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Daniels, Jimmie (1908-1984) | Amistad Research Center

Name: Daniels, Jimmie (1908-1984)
Variant Name: Jimmy Daniels
Fuller Form: James Lesley Daniels


Historical Note:

James Lesley Daniels, Jimmie (Jimmy) Daniels, 1908-1984, was a gay African American nightclub host and cabaret singer who was widely known as a general host and singer at the Bon Soir nightclub in Greenwich Village, New York.  Daniels' music primarily included the songs of the Gershwins, Rodgers and Hart, and Cole Porter, as well as Harold Arlen.

Jimmie Daniels was born in Laredo, Texas, in 1908, but he grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Daniels left Arkansas and came to New York in the 1920s to go to Bird's Business College in the Bronx to become a secretary. After finishing school, Daniels returned to Little Rock to become a secretary for A.E. Bush, the president of Century Life Insurance Company.

However, not long after, he returned to New York in 1928 with a desire to leave the office-world and go on stage.  After someone he knew introduced him to Katherine Cornell's manager, he landed a part in Cornell's Broadway hit, "Dishonored Lady." Following his start on Broadway, Daniels performed briefly with "Savage Rhythm" and the Chamberlain-Brown Stock Company in Mt. Vernon.

Leaving Broadway, Daniels found his first professional singing job at the Hot Cha nightclub in Harlem, but he quickly became a part of the European music scene.  In the summer of 1933, he became popular at the Summer Sporting club in Monte Carlo, Monaco.  Between 1933 and 1934, he accompanied the internationally famous Reginald Forsythe at Ciro's in London.  Not long after, Daniels returned to New York and became the premier entertainer at Marian Cooley's Sunday night suppers at the Ship Grill.

In 1935, Daniels went out on his own and sponsored a series of parties for three seasons at the Bronze Studio.  During this time, he met Herbert Jacoby, who convinced him to come to Paris to entertain at his Le Reubon Blue in 1936 and 1937.  When Jacoby opened a spot in New York, Jimmie Daniels became a popular attraction.  However, Daniels returned to Paris in 1938 to perform at Le Reubon Blue.

After singing throughout Europe during the thirties, Daniels became popular in New York nightlife.  In 1939, he opened Jimmie Daniels' Nightclub at 114 West 116th Street, an establishment that the New Yorker described as the "model of dignity and respectability" by "Harlem standards."  Daniels owned and operated the Harlem supper club from 1939 to 1942.  He left the club to go into the military.

Around 1950, Daniels became the host at the Bon Soir on West 8th Street, a chic supper club. Known as a place where African Americans and Whites, as well as gay and straight clientele, interacted without tension, the club was described as having a balance of elegant, intimate, risque, and respectable ambiance.  Jimmie Daniels was a popular figure at the Bon Soir for ten years as the host/singer/emcee.  The club hosted a variety of rising stars, such as Barbra Streisand, Phyllis Diller, and Kaye Ballard.  The Bon Soir was Barbra Streisand's first engagement in New York.  When the owners of the Bon Soir let Daniels go after ten years, the club lost substantial business and they begged him to return, but he did not. During the 1950s, Daniels shared a house on Banks Street with fashion designer Rex Madsen.

Circa 1960, after Daniels left the Bon Soir, he hosted what he called "a spring series of supper soirees" at the L'Etang Supper Club in lower Manhattan.  Daniels continued to perform around the city at clubs, parties, and festivals until his death.  Daniels died at age 76 in the summer of 1984 at St. Clare's Hospital in Manhattan after suffering from a stroke.

Sources:

Hughes, Langston and Milton Meltzer. Black Magic: A Pictorial History of the Negro in American Entertainment. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1968.

Anderson, Jervis. This Was Harlem: A Cultural Portrait, 1900-1950. New York : Farrar Straus Giroux, 1982.

Cooke, Marvel. "Jim Daniels: Host Supreme." New York Amsterdam News. 27 January 1940.

Note Author: Diane Galatowitsch





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