Cabaret Cards: The Law Police Used To Keep Musicians Of Color Off StageThe New York Police Department kept musicians of color from the stage for almost three decades by revoking their cabaret cards, a license required to perform for pay in nightclubs.
Jazz musicians have always faced systems of discrimination in America. One insidious example was the cabaret card, a form of identification required for any musician to work in a New York nightclub from 1940 to 1967. The New York Police Department administered these licenses and revoked them for any minor infraction. As a result, some of the biggest names in the music at the time, like Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker, lost their right to work at a crucial points in their careers. In this Jazz Night in America video short, we trace the history of the cabaret card from its racist origins to its toll on the music, and we'll reflect on what might have been.