How did the community and the shared experiences of African-Americans help to create jazz in Omaha?
For the Love of the Music
Research compiled by Dakota N., Nevaeh Y, Brandon W., Joe F, Tavien H., and Marvin C.,
Students created this documentary as part of the OPS Making Invisible Histories Visible initiative.
This is a photo of Dan Desdunes and his band, who were popular during the early 1900’s in Omaha. This photo is significant because the Dan Desdunes Band helped sparked local interest in jazz and soon became an Omaha favorite. Mr. Desdunes was a powerhouse on the early Omaha music scene. He has been referred to as the father of African American music in Omaha. By 1917, less than a year after the first recordings of jazz , Mr. Desdunes had a jazz orchestra in Omaha, Desdunes Jazz Orchestra. Mr. Desdunes moves to Omaha from New Orleans and brought his hometown's vibrant musical heritage with him. (Photograph courtesy of the Great Plains Black History Museum).
This is an old ticket stub from the Dreamland Ballroom. The Dreamland Ballroom was located in North Omaha at 2221 North 24th Street in the Jewell Building, which was built in 1923. The Dreamland Ballroom was an important part of Omaha's jazz scene for more than 40 years. Many legendary jazz and blues performers played there including Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Fats Domino. If you look at this ticket, you will see that Fats Domino played at the Dreamland on June 28, 1954. You can see the signature of James Jewell, the owner of the Dreamland Ballroom and the Jewell Building, on the lower right side of the ticket. Without successful ticket sales, the Dreamland would not have lasted as long as it did. (Ticket courtesy of Great Plains Black History Museum).
This is a current photograph of the building at 24th and Lake that housed Allen’s Showcase Lounge. The Showcase was a popular jazz and blues venue in North Omaha. Paul B. Allen Sr. was the proprietor and ran it from approximately 1950 to 1986. Many of the people we interviewed remembered Allen's Showcase Lounge fondly and asserted that many local musicians got their start here, including Omaha legend Buddy Miles. Mr. Allen also booked musicians who were already famous on a national level, like Dionne Warwick, Sam Cooke and James Brown. (Photo courtesy of Brandon W.)
This photograph from the 1960s shows a well-dressed group smiling and celebrating outside Allen's Showcase, a popular jazz and blues venue. Paul Allen Sr. is pictured fourth from the left. Allen's Showcase was "the hot spot" in a vibrant nightlife along North 24th Street in the middle of the twentieth century. The area on 24th Street Cuming Street to Spencer Street was affectionately known in the Community as "The Deuce 4" or "The Deuce". There were numerous music venues and night clubs along North 24th, including McGill's Blue Room, The Offbeat Club, The Carnation Ballroom, Jim Bell's Harlem, M&M Lounge, and of course, Allen's Showcase Lounge and The Dreamland Ballroom. (Photograph courtesy of Patricia Allen).
Joachim-Ernst Berendt and Günter Huesmann, The Jazz Book: From Ragtime to the 21st Century (Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2009).
Ken Burns, Jazz: The Story of America’s Music, film (2005, New York: Columbia/Legacy), DVD.
“Dreamland Ballroom,” The History Harvest
“From Jazz to Vibes, the Many Sounds of Omaha,” All Things Considered (March 11, 2006)
“History,” Love’s Jazz and Arts Center
“History of the Blue Lion Center,” Union
Ashley M. Howard, “Then the Burning Began”: Omaha, Riots, and the Growth of Black Radicalism, 1966-1969,” MA Thesis, University of Nebraska-Omaha, 2006.
Patrick D. Jones and Jared Leighton, In Their Own Image: Artifacts from the Great Plains Black History Museum (Virginia Beach: The Donning Company Publishers, 2014).
Preston Love, A Thousand Honey Creeks Later: My Life in Music from Basie to Motown (Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1997).
Tim McMahan, “Sharing the Love: An Interview with Omaha Jazz Great Preston Love,” https://www.timmcmahan.com/prestonlove.htm
Robyn Murray, “North Omaha’s History Drives Arts ‘Renaissance’” KVNO News (August 20, 2012)
“Omaha: The Triple-A of Jazz,” Making Invisible Histories Visible
Jesse Otto, “Contemporaries: Black Orchestras in Omaha before 1950,” MA Thesis, University of Nebraska-Omaha, 2010.
H.J. Pinkett, An Historical Sketch of the Omaha Negro (Omaha, NE: H.J. Pinkett, 1937).
Alonzo N. Smith, Compiler, Black Nebraskans – Interviews from the Nebraska Black Oral History Project II , (Nebraska Committee for the Humanities, 1982).
Brandon Vogel, Wanda Ewing, John-Paul Gurnett, Our City Our Culture
Click here to view a GIS map of musicians living in North Omaha from 1940 to 1960.