African American Musicians at Clemson

            Both Clemson University and the City of Clemson were surprisingly integrated in their music culture. During the 1940s to the 1960s, the main place an African American in Clemson would go if they were looking for food and entertainment was the Littlejohn Grill. Sitting between the cities of Clemson and Central on Highway 93, the spot was part of the Chitlin’ Circuit and featured many of the up and coming jazz and blues musicians including Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong, and James Brown. The musicians stayed in the back of the restaurant, described as “camping out,” since there were no other places for the musicians to stay in the segregated city at that time (Jackson). Even some of the white students from Clemson College came for big acts, such as James Brown, “to see and hear some good dancing and singing,” as one Clemson native recalls (Jackson). To the right is a picture of Horace Littlejohn behind the bar at Littlejohn Grill.

                                 Below: Duke Ellington

      African Americans not only performed at the Grill in the city; these musicians were also brought on campus eventually to play for dances. Norman Campbell of Mills Artists wrote to the Central Dance Association at Clemson College in 1938, asking them if they would consider having either Cab Calloway or Duke Ellington at one of their “various affairs” (Campbell); it is interesting that the agents would offer African American musicians right away to the Clemson organization. However, the CDA would not bring The Duke to Clemson until 1955, most likely on account of hesitation to bring a black musician. Showing these racial barriers, another letter of correspondence between Rockwell-O’Keefe Inc. Artist Representatives to the CDA shows that the CDA refused to have a racially mixed band come to perform at Clemson; the representative of O’Keefe Inc. writes, “We are fully aware of the condition existing in the South with regards to colored vocalists, etc. with white bands” (Campbell). The truth was that a fully black band would be accepted before a mixed band. If a racially mixed band came to perform, the all-white school would most likely break out in violence, since the whites that performed with the blacks would be seen as “race traitors;” if an all black band came, more than likely there would not be as much chance for violence since they would only be seen as providing a service to the school. The main worry on the part of the CDA about all-black bands was not violence, but rather whether or not there would be enough turnout. However, the Tom Stanley, a representative of the CDA, did write to Mills Artist Inc. checking the availability and pricing of Duke Ellington (Stanley-September). In a later letter from Stanley to the Mills agent, he states that, “the Duke is one of the few colored bands that I would even consider having down here” (Stanley-November), displaying the talent of the Duke.

In 1955, the idea of having the Duke at one of the CDA dances came to fruition. Of course, special accommodations had to be made for the Duke and his orchestra, since “there were no adequate places in town for African-Americans to eat or sleep” (Allen 110). Though the Duke was a well-known musician by that time, the racial segregation of the South still applied to his situation, prohibiting him from being able to stay downtown. However, Ellington had this to say about the CDA: “the hospitality we received at Clemson was the finest we have ever had in the South” (Allen 110). Clemson was ahead of its time, especially for an all-white school in South Carolina, for bringing black musicians to play.


Allen, Trent, and Kevin Bray. Clemson: There's Something in These Hills. [Clemson, S.C.]: Fort Hill, 2006. Print.

Jackson, Vince. "In Era of Segregation, Littlejohn Grill Was Social Center for Black People in Clemson." Anderson Independent Mail. N.p., 1 July 2009. Web. 15 Apr. 2013.


Campbell, Norman. "Mills Artists." Letter to Central Dance Association. 5 Sept. 1938. MS. Clemson, SC. Special Collections, Clemson University Libraries, Clemson, SC

Squires, Harry. "Rockwell O'Keefe." Letter to Westray Rivenbark, Central Dance Association. 19 Sept. 1938. MS. Clemson, SC. Special Collections, Clemson University Libraries, Clemson, SC

Stanley, Tom. "Stanley to Campbell of Mills Artists- November." Letter to Norman Campbell. 28 Nov. 1938. MS. Clemson, SC. Special Collections, Clemson University Libraries, Clemson, SC

Stanley, Tom. "Stanley to Campbell of Mills Artists- September." Letter to Norman Campbell. 22 Sept. 1938. MS. Clemson, SC. Special Collections, Clemson University Libraries, Clemson, SC

Picture Sources in order of appearance:

Horace Littlejohn Tending Bar at the Grill. N.d. Photograph. Clemson, SC. Facebook. Littlejohn's Grill Clemson, S.C., 9 Mar. 2011. Web. 2 May 2013. <>.

Duke Ellington. N.d. Photograph. Duke Ellington. All About Jazz. Web. 2 May 2013. <>.