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Café Society

— Timarie Diehl

Celebrating the intersection of inclusivity and creativity

Black History Month

Embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) requires a constant curiosity about the world around us. At JK, we continue to challenge ourselves to shape and prioritize our commitment to DEI, finding inspiration in unexpected places along the way. For one JKer, that inspiration struck during a walk in New York’s City’s West Village, where she spotted a plaque on the side of a building marking the location of Café Society.

The first racially integrated nightclub in American history, Café Society welcomed Black and white musicians from 1938 through 1948, priding itself on treating all patrons equally—no matter their race.

The club featured some of the greatest Black musicians of the day, including Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Pete Johnson, Big Joe Turner, Mary Lou Williams, Sarah Vaughan, and many more. It was the birthplace of Billie Holiday’s career, where she left crowds stunned on three consecutive nights by ending with “Strange Fruit,” a heart-wrenching song about the horrors of lynching.

Café Society was a progressive and inclusive space, sparking conversations and attracting creatives, artists, and thought leaders of all kinds. One café patron, Dutch painter Piet Mondrian, was inspired by the club when he created the Broadway Boogie Woogie, one of the most famous modern paintings about New York, that brilliantly evokes the tone and style of an African-American style of Jazz with the same name.

Café Society has long represented the intersection of inclusivity and artistry—a place where different cultures and perspectives came together and where creativity thrived. This Black History Month, we take the powerful lessons of Café Society to heart as we strive to tell richer stories and build a more diverse, equitable, and inclusive future.

Mondrian

Piet Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie Woogie 1942-43

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