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This is really 3 or 4 books in one, interconnected in an astonishingly adept fashion that like all good books of history (and historical fiction) will leave you researching for more. The real Ziggy Johnson ran a theater and dance school for young Black girls in Detroit, wrote an entertainment column for Detroit's Black newspaper, and knew seemingly everybody in Black American cultural and political circles, when Detroit was really the "third city" and the "caramel Camelot" for Black people. The impact of the auto industry is explained by one of the 52 "Saints" profiled in this book: "Boring, profitable work will send you out to a club. [ ] Work on an assembly line and you're hungry for human interaction. And all that going out meant everybody wanted to play Detroit." Fictional Ziggy and a young girl (how much of that is our author--most or all?) trade off narrating. A delightful bonus are the 52 cocktail recipes developed in honor of these black saints.( Helpful tip: a pony is half a shot.) You will weep for how everytime Detroit's black culture rose, it got kicked down again by auto layoffs, urban renewal, and even the Michigan Lottery (see "The World According to Fannie Davis" for a look at how the "numbers" were one of the few paths for black families to the middle class). Read this and take a trip to the Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History--it's appropriately built on the land where Ziggy's school used to be in "Black Bottom."
An enthralling literary tour-de-force that pays tribute to Detroit's legendary neighborhood, a mecca for jazz, sports, and politics, Black Bottom Saints is a powerful blend of fact and imagination reminiscent of E.L. Doctorow's classic novel Ragtime and Marlon James' Man Booker Award-winning masterpiece, A Brief History of Seven Killings.
From the Great Depression through the post-World War II years, Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson, has been the pulse of Detroit’s famous Black Bottom. A celebrated gossip columnist for the city’s African-American newspaper, the Michigan Chronicle, he is also the emcee of one of the hottest night clubs, where he’s rubbed elbows with the legendary black artists of the era, including Ethel Waters, Billy Eckstein, and Count Basie. Ziggy is also the founder and dean of the Ziggy Johnson School of Theater. But now the doyen of Black Bottom is ready to hang up his many dapper hats.
As he lays dying in the black-owned-and-operated Kirkwood Hospital, Ziggy reflects on his life, the community that was the center of his world, and the remarkable people who helped shape it.
Inspired by the Catholic Saints Day Books, Ziggy curates his own list of Black Bottom’s venerable "52 Saints." Among them are a vulnerable Dinah Washington, a defiant Joe Louis, and a raucous Bricktop. Randall balances the stories of these larger-than-life "Saints" with local heroes who became household names, enthralling men and women whose unstoppable ambition, love of style, and faith in community made this black Midwestern neighborhood the rival of New York City’s Harlem.
Accompanying these “tributes” are thoughtfully paired cocktails—special drinks that capture the essence of each of Ziggy’s saints—libations as strong and satisfying as Alice Randall’s wholly original view of a place and time unlike any other.
Alice Randall is the Harvard-educated author of novels, including The Wind Done Gone, Pushkin and the Queen of Spades, Rebel Yell, and Ada's Rules. An award-winning songwriter, she co-wrote the #1 hit XXX’s and OOO’s which celebrates Aretha Franklin. With her daughter, Caroline Randall Williams, she co-authored the acclaimed cookbook Soul Food Love which won the NAACP Image award and the young adult novel The Diary of B. B. Bright, Possible Princess, which received the Phillis Wheatley Award. A Professor and Writer-in-Residence at Vanderbilt University, Randall teaches courses on soul food, African-American children's literature, and African-American film. A native of Detroit, she lives in Nashville, Tennessee.