Barney Josephson, the one-time shoe salesman and jazz aficionado credited with America's first racially integrated nightclub, New York's Cafe Society, died Thursday in a New York City hospital of internal bleeding.
The entrepreneur who in 1938 opened a club "where blacks and whites worked together behind the footlights and sat together out front," was 86 and had closed his last musical establishment, The Cookery, in 1984.
Josephson, who could not play a note of music, was credited with launching the careers of such black artists as Billie Holliday, Hazel Scott, Lena Horne and Sarah Vaughan. Horne once said that Josephson not only gave her a career but self-respect; Holliday owed to Josephson one of her signature songs, "Strange Fruit," the eerie anti-lynching ballad that the nightclub owner discovered and asked her to sing.
The son of Latvian Jewish immigrants who went to work in his oldest brother's shoe store, he tired of the shoe business in the 1930s. By then several excursions to Harlem saloons, where blacks could perform but if admitted at all had to sit in the least desirable seats, had made him a jazz fan.