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Television Review : Singing the Blues on 'Central Avenue'

February 20, 1989|ZAN STEWART

Lois Shelton's engrossing documentary, "Ernie Andrews: Blues for Central Avenue" (airing on KCET Channel 28 and 10 tonight) skillfully weaves together two compelling tales.

Major emphasis goes to the sometimes pain-filled story of the obviously gifted singer Andrews, who had hit records while still attending Jefferson High School but whose career, through this circumstance and that, never really took off. Andrews' life serves as the stepping-off point for an examination of the era of L.A.'s Central Avenue, which, from the early-to-late '40s, was a mecca for black music and entertainment, as well as being a haven for white patrons.

Using a blend of interview footage, performance shots and still photos, Shelton segues smoothly between her subjects. We follow Andrews' career from his winning talent contests at age 15 to cutting his first record at 17 and then appearing on Central Avenue. Later, with the singer as our guide, we are taken to the sites of many of the former night spots. Most of these are vacant lots and, with a look of irony on his face, Andrews points out one that once housed the Jungle Room, where he and his wife, Delores, were married 36 years ago.

Interviews with such musicians as Buddy Collette, Harry (Sweets) Edison and Eddie Beal, former club owner Esvan Mosby and Delores Andrews add insightful information. The film, which briefly but clearly documents the racist attitudes and laws prevalent in Los Angeles at the time, makes the case that the open fraternization of whites (particularly white females) with blacks led to the political and police pressure that ultimately closed down Central Avenue.

The film includes many scenes of Andrews in his milieu, singing portions of "Take the 'A' Train," "Teach Me Tonight," "Roll 'Em Pete" and "Lush Life" with passion and persuasion and power.

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