When Ebony Lounge opened on April 1, 1949, it was filled to the brim with patrons hungry for entertainment, and the new nightspot surely delivered. Dolly Frazier and her men played to a full house. There were 46 seats available at tables arrayed in a semi-circle around the bar with another 46 seats at the bar itself. The seats were arranged in a manner that allowed all visitors to have a good view of the small stage. A commentator for the Call & Post stated that the venue was small for a club but that it was attractive, the entertainment was superb, and the prices were decent. A weightier criticism was that the club did not fulfill the promise of an ebony theme, meaning that the club was not “African black.” The club’s owner Alonzo Wright did attempt to address this issue by adding a piece of African artwork in the lobby, but many still argued that more needed to be done to make the venue merit its ebony theme. Nevertheless, over time the Ebony Lounge grew on people and Clevelanders continued to flock to the lounge.
After only a couple of months, Wright sold Ebony Lounge to a former grocer named Clarence C. Ferrell in July 1949. Ferrell kept Teddy Blackmon as the manager of the club until Myron Styles replaced him as manager in 1951. Although Ferrell kept the same management, he made some changes to the club based on patron interests. He installed a television for baseball fans. He also drummed up more daytime business by hiring an attractive barmaid named Vera to serve lunch. Moreover, he hired Harold Arnold’s saxophone trio to accompany Ivory Joe Hunter to entice more visitors. Eddie Chamblee and Lynn Hope were also very popular performers at the club. In addition, the Ebony Lounge was praised for having a darker skinned woman at the front door of the club because often men and women with darker complexions were not given such forward facing jobs. However, the woman was Ferrell’s wife. Ferrell tried to make everyone who visited the lounge feel comfortable.
Despite the many improvements to the lounge, Ferrell, like Wright, only owned the lounge for a couple of years. In June 1951, Ferrell shot and killed Ebony Lounge’s doorman and helper Henry “Bama” Thomas. Ferrell claimed that the shooting was an accident. He stated that he and “Bama” were arguing about who had the longest pistol and who had the quickest draw of the pistol. Ferrell was playing with the gun and slammed it on the counter when it went off, fatally wounding Thomas. There were conflicting reports as to what happened between the two men. The Prosecutor’s office originally released Ferrell from custody, citing the shooting as accidental. However, only a week later the shooting was still being investigated by the County Prosecutor’s office, as well as the county grand jury in part because it came to light that he was previously involved in another shooting that was deemed an accident. A citizens committee even got involved and attempted to get a petition signed by 500 people so that the Municipal Prosecutor would take another look at the case. The Prosecutor decided to pursue a case against Ferrell and ultimately, he was found guilty of second-degree murder.
While awaiting sentencing, Ferrell attempted to sell Ebony Lounge. The sale of the lounge was further complicated when he was sentenced to one to twenty years in prison by an all-white jury for second-degree manslaughter. Ferrell vowed to appeal his conviction and his case made its way to the Ohio Supreme Court, but he lost his appeal and had to serve his sentence. Despite all these legal woes, he found a buyer for the lounge.
By May 1952, the new owner of the club was Morris Janovitz, and Myron Styles stayed on as the manager until April 1954. Styles procured some of the best entertainers in the country. Lynn Hope continued to play at Ebony Lounge and Ella Fitzgerald played there in 1952 as her first stop when she returned from her European tour. While Myron Styles was still manager, Phil Gary was hired as another manager at the Ebony Lounge in March 1953. Some observers noted that the club started to become more successful under Gary’s management. He filled all the club seats, and the club was starting to make a profit after months of being in the red. He booked the Orioles, Choker Campbell, and Bette McLaurin for the Ebony Lounge. Gary was a manager at Ebony Lounge until December 1953, so he was a manager for less than a year.
Myron Styles left the Ebony Lounge in April 1954 when Jimmy Davis became the new manager and owner. Jimmy and Catherine Davis continued to have new and exciting acts at Ebony Lounge: Diablos, Shirley Thornton, Dottie Haynes, Carmen La Belle, and the CBC Organ Trio. Despite Ebony Lounge’s fantastic live entertainment, its final curtain call was October 14, 1956. The Davises cited a few reasons to close Ebony Lounge: Cleveland’s east side population was changing, live entertainment was becoming more expensive, and their customers’ spending habits were changing. The Davises opened the Wheel Lounge (4461 Lee Rd.) on October 18, 1956, only a few days after Ebony Lounge closed. Ebony Lounge was a well-known club venue that was devoted to providing some of the best live entertainment in Cleveland.
- Blackman, Teddy. “An Open Letter.” Call & Post, March 26, 1949.
- “Café Owner Kills Doorman!: Release Bar Owner After Death Probe,” Call & Post, June 30, 1951.
- “Café Owner Who Slew Doorman, Loses Appeal,” Call & Post, October 18, 1952.
- “Café Tia Juana, Blue Grass, Ebony Add New Zest to Café Life.” Call & Post, August 6, 1949.
- Display Ad 12 – No Title. Call & Post. September 12, 1953.
- “Ebony Folds; ‘Wheel’ Ready on Lee.” Call & Post, October 13, 1956.
- “Ella Fitzgerald Opens at Ebony Lounge Friday.” Call & Post, April 26, 1952.
- “Enjoy Swinging Back into Black.” Call & Post, March 7, 1953.
- “Ferrell Appeal Refused: Heads for High Court.” Call & Post, May 17, 1952.
- Fuster, John. “Tips for Those Interested in Entertainment.” Call & Post, April 3, 1954.
- “Good Morning Judge.” Call & Post, May 31, 1952.
- “Grocer, Clarence Ferrell New Owner, Ebony Lounge.” Call & Post. July 23, 1949.
- “Hear Witnesses in Ebony Lounge Killing.” Call & Post, August 18, 1951.
- “Jail Ferrell as Appeal for New Trial Hits Snag.” Call & Post, December 22, 1951.
- J.E.F. “Tiny Grimes, Willie Smith, Ebony Lounge Much Talked About.” Call & Post, April 16, 1949.
- “Jury Asked to Get Death Facts.” Call & Post, July 7, 1951.
- “Machinist Union Jim Crow Fails to Kill Cleveland Man’s Creative Urge.” Call & Post, June 4, 1949.
- “Night Club Owner Guilty in Killing,” Call & Post, October 6, 1951.
- “Probe Strange Happenings in Doorman Killing.” Call & Post, July 21, 1951.
- Williams, Bob. “Bobbing Along with Bob Williams.” Call & Post. April 16, 1949.
- Williams, Bob. “Bobbing Along with Bob Williams.” Call & Post, Apr 23, 1949.
- Williams, Bob. “Bobbing Along with Bob Williams.” Call & Post. July 30, 1949.
- Williams, Bob. “Bobbing Along with Bob Williams.” Call & Post, March 4, 1950.