The Alabam hosted an annual "drag ball" that attracted a multi-racial crowd, with men wearing lipstick and dressed in gowns. A reader’s letter was published in the Los Angeles Sentinel on January 30, 1947, complaining, “Halloween night, the Club Alabam gave the sexual dearranged men a chance to parade in splendor and glory at the famous ‘Drag Ball,’ where prizes were given for men dressed like women.”
Photographs here show contestants filling the dance floor during a drag contest at Club Alabam, hosted by Bill Hefflin circa 1945. Photographer: Clyde Woods. Part of the LA Public Library Photo Collection.
From the 1920s to 1950s, Central Avenue was the hub of the West Coast jazz scene. Famous the world over, “the Avenue,” as it was lovingly called, was a must visit destination for jazz lovers staying in Los Angeles. “I didn’t know where Sunset Boulevard was when I moved to L.A., but sure I knew Central,” legendary producer Quincy Jones recalled.
The Alabam was black-owned and run by bandleader Curtis Mosby, “the mayor of Central Avenue.” The club featured black entertainment for integrated audiences and was one of numerous nightclubs and theaters that flourished on Central Avenue until the early 1950s. “Club Alabam quickly became the hottest and ritziest nightclub on Central Avenue,” according to Sean J. O’Connell. “Oh God, we had people like Myrna Loy, George Raft; Loretta Young; they were down there all the time,” Norman Bowden remembered.
Over the years, people like Billie Holiday, Johnny Otis, and Gerald Wilson would perform at the Alabam. Trumpeter Clora Bryant remembered Holiday babysitting her daughter, while she rehearsed on stage. The Alabam also hosted comedians like Moms Mabley, and had a famous chorus line, choreographed by film choreographer Norma Jean Miller.