Chitlin' circuit

Chitlin' circuit

The "chitlin' circuit" was the collective name given to the string of performance venues throughout the eastern and southern United States that were safe and acceptable for African American musicians, comedians, and other legendary entertainers to perform at during the age of racial segregation in the United States (from at least the late 1800s through the 1960s). The name derives from the soul food item chitterlings (boiled pig intestines).

Noted theaters on the chitlin' circuit included the Cotton Club and the Apollo Theater in New York City, the Regal Theatre in Chicago, the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C., the Uptown Theatre in Philadelphia, the Royal Theatre in Baltimore, the Fox Theatre in Detroit, the Victory Grill in Austin, Texas, and the Ritz Theatre in Jacksonville, Florida.

The song "Tuxedo Junction" was written about a stop along the chitlin' circuit in Birmingham, Alabama. Once the performance was over, the band would leave for the next stop on the circuit. When the lyrics were ready to be added, Erskine Hawkins explained the reason for the title to Buddy Feyne who then created lyrics to match the meaning.

Many notable performers started on the chitlin' circuit, including Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Dorothy Dandridge, Sammy Davis Jr., Ray Charles, The Supremes, Moms Mabley, Ike and Tina Turner, George Benson, B.B. King, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Richard Pryor, Muddy Waters, Aretha Franklin, Smokey Robinson, Redd Foxx, Patti LaBelle, Jimi Hendrix, Gladys Knight & the Pips, The Temptations, John Lee Hooker, Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, Flip Wilson, The Isley Brothers, The Four Tops, and The Jackson 5.

Mississippi Blues Trail marker

The second historic marker designated by the Mississippi Blues Commission on the Mississippi Blues Trail was placed in from of the Second Whispers Restaurant on Nelson Street in Greenville, Mississippi, a stop on the Chitlin' Circuit in the early days of the blues. The marker commemorates the importance of this site in the history of the development of the blues in Mississippi. This historic strip which in the 1940s and 1950s drew crowds to the flourishing club scene to hear Delta blues, big band jump blues and jazz.

Contemporary use

Ebony magazine prefers the term "urban theater circuit" for recent work like that of playwright and actor Tyler Perry. In a January 2004 interview with Perry, the genre's leading practitioner, Ebony wrote that his work marked
"a new chapter in the urban theater circuit as a whole—a genre that has been dogged by criticism from some Blacks in the traditional theater. Perry, as the most visibly recognized player in the circuit, has felt the brunt of this criticism.
"'They say that Tyler Perry has set the Black race back some 500 years with these types of "chitlin' circuit" shows. The problem with the naysayers is that they don't take the opportunity to see my shows,' Perry argues. 'With my shows, I try to build a bridge that marries what's deemed "legitimate theater" and so-called "chitlin' circuit theater," and I think I've done pretty well with that, in bringing people in to enjoy a more elevated level of theater.'"


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