From Harlem and Greenwich Village to Monte Carlo and Paris, nightclub host and cabaret singer Jimmy Daniels made a career of entertaining and performing in some of chicest nightspots on both sides of the Atlantic. Born in Laredo, Texas, in 1908, Daniels grew up in Little Rock, Arkansas, before moving to New York City to attend business school. However, he eventually left the office-world to go on stage. After landing a part in Katharine Cornell’s Broadway hit, “Dishonored Lady,” Daniel’s career was launched. He performed in Europe for much of the 1930s, before returning to New York and opening his own nightclub.
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. Jimmy Daniels was a popular figure at the Bon Soir for ten years as the host/singer/emcee.
Daniels’ career and his many associations with fellow entertainers, musicians, singers, and society people are documented in the Rex Madsen and Jimmy Daniels Photograph Collection at the Amistad Research Center. Comprised of almost 300 photographs, the collection includes images of Daniels performing and entertaining, as well as a number of inscribed photographs from others to Daniels. Of note are over 50 photographs by Carl Van Vechten of leading African American entertainers and figures, such as Edna Thomas, Harry Belafonte, Joe Louis, Bricktop, Billie Dee Williams, Diana Sands, Pearl Bailey, and others.
The finding aid for the Madsen-Daniels collection is now online and provides an item-level description of each photograph in the collection. In addition, a sampling of the photographs have been digitized in order to share a bit of the glamour and style that was the life of Jimmy Daniels. These images can be found via the online finding aid.
Posted by Christopher Harter
(Images from the Rex Madsen and Jimmy Daniels Photograph Collection. Image may not be reproduced without permission.)