We are fortunate in Shaw to have a beautiful Art Deco hotel on the corner of S. Grand and Castleman Ave. Designed by brothers Thomas and Frank Saum, the Saum Hotel and Apartments opened in 1926 and offered guests deluxe accomodations. It featured a lounge, restaurants, and shops on the first floor with 112 apartments as well as an eight-room penthouse and roof garden.
But the Saum has a secret past (well, probably more than one secret past). In 1937, brothers Everett and Claude Agnew organized a “Social Club” at the hotel. They gave a show every Tuesday night, featuring Eddie Randle and the Blue Devils. They wanted to expand their bookings, and so tried to get Count Basie or Jimmie Lunceford. Monday, March 31, 1941, Jimmie Lunceford played at the Saum and grossed two thousand dollars!
The shows became so popular that they needed a larger venue, and so they enlisted Miss Emma Bob, “a white lady resident” to rent them the Kiel Opera House (they wouldn’t rent to blacks). The Agnew brother’s company, Regal Sports, became famous promoters in St. Louis – bringing in Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughn, the Platters, and later Motown entertainment such as Sam Cooke, Aretha Franklin, and Marvin Gaye.
Eddie Randle and the Blue Devils, the house band at the Saum, also became famous in the St. Louis Jazz scene. Miles Davis’ first gig at age 16 was with the Blue Devils. He described the band as “hot”, “they could play their asses off”, and “everyone used to come hear us play, no matter what kind of music they played”. It was said that Eddie Randle had the best, most popular dance band in St. Louis in the 1940s. Many jazz musicians who went on to national fame, such as Clark Terry, Roy Eldridge, Benny Carter and Kenny Dorham, either sat in or listened to the group during that era.
So put on your Miles Davis, Count Basie, or Duke Ellington and honor the Jazz heritage right here in our Shaw neighborhood! Here’s a sample of Jimmie Lunceford to get your toes tapping: