry market. On Post. And Theresa and Travers had a hair, had a beauty salon.
Elizabeth shows Lottie a photo of the Booker T. Washington Hotel.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Well, you see, the Booker T Hotel has a mixture, was a mixture ok? International club where everybody coming in. Guys would be sitting at the bar and they would meet one another and talk and have beer or whatever, you know? You know who owned the Hotel before? What’s his name? Velda Perry was married to him.
EPS: Velda the dancer?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Fantastic lady. She was very nice to me. Velda’s heart was broken. You know, she was married to Perry, the football player, for the 49ers.
LEWIS WATTS: Joe Perry?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Joe Perry. Yeah. But first she was married to… gosh, he owned the hotel. He was Jewish I think. Yeah, he was. Yeah.
She was tall, she’s built, she loved to laugh. She was a lovely person.
EPS: She was beautiful.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: She was a beautiful person. She was really nice to me. We worked together also in the Embarcadero at the House of Blue Lights.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: He owned the Booker T first. I think this goes back in the ‘40s I guess.
EPS: The cocktail lounge was booked by Charles Sullivan.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Sullivan owned the liquor store.
EPS: He also managed the Fillmore Auditorium.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: She (Velda) was married to a white guy, kind of a middle, he was kind of a middle-set.
EPS: I’m looking at the Booker T. section of the HOTWSF book and there is nothing about a white guy. It was called The Edison until the early 1950s and then it was called the Booker T. Washington Hotel. And a lot of famous musicians stayed there like Count Basie…
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, yes, they had the Empress Room in the back, that’s where they ate, and they would all play back there… Ben Webster…
EPS: How did you meet Goose Tatum?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: When I was in Syracuse, at home. You know, they had the, he played with the Kansas City Monarchs, the black baseball teams, you know? He played first base. And Satchel Page was the pitcher. And then he got with the Globetrotters.
EPS: What did your uncle look like? (Curtis Mosby) Can you describe him?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, he was kind of full-fitted (LAUGHS).
EPS: So he was big?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Not big, he wasn’t a big person. I would say he was about 5, about 6’1, no 6 feet. He wasn’t thin, no. He was just a little bit more than my husband.
EPS: Did he love to dress up?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes. He’d come in and he smoked a cigar.
EPS: Was Fillmore Street like on Friday and Saturday night packed?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Packed. Well, you had a lot of tourists. The buses would come in.
EPS: Really? Was it mixed?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: It mixed, yeah.
EPS: Was it a mellow scene? Any fights, things like that?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: No, I never saw, never. I don’t remember any fights or anything in there. It was just beautiful. You could walk by yourself across the street to Jack’s. I used to walk by, across the street to the No-Name club. I’d go in and have a… Yep, the Flamingo, where you going? The Flamingo. Wesley’s son was in college then. Yes, and he was gonna be a pharmacist. Carl Priestly was the bartender.
LEWIS WATTS: Who are these people? (points to the photo of Lottie and Goose Tatum at a crowded party)
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, yes. There’s Lottie, this is … he owned the club. And I don’t know…
LEWIS WATTS: You look like you were having a great time.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: oh, that was a party for me.
LEWIS WATTS: Oh, that was a party for you?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: 'Cos we were on our way to Yokohama. And then one of the tables with all of the Trotters there? One of those tables, all of the Trotters there. You know, people were invited to, we were doing a bon voyage. And people that’s so he could make some money at the club, ok? And everybody hung out there. All of the football players, at the 49ers be playing, everybody would go over there, because Wes (Wesley Johnson Sr.) and them would put a, set it out, a big table with everything you, to eat. Well, of course, you had to buy your own drinks, but that's Ok. It was fun. You know?
EPS: The Trotters were going to Yokohama?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: We were on our way to Yokohama. So Wesley and Goose were friends. Wesley was the type of person that -- all sports – he loved sports. And so everybody would hang there, because nothing but fog outside. (LAUGHS) Very depressing.
LEWIS WATTS: Very true.
EPS: Where was the No-Name?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: It’s right on Post. I mean, on Fillmore. Post is here, and Fillmore, right, is right across, diagonal across the and it was downstairs.
EPS: There was a stage?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, yeah. It was a small stage, it’s similar to.. have you ever been to Jimbo’s?
EPS: I’ve been in the space.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Ok, well it’s similar to that.
Elizabeth shows Lottie a photo of the Plantation Club.
EPS: So at the Plantation, were they running card games in the back?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Well, that was ok, after the – in the back, in this back room we’d play for, we’d play Risk, you know, the championship Risk. You know, one table would beat that, the couple at the table would beat the other couple, and you was moved down, you’d move up to your competition. And you’d get the prize.
EPS: There was dancing in the front, and then cards in the back?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: And they had a big room upstairs. Oh, yeah, that was the banquet upstairs. Oh, where everybody would eat. They, I don’t know if they catered that food in or what. But for ‘49ers, they’d love the, the Johnsons (Editor: Lottie means The Armstrongs, the owners of the Plantation Cub). I mean, woo, they would set out some, they made their money off the ‘49ers. And, oh, yes. Yeah, 'cos the, you know, they’d get to playing, they’d want some place to go, you know, and all of them would come.
EPS: To the Plantation.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah, so we would be invited, too.
LEWIS WATTS: What about the Havana Club?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Well I used to go there because they played Cuban music.
EPS: Oh they did? Was it a small club?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: It was an- almost all the clubs are small, with the exception of Champagne Supper Club. Club AlaBam, and but yeah, the rest of them was sort of – it was sort of like trios. Ok? And but it was famous trios.
Lewis shows Lottie a photo of Jimbo Edwards inside Bop City.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Jimbo looked good don’t he? He wished he looked that good (LAUGHS).
EPS: Did you like him?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: He, the Cancer Foundation. (LAUGHS) 'Cos smoke was in – oh, he was a, likeable in person. He was a loveable person. But let me tell you, on one side, why so many of us would go there in the mornings because he would have, like chicken and biscuit, and an egg, fifty cents. With one wing. And he would have grits and sausage or whatever, and it would be no more than a dollar something. You hungry that time of morning, you know? You’d left the show, you’d been drinking, and you want to go out in the back and drink out of one of his coffee cups. (LAUGHS)
LEWIS WATTS: People would walk in with a paper bag! (laughs)
EPS: Did you dance when Saunders King was playing?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, yeah.
EPS: So what was he like?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: He played the Champagne Supper Club.
EPS: So he was kind of one of first guys that um… you know, he came from the Fillmore but he had actual hits around the country. A lot of the guys from the Fillmore, it seems like they….
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Well, Ellis, Teddy Edwards… Gee…The twins, one played fluegelhorn and the other one played bass. Hmmm…Who had a child for him? Oh, it would have been Ames. Oh why can’t you remember the names? They were called…Addison. Farmer. Addison Farmer, the Farmer Boys. Art Farmer and Addison.
EPS: John Handy said they lived just a few blocks from him. Did you go to their house?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: No, no ,no, no. Only time I ever worked with them was in clubs, and I knew that they’re in San Francisco a lot of times we’d go down to Bimbo’s and they’d be in there, and they would sit in, you know?
EPS: Bimbos or Jimbos? ‘Cause Bimbos was in North Beach. Jimbo’s is in the Fillmore.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Jimbo’s is what I mean.
EPS: I just wanted to make sure. (laughs) So they’d be in Jimbo’s (Bop City) a lot?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yeah. They would be jamming. Everybody that was somebody in the business would be there. To jam. You know, to get their names on the back of the chairs. (LAUGHS)
EPS: So you had to reach a certain level to get your name on a chair?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Well, not really. You know, people used famous people to bring money. It’s all a game. So if you are out there, and you have something to offer. Everybody want to get a piece of that.
EPS: So there were all these men running everything and then there was Leola. I mean, that’s kind of…
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Well, Leola’s husband was still in the background.
EPS: Well, Leola was kind of a bad-ass.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: She was! oh, she was the most gorgeous lady. She was so beautiful.
EPS: So men must have really admired her.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: They loved seeing her, oh, yes. Have you ever seen her?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: She was beautiful.
EPS: Oh yes, I interviewed her a couple of times. She was striking, too. Because she was Black and Native American.
LEWIS WATTS: She was brought up on a reservation in Oaklaholma.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: So was her husband (ED: Lottie means he was striking). He was clearly handsome. I always wondered how they got together. But she was pretty and he was handsome, and they dressed so elegantly. And the place was immaculate.
EPS: The Blue Mirror?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: (Nods yes) You walked in there, it was just, there was no odor, there was no nothing, there was hassles. Hey, people was just enjoyed themselves. She carried an upper class of people. All the doctors and the lawyers and etcetera. They came there. Ball players, whomever had a name, they’d go by Leola’s.
EPS: So was it just music or did they also have dancers?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Everybody. Anybody that just wanted to go-
EPS: Oh no, I mean for entertainment.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: She just had piano. I know I was on top of the piano (LAUGHS). She and I would hide and she said she wanted them to meet me, ok. She said, get on up on the piano and do it. And I danced on top of the piano. And oh, it was funny. They applauded and applauded, and we became real close after that.
EPS: Who was playing the piano?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: I don’t know. You know, I was young and excited and San Francisco was exciting. But just like New York or Kansas City or any of the other places, you know? That’s, that was part of it, I loved my life, I lived the life I loved, but I loved the life I lived.
EPS: It sounds like the four years you were there were just magical.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, yes, it was just… oh. There’s always something to do. And I had the lady that was my tenant downstairs and she made my clothing. And she would make some of the most fabulous things.
EPS: So tell me the story of you and T-Bone Walker. How did that come about? The photo where you are jumping behind T-Bone Walker.
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: With Walker? We were working together, we’re working together at the Champagne Supper Club. And he was doing the, it was, and I had just came off the, just coming off the stage, he was coming on. So something told me to do a leap over his head when he was, he used to go down doing a split playing the, and I went right over the top of his head. And they, I didn’t know about this. So someone said, you know, I bought a T-Bone Walker Book and I saw you center page. I said, “You’re kidding me.” And they’ve mailed it to me. And that’s how I got that.
EPS: Describe your dance show. Would you come out? Or how would you…
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: You see the gowns that I’m in? You know, just regular, I’d come out and I’d go a segment and then and go into another with splits and leaps and kicks.
EPS: So you’d come out in a gown. Would you take parts off and dance?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Oh, you couldn’t do no kicks in no gowns, you know? With all the beads, I wore expensive gowns. Oh, yes. And the, and I had a lady that worked with me, and she would take them and put them on a hangar, a wardrobe mistress. And in most cities that I work in, 'cos the, my gowns were too expensive for them to put any place else, or they would put a chair where I could put them over.
EPS: So you’d come out in this beautiful gown and take part of it off?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Yes. Oh, just take the gown off, not the bra and the panties, G-string part off. No. I didn’t go to a G-string. You saw the picture with the… Show her the ones with the…
(Lottie points to some photographs Lewis Watts is looking at)
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: You see, it was a law against it. You couldn’t go topless up or bottomless then.
LEWIS WATTS: That did change?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: No, no. No. You had to go, you had and even if it was, I wouldn’t do it. I went to, they said for me to come to Milwaukee. And the guy says, and I did my show, a great big hands from it. And the guy said, you didn’t take off anything. I said, I don’t. well, he says, well, you’re fired. I said, well, you pay me for 7 days. I said, I have a contract for 7 days. You pay me. It was up on the University part. And then they had a dog in the back and I’m allergic to dogs, ok? I have asthma. And I was sick, sick, sick. I was glad he fired me so I could come home. They had the dog chained, big huge Doberman. Chained to the safe. Thought he would come back too often and put money in there and if, you know, he didn’t trust, he didn’t trust the performer, he had a dressing room with the dog. Ah. I got so sick. So I was glad. I caught that flight out of there next morning. I was you know, they, I didn’t even pay for the hotel, they paid for it because they broke the contract. And I, they had a dancer there that wasn’t stupid.
EPS: If you don’t mind me asking, why did you and Goose split up?
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: Well, he had a baby. I…someone… I was working in Montreal at the Chez Paris. And someone put Jet Magazine centerfold at my, at where I was sitting. And there, this girl was holding a baby for him (LAUGHS). Holding the baby.
EPS: And it wasn’t yours!
LOTTIE GRAVES CLAIBORNE: And it wasn’t mine. (laughs) So that was it. 'Cos he lied. So that’s typical with some marriages, you know. Hey, I wasn’t losing anything, just a friend.