Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club // 1947

Historically, the South End neighborhood of Boston was populated by middle- to upper-class white residents until the late 19th century, when financial crises paired with new, modern housing (constructed in the Back Bay West and Allston areas) shifted that population elsewhere. West Indian immigrants and Black Bostonians moved to the relatively new neighborhood and many formerly single-family homes were converted to tenements or multi-family uses. From this, a vibrant Black community flourished, bringing black-owned businesses like restaurants, banks and jazz clubs. The area’s famous jazz clubs boomed during the forties and fifties, yet, many have disappeared over the years with the gentrification and development in the neighborhood. Wally’s Cafe Jazz Club on Massachusetts Avenue, was founded by Joseph L. Walcott. Mr. Walcott “Wally” was a Barbadian who immigrated to America in 1910, eventually settling in Boston. He worked many jobs and eventually saved up enough by 1947, purchasing an old rowhome and converting the space into a club. Wally was believed to be the first African American to own a nightclub in New England. He brought famed jazz musicians to Boston, and they played at this iconic venue for decades until 1979, when the venue shifted across the street to this building. With the jazz movement waning in popularity, Wally maintained his commitment to the music by featuring young musicians who were attending prominent academic institutions such as Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music. Mr. Walcott cleverly decided to hire these young music students and mixed them with seasoned professionals who were veterans of the Big Band era. This mix of talent was special, and the format enabled Mr. Walcott to continue to serve the jazz loving audiences of New England. After Wally’s death in 1998 at age 101, his three children took over the bar, and today Wally’s Cafe is still owned and managed by his family, though presently closed due to COVID-19 restrictions.

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