Webinar: East Meets West – Chinatown Night Clubs 7/15/2020

Larry Ching, “the Chinese Frank Sinatra,” with fellow performers at the Forbidden City nightclub in the early 1940s (Courtesy DeepFocus Productions, Inc.).

Webinar: July 15, 2020. 1:30 start time. 1:15 Waiting Room.

Session Abstract

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.

2 thoughts on “Webinar: East Meets West – Chinatown Night Clubs 7/15/2020”

  1. Ron, will an Evite be sent out for this webinar (hope I didn’t miss it) or should we take the initiative of contacting Gail to sign up? Thanks!

    I’m looking forward to this as my paternal grandaunt Minnie Louie Low was married to Charlie Low before her untimely early death. I’ve never explored this connection but would be interested in learning more about him and the nightclubs he and others made famous.

  2. Hi Marsia

    Like you, we are looking forward to a fun session with Chinatown night clubs. It is amazing from the feedback so far that so many have family connections that bring this topic so close to home. We will be sending out save the date notices and a Zoom registration link. So stay tuned, and put your dancing shoes on!


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