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Earl Watkins
Drummer
Former Fillmore Resident

Earl Watkins
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Video Credit: KQED

Fillmore streets
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Photo Credit: KRON


On Race Relations in San Francisco

During the pre-war years for minorities, especially African Americans, we had a lot of barriers that we were faced with. For one thing, you had housing discrimination. There were many districts where landlords wouldn't rent to you. There were certain bars and restaurants where they wouldn't serve you. Downtown you were really faced with problems. They would have signs up that said, "We have the right to refuse service to anyone." And they wouldn't serve you. In Chinatown, if you were an African American and you went there on a night when the restaurants were busy, they would turn you away. The Japanese restaurants would always serve you. There was a Jewish community along McAllister and on Fillmore. The Jewish community always made you welcome. In the Fillmore district, the races were very social.

On Bop City

We had a world famous after-hours spot called Bop City. It was a place that ran for fifteen years. Musicians, playing in the nightclubs, would start to come down and play, and the next thing you know, the place suddenly caught on. During that time anybody who was anybody would end up at Bop City after they played their engagement. Gradually it shaped up into an after-hours club with ambiance, the décor improved, and there were murals on the wall. They had Coltrane and Miles Davis and Dizzy and the Bird. After the musicians started coming in, they set a policy: every Thursday night was celebrity night. You never knew who you would see on the bandstand. I went in there on nights when Oscar Peterson was playing. Earl Grinder. Dinah Washington was singing. Ella Fitzgerald. Billie Holliday. Musicians from Duke Ellington's and Count Basie's bands played. Every band had some young hot shots who'd want to play because it gave them a chance to stretch out their regular performance.

Bob City sign
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Photo Credit: KRON

 

dancing on the streets of the Fillmore
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Photo Credit: WNET

On the Music's Impact on the Fillmore

The local community would support the clubs. They brought music into the Fillmore. It did a lot to help integrate the races, to bring them together socially. There was discrimination and separation of the races but with the music, it's an international language. It had a way of bringing the white, black, and Asian communities together. I made many friends from all races while I was working in nightclubs. If our music hadn't exploded the way it did, we probably wouldn't have had the mixing of the races, or as much of the camaraderie as we did. The Fillmore jazz had a wonderful social impact.

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