The Hi-Hat Club, which was built at this site in the 1950s, was once an important stop on the “chitlin circuit” for African American blues and soul performers. B. B. King, James Brown, Otis Redding, Ike & Tina Turner, and many others played to packed houses here. Owner Milton Barnes (1915-2005), one of Mississippi’s most successful African American entrepreneurs, also owned Barnes Cleaners, the Hattiesburg Black Sox baseball team, and several other night spots in addition to his own contracting business.
The Hi-Hat Club flourished during the heyday of the “chitlin circuit,” when most of the touring venues for the nation’s top blues, R & B, and soul performers were large African American nightclubs and dance halls. The Hi-Hat, one of the largest clubs in Mississippi, often drew crowds of eight to nine hundred, sometimes in excess of a thousand. As economics and audiences changed, the role of clubs like the Hi-Hat declined as the bigger shows gravitated to auditoriums and arenas, and by 1994 the Hi-Hat had closed its doors.
Owner Milton Barnes started Barnes Cleaners in 1935, expanded his various enterprises over the years, and was honored for his many achievements by official proclamation of the State of Mississippi in 2001. Barnes opened the Embassy Club at this site in the 1940s and rebuilt it as the Hi-Hat after a 1957 fire. This area, known as Palmers Crossing, was then outside the city limits and thus subject to fewer restrictions than nightspots in town on Mobile Street, the center of much of Hattiesburg’s earlier blues activity. A number of other nightspots operated in Palmers Crossing over the years, including the Club Desire, Blue Flame Beer Parlor, Thelma’s Place, Club Manhattan, Dashiki, Aquarius, and the Elks (I.B.P.O.E.W.) Lodge. The Embassy competed with the Harlem Night Club, on Highway 11 South, to present big-name acts during the segregation era, but even then, certain acts–Fats Domino, in particular–attracted white audiences here, as did Ike & Tina Turner and B. B. King in later years. Guitarist Chick Willis also recalled carloads of white teenagers and college students parked outside the Hi-Hat vicariously enjoying the music.
Other performers at the Embassy or Hi-Hat included James Brown, Otis Redding, Sam Cooke, Al Green, Johnnie Taylor, Tyrone Davis, Albert King, Ray Charles, Rufus Thomas, Little Milton, Louis Armstrong, Louis Jordan, Big Joe Turner, Ruth Brown, Guitar Slim, Hank Ballard & the Midnighters, Charles Brown, Lowell Fulson, Joe Morris, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Junior Parker, Al “TNT” Braggs, Joe Simon, Z. Z. Hill, Joe Tex, Clarence Carter, Latimore, Solomon Burke, Ollie Nightingale, Shirley Brown, Otis Clay, O. V. Wright, Denise LaSalle, Artie “Blues Boy” White, Lynn White, Millie Jackson, Ronnie Lovejoy, the Bar-Kays, Bobby Powell, L. C. Cooke, Southside Movement, and Candi Staton. Eddie Lee “Cozy” Corley and the Blue Gardenias, Terry Leggett and the Jewels of Swing, Jimmie Payton, and the Bogalusa-based Rhythm Aces were among the regional acts featured here. Milton Barnes also invested in several other clubs and cafes, including a Hi-Hat Club in Gulfport and the Crown Club and Hut Drive-In in Laurel.
content © Mississippi Blues Commission
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