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Small’s Paradise was a basement club located at 2294 seventh Ave. It was opened in 1925 by Ed Small’s and was the only club in Harlem owned and operated by an African American.
Small’s had a no segregation policy and was open later than the other Harlem nitespots with a 6:00 AM floor show and breakfast dance.
The waiters were part of the entertainment dancing the Charleston and delivering the food on roller skates.
Charlie Johnson and His Small’s Paradise Orchestra was the house band for the first ten years of the club’s existence. Charlie Johnson had one of the outstanding Harlem bands of the era that featured many artists who would go on to great fame. This included Benny Carter, Jabbo Smith, Sidney Bechet, Edgar Sampson and Benny Waters. Elmer Snowden and his band played the Sunday matinees.
In the early 1930s Billie Holiday appeared at Smalls in her first attempt as a professional singer.
A young Malcolm X was a waiter at Small’s in the early 1940s.
Several years later Wilt Chamberlain purchased the club making it “Big Wilt’s Small’s Paradise”
Small’s was the longest running club in Harlem finally closing in 1986. Currently it’s the site of the Thurgood Marshall Academy.