Webinar: July 15, 2020. 1:30 start time. 1:15 Waiting Room.
This webinar explores a little known, but exciting topic, in Chinese-American history: Chinese-American nightclubs. In particular, the presentation will focus on the nightclubs owned by a well-known herbalist, Fong Wan of Oakland, and how he eventually turned a bankrupt restaurant into a first-class nightclub. Many of the performers (singers, dancers, magicians, acrobats, comedians, etc) were Chinese with headliner names; like, the “Chinese Frank Sinatra,” or the “Chinese Ginger Rogers.” Many performers were 2nd generation Asians coming out of the Great Depression and who loved entertaining but were shut out from performing live on American stage or in the movies. The Chinese nightclubs offered a venue for them to show their many talents and opened opportunities that they could not realize otherwise. The clubs became extremely popular during the 1940s-early 1960s and were places to see and be seen by the Hollywood elite.
About the Speaker
Calvin was born in Oakland near Chinatown. In the 1940s, his mother worked as a part-time, evening hostess at the Oakland nightclub. She didn’t want to leave the young children (including me) at home, fending for themselves; so, she brought them to the club. The kids were told to sit way in the back or sit upstairs in the balcony—quietly. We watched the shows, drinking cherry cokes, and were fascinated by the variety and talent of the performers. We were especially mesmerized by the magicians and acrobats. In-between shows, a few of the performers would occasionally “babysit” us and chat. One of the magicians even showed us a few, simple magic tricks (that I have now completely forgotten). In the early 1950s, our parents would sometimes take us to the Club Shanghai in San Francisco Chinatown on Friday nights. My father would be conducting business and my mother would chat with the employees/friends in the back room or kitchen. The only time the kids were allowed in (i.e., forced into) the kitchen was when the “exotic” dancers came on the stage…. We met many of the performers but were too young to really appreciate most of them.