Bambola Social Club

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Under the RHUMBA After Hours Mecca for Shake Dancers and Be-Bop

One of the most popular clubs in the heyday of Pittsburgh’s Hill District was the Bambola Social Club.  An after hours membership club it was housed in the wide basement underneath the RHUMBA movie theater located at 53 Fullerton Street three doors from the intersection of Wylie Avenue.  When the bars and clubs of the Hill closed for the night the members of the Bambola and their guests went to the Bambola for more late night entertainment.   It was open every night and provided entertainment from midnight to five or six in the morning on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. The Bambola presented floor shows which were two hour sets of acts by dancers, comedians, risqué shake dancers, and a band hosted by an emcee. Floor shows offered similar types of variety acts that were seen at the Stanley and Roosevelt Theatres but with no cover charge.  Patrons just presented their club membership cards to gain entrance for themselves and their guests.

Performers who appeared at the Bambola included the fast “shake dancer” Gypsy Rose Lee, female impersonator Gilda Gray, vocalist Bea Henderson, the blues singers Jo Jo Thompson and Andrew Tibbs, and dancers Billy and Cricket. Saxophonist Harry Williams’s band backed the performers.  In 1947 trumpeter Tommy Turrentine took over the Bamboloa’s band leading a quartet of pianist Robert Head, bassist Bobby Boswell, and drummer Cecil Brooks II.  The floor shows started at 2 AM when most of patrons came in after the regular hours bars closed. The band played music from midnight to 2 A.M. while the crowd was sparse.  Turrentine took advantage of that time to play the adventurous new sounds of Bebop that were frowned upon by other clubs on the Hill.  The Bambolo bands played Bebop for their own enjoyment while the patrons came later to enjoy the floor shows.

The Bambola Social Club opened in November 1946 as a chartered membership social club.  Run by a board of directors the Bambola organized events for its members, sponsored baseball and basketball teams, and gave the members a club to socialize and enjoy late night floor shows.  The Bambola’s board of officers consisted of president Robert “Popeye” Singleton, president; vice presented Orlando Rankin, vice president; financial secretary Shelby Crutchfield, treasurer Docenia “Bubber” Johnson, and corresponding secretary Lawrence Richardson. The bartenders where Cal Spitler and Charles “Do Wrong” Moore.

The Bambola Social Club closed sometime in the mid 1950’s.  The Rhumba Theater, which had shown movies since the 1920 silent movie era, was demolished to make way for the Civic Arena.  Fullerton Street no longer exists. The rich music and cultural life of the Hill was extinguished in the name of "urban renewal".  But the Bebop music of Tommy Turrentine and his band mates remain alive in classic recordings.     

Teenie Harris Photo
The RHUMBA Theater 53 Fullerton Street
Demolition of the RHUMBA & Bambola