Black History Month: Black & Tan Hall

In celebration of Black History Month, we are hosting a series of profiles and stories to amplify and honor people, businesses, organizations, and events connected to the history of Seattle’s Black community.

The term “black and tan” originated in Harlem to identify clubs where patrons of all races were welcome despite segregation laws. The Black & Tan Club in Seattle opened in the early 1920s and operated for nearly five decades. The popular venue was located at 12th and Jackson. Originally named the Alhambra Cabaret, the club was first owned and operated by local Black entrepreneur, Harry Legg.

Over the years, the Black & Tan Club changed names and ownership a few times, but always remained a safe and inclusive place for Black residents and performers to congregate. For musicians, the venue was a hot spot for late-night jam sessions after playing for white audiences downtown. Many esteemed musicians like Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Duke Ellington, and Gladys Knight graced the stage of the Black & Tan Club.

In addition to serving musicians, both Legg and later owner E. Russell “Noodles” Smith, understood the important role the venue played in providing jobs for African Americans. At a time when Black employment options were limited, the club employed an entirely Black staff, providing critical job experience opportunities.

Inspired by the venue’s extensive history, Seattle locals Benjamin Hunter, Tarik Abdullah, and Rodney Herold co-founded Black & Tan Hall in 2016. They aimed to create a cultural hub that would provide food, performance space, paid fellowships, rental space for workshops and lectures, and job training.

In December 2020, the co-owners partnered with more than 30 South Seattle organizations to purchase a vacant theater on Rainier Avenue South in Hillman City. The group received $1.2 million in funding from the City of Seattle’s Equitable Development Initiative for the purchase.

Although Black & Tan Hall has not officially opened its doors, they have co-organized events with organizations throughout the city and launched their Good Jobs Fellowship program that teaches young people skills like art, cooking, and community organizing. Over the next year, the co-founders plan to expand their digital presence and hopes to open their doors to the public by the end of 2021. For more information on Black & Tan Hall visit www.blackandtanhall.com.

This Black History Month profile was recommended by Seattle Department of Neighborhoods Department Relations Director Melia Brooks.