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COTTON CLUB

Cotton Club building
The legendary Cotton Club in Lubbock, pictured here in February 1965, served as an entertainment hub for the region for decades. Photograph by Conni Hancock, Tommy and Charlene Hancock Family Collection, Crossroads of Music Archive, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University.

COTTON CLUB. The Cotton Club was a ballroom, concert arena, and dance hall in Lubbock, Texas. It was a venue for big bands, country and western performers, rock-and-roll artists, and all musicians who fell in between. Beyond being the venue for the popular artists of the time, the club interacted with the local community in various ways—from hosting the Junior Welfare League’s Charity Ball in 1946 to being Lubbock’s first, and for many years only, integrated dance hall. With such a diverse level of community involvement, the Cotton Club engaged and influenced both the Lubbock community and the larger South Plains region.

Cotton Club neon sign
Cotton Club Neon Sign. Photograph by Tomas Ramírez, Tommy and Charlene Hancock Family Collection, Crossroads of Music Archive, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University.

The Lubbock Cotton Club, which had no connection to a more famous Harlem version in New York City, took its name from the region’s chief agricultural output. The original club, located on 50th Street and Railroad Avenue (present-day Southeast Drive) in a renovated Army Quonset hut, opened on November, 11, 1938. The first performers were Adelle Kastle and Frank “Deacon” Murino and his Men about Town. The club, established to appeal to Lubbock’s “high society” by hosting well-known orchestras and big bands, flourished.

By the mid-1940s the club owners began booking country and western acts. According to former Cotton Club owner, Tommy Hancock, the change in musicians was due to the lack of enough “classy” people in Lubbock to support a 1,400-capacity club. Thus the owners began booking other artists. Owners knew they could bring in more cowboys to see Hank Williams rather than Jack Teagarden or Al Donahue. Ray Terry and his Pioneer Playboys, Tex Ritter, and the Maddox Brothers with Rose were some of the other headlining performers. Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys were Friday night regulars at the club from 1953 through 1955.

In the mid-1950s the Cotton Club became a hub for rock-and-roll music. Elvis Presley performed at the Cotton Club on numerous occasions in 1955. In attendance at Presley’s performances was a local Lubbock musician, Buddy Holly, who met with Presley and was influenced by his style of music. Other rock-and-roll musicians played through the 1950s, including Little Richard, Fats Domino and Roy Orbison. In 1958 the club burned. Owner Ralph Lowe chose not to rebuild.

Tommy Hancock and wife, Charlene Condray Hancock, both well-known musicians in the Lubbock area, asked Ralph Lowe for the club’s sign and for permission to start a new Cotton Club. In 1962 the Hancocks built a new Cotton Club along the Slaton Highway (U.S. Highway 84), about fourteen miles from downtown Lubbock. The Hancocks reopened the Cotton Club, but like its predecessor, it became victim in 1964 to fire. In 1967, after the new building was complete, the Hancocks reopened the famous dance hall. The new Cotton Club was located on the site of the second incarnation.

The late 1960s started a new trend at the Cotton Club. The “hippie generation” emerged in Lubbock and frequented the club. The cowboys, however, also continued to go to the club because Hancock and his band continued to play classic country and western dance music. Surprisingly the cowboys and the alternative crowd got along well, and few fights broke out between the two groups which was very unusual for the usually rough club. Johnny Hughes, along with many others, credits the peaceful union to Tommy Hancock and the atmosphere he created at the club. “The hippies and bikers and the Unitarians and the college students could coexist and there was no fighting. It was all because of Tommy Hancock. He was doing the thing Willie got known for in Austin—peaceful coexistence.”

The 1970s saw a continual trend away from country and western music to a more alternative sound. Artists such as Waylon Jennings and the Maines Brothers replaced Bob Wills and Hank Thompson. By 1978 the Hancocks had grown tired of the club business and chose to sell the club to Joe Ely and C.B. Stubblefield. Ely and Stubblefield did not own the club for long, but they were able to book rising artists of the era, such as Stevie Ray Vaughan. In 1982 Ely and Stubblefield chose to close the Cotton Club. On October 31, 2009, the Cotton Club, after being vacant for years, reopened with a concert. The property was owned by Wayne Koontz, who leased it to James Fox. Sheldon Ross was hired as manager. Since 2009 the venue has been available for rent for live music, reunions, and other gatherings.

The Cotton Club was a progressive and trendsetting dance hall that often attracted great performers and large crowds. The West Texas venue significantly contributed to local, regional, national, and international music. The club provided the setting that spurred on the careers of local musicians before and even after they found success at larger levels.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Crossroads of Music Archive, Southwest Collection, Texas Tech University. Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, October 29, 2009. Alan Mann, Elvie and Buddy: Linked Lives (Upper Poppleton, York, England: Music Mentor Books, 2002). Christopher J. Oglesby, Fire in the Water, Earth in the Air (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006).

Ashley Pettiet-Richey

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Handbook of Texas Online, Ashley Pettiet-Richey, "Cotton Club," accessed October 23, 2017, http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xdc08.

Uploaded on July 11, 2014. Modified on October 25, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.