How the Chitlin’ Circuit Became the Secret Stage for Black Superstars

the chitlin circuit performance venue
Via Black Then
Tremain Prioleau II
February 6, 2024

The Chitlin’ Circuit was born out of the growing need for Black entertainment spaces. Jim Crow segregation barred us from enjoying and performing in white clubs so naturally, we created our own.

The Chitlin’ Circuit got its name from chitlins, a traditional culinary staple among Black southerners. Many of the venues on the Circuit served chitlins and sometimes performers were paid in meals instead of cash.

The Circuit was a network of Black clubs through the East Coast, the South, and parts of the Midwest. From soul singers to jazz bands, comedians to blues pioneers, every performer had a home in the Chitlin’ Circuit. And the Circuit made many of them famous worldwide.

Some of the greatest Black entertainers of all time played on  the Chitlin’ Circuit. B. B. King, Aretha Franklin, and Sam Cooke played for Black crowds. Comedians like Richard Pryor, Moms Mabley, and Dick Gregory brought the house down with laughter. Performing on the Chitlin’ Circuit was a rite of passage for our comedians, singers and musicians. How great it was for our people to have this special and safe Black space.

The Chitlin’ Circuit gave our people space to showcase their talent and creativity. We didn’t need the approval of white establishments to have a good time. How can we revive the spirit of the Chitlin’ Circuit today?

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