Thursday, September 22, 2016

Making a Comeback - Le Bal Nègre

Le Bal Nègre at 33, rue Blomet in Paris' 15th arrondissement, was the most popular Antillean dancing nightspot in Paris for decades.

Bal Nègre advertisement

Though the establishment was officially named Le Bal Colonial, it was commonly known as Le Bal Nègre. It was created in 1924 in the French tradition of the bal-musette. The club featured music and clientele from the French Caribbean; a Martinican named Jean Rézard des Wouves led the orchestra. According to another Martinican musician named Ernest Léardée, who took over the orchestra in 1929 and remained its leader until 1931, “banjos, horns, and drums” provided the sounds that moved the crowd, and a dance called the biguine ruled the day. Josephine Baker made the biguine popular with a broader public when she performed the dance in Paris Qui Remue at the Casino de Paris in 1931.

African Americans were frequent visitors at Le Bal Nègre; Countee Cullen was a repeat customer during his visits to Paris in the late 1920s and 30s. These interactions represented a significant means of exposure of African Americans to the culture of other people of African descent. Then whites became enamored of the club, particularly the Surrealist crowd and American expats such as Hemingway and Fitzgerald. Their patronage changed the atmosphere of the club and it was reportedly never the same again.

Palmer Hayden captured the spirit of the Bal in his c. 1927 watercolor on paper Le Bal Jeunesse.

The Bal Nègre suffered great decline after the Second World War and became a café in 1962. In 1989, a jazz club called St. Louis Blues took over the space and operated there until 2006.

St. Louis Blues in 2004
© Discover Paris!

The building was slated for renovation into office space in 2010, but the project was abandoned. In 2012, approval was granted for the restoration of the Bal Nègre in its original spirit, complete with dance hall. An architectural and cultural reconstitution is now underway. It will consist of a multi-level performance hall and a multimedia art cabaret dedicated to the alignment of art and popular culture in music, film, musical theater, and the fine arts for the public’s enjoyment. It is scheduled to reopen in 2017.

Mailbox at Le Bal Nègre construction site
© Discover Paris!

Read the detailed history of the Bal Nègre here: (an English translation is available on the Web site).


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