As you know, the new movie “Notorious” about the life and times of Brooklyn rapper Christopher Wallace (a.k.a. Notorious B.I.G.) opens in theaters on Friday. The film stars Jamal Woolard as Biggie.
I always felt that one of B.I.G.’s most unique and riveting hits was Ten Crack Commandments. To me, that cut was instructive on so many levels that it went far beyond drug culture do’s and don’ts.
So, the other day I was going through some of my history files and notes, and I must have had Biggie on the brain, because I noticed this other set of 10 commandments that were also straight-out-tha-‘hood. Harlem, that is. In 1926.
They were the “Harlem Club Ten Commandments,” published in the Inter-State Tattler, Harlem’s black-owned society newspaper.
Published again, here, for your enjoyment, probably for the first time ever in modern times.
Mind you, Harlem in 1926 was already the epicenter of America’s cultural vanguard, for blacks and whites alike. This was during the height of an African American literary, artistic, social, and cultural awakening that came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance.
White people from downtown Manhattan flocked uptown — as voyeurs or otherwise — to taste Harlem’s nightlife at hot spots like the Cotton Club, Connie’s Inn, and Small’s Paradise (no relation to Biggie Smalls). These nightclubs catered to the chic after-dinner and after-theater crowd looking for a nightcap.
Here’s a recording of Duke Ellington and his Cotton Club Orchestra performing at the whites-only Cotton Club. His performances as well as those of the Cotton Club dancers were wonderful, despite the exceedingly irritating, patronizing, and racist introductions they received:
It’s no wonder that somewhere along the way things probably got a little hectic, and somebody wisely wrote up some rules, vintage-style, aimed at any uninitiated visitors not familiar with Harlem protocol.
A “manual,” as Biggie would say. “A step-by-step booklet, for you to get, your game on track.”
Here it is. Whether you want to set these steps to music is up to you.
Harlem Club Ten Commandments
- Reserve a table in advance on Saturday or Sunday night to be sure of admittance.
- Do not offer any gratuities to the head waiter or the Captain as soon as you enter the door. If the service was satisfactory tip one of them a moderate sum upon leaving.
- Bring along your own “atmosphere” with you. It avoids controversy and is much safer all around.
- Do not get too friendly with the waiter. His name is neither Charlie nor George. Remember the old adage about “familiarity breeding contempt.”
- Pinching the cigaret girl’s cheek or asking her to dance with you is decidedly out of order. She is there for the sole purpose of dispensing cigars and cigarettes with a smile that will bring profits to the concessionaire.
- Do not try to sing and entertain, as they have special artists paid for that special purpose. Besides it has a tendency to disturb the rhythm.
- Make no requests of the leader of the orchestra for the songs of the vintage of 1890. Crooning “Sweet Adeline” was all right for your granddad, but times, alas, have changed.
- Don’t forget when paying your bill, examine the check when the waiter presents it. Remember they are human and are liable to err — intentionally or otherwise. And don’t be over generous in tipping, why be a chump? Twenty percent of your bill is quite sufficient.
- Please don’t offer to escort the entertainer or the hostess to her home after her work, or try to make a date with the cloak room girls as they all have husbands or sweethearts who usually provide them company each morning.
- It is poor judgment to flirt with ladies at another table, whether her escort is looking or not, as he might be her husband, or a hard boiled sweet heart.