The Rhythm Night Club Fire

Marker

Many may know about the Rhythm Night Club fire in 1940 that claimed the lives of some 200+ (accounts vary widely of the number who died and number present) African Americans gathered for a show by the Walter Barnes Orchestra (and his Royal Creolians) in Natchez, Mississippi.  Crowds were estimated as high as 700 people in attendance, and if that is accurate, it is astonishing that more did not die in the conflagration under the horrific circumstances.  The unpretencious building pictured below is the Rhythm Night Club (On Site) Memorial Museum.

Interpretative Center

Betty and Monroe Sago, who owned the property that formerly housed the Rhythm Club, created the museum in 2010 to ensure this aspect of Natchez history was not forgotten.  The Mississippi blues Trail erected a monument commemorating Howlin’ Wolf’s The Natchez Burning, and John Lee Hooker recorded a version entitled Natchez Fire (Burning) where he ascribed the fire as occurring in 1937.

Barnes and nine of the band members also perished.  Barnes, known as Chicago’s “Swing King” was on a Southeastern tour.  Barnes was a Vicksburg native and scheduled to play there the following night, and then again in New Albany before heading back north.

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3 Responses to The Rhythm Night Club Fire

  1. Beth says:

    It was a real tragedy, much like the Cocoanut Grove fire in Boston that claimed so many lives. Both of these led to better fire codes, thank goodness. I always thought that Barnes had escaped, but that he never played another performance. I want to visit sometime, thanks for sharing.

    • Suzassippi says:

      Apparently, only two members escaped, one of whom was reported never to play again.

      • Beth says:

        The story I heard was partly correct. Reading about this years ago has always made mindful of where exits are in any building and I’m very uncomfortable in large crowds where there are small exit doors.

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