Mother DotMother Dot:
Full Interview


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Mother Dot: Then there was Jimmy Smith <inaudible> I started with him. And in one week and Ozzie Davis. You know just in one week. There just getting away from here quickly and there’s no one to keep it going and that’s why there is such a change I think in the music now. That you don’t hear it unless you listen to WRTI and I’m not a promoter of WRT but I’m a listener. I’m a devote listener. Yes even at my age <inaudible> I love it. I love it. Yes dear.

Student: Speaking of age it seems like jazz unlike so many other forms of music is a little less youth obsessed. Like all the people you mentioned were successful passed twenty five. So how do you think jazz maybe as a culture appreciated more advanced singers as opposed to just the new young person coming out of the charts like they do now?

Mother Dot: I think they um...Do you mean is it more inspiring?

Student: Yea.

Mother Dot: I think so. I’m saying look at me. You know I am my kids sometimes they don’t believe me. I was on the <inaudible> the other day and my grandchild came in and she was hysteric <inaudible> look at momma. I was fine. I didn’t even think about it you know I was just playing my jazz. It was inspiring, it is.

Some music you listen to you relax. Something like gospel you get that spiritual lifting your looking for or whatever. I think it’s the person to you know we are all in different...We all have our own personal feeling and likes and dislikes and I guess that has to do with the feeling of.....I guess there is no age limit when it comes to music but to me music is even the wind blowing sometimes. And I did record, listen to this. Outside my window somehow with the tree out there wooo woo woo and I said boy that’s relaxing, that’s music. It is and its strange it isn’t because it sounded like music to me and I got my little recorder and I recorded and I said I’m going to sell it one day. (laughter) But it did it sounded so good so its hard to answer that because there are different moods and different people with different brains and minds and different situations so its hard to say what music does what to who because of all those different changes and different people. But if you want to get picked get some good jazz and up lifting...

Student: How did you get the name Mother Dot?

Mother Dot: My mother like I said I was a very young mother at a young age and we all called my mother momma. Alright so when I grow up being with the younger crowd and still going to school what have you and my kids children started calling me Dot and I said no no no not hard as I was working and trying to. I didn’t like that so they started calling me mother. I felt better about that when I would be somewhere and I would be working all night and I like them saying mother. I did not like Dot or Dotty. My name is Dorthea but they called me Dotty then later on the grand children came so it was momma and mother and so my grand kids some how one of the babies some of <inaudible>
Children can do so much with out even realizing it and one of my grand babies by hearing Dot and mother put it together and said Mother Dot. And there it was and so when they did this documentary the girl that played the younger me, Sabrina I know her from the <inaudible> So all the neighborhood and everything I’m the block captain. I’m into everybody’s business and everybody calls me Mother Dot so it sticks. And by the way I would like for all of you to call me Mother Dot too. Yes but I yes you're stuck so now its there.

Dr. Muller: How about some of the men in this class ask a question or two? Boys near the back some questions?

Mother Dot: Can you hear me back there? Ok understand what I’m saying?

Dr. Muller: If you were to recall what some of the clubs where like. We just listed a whole bunch of clubs that used to be in Philadelphia. What were the differences between clubs? Why would you choose to go to one or the other? Was it simply that one was in the neighborhood or on the corner so you always were more acquainted there? Or how? Who? Did you sing at a whole lot of different places? Did you sing quit often? Can you kind of reconstruct what it was like?

Mother Dot: Back in the day there was a place called Spider Kelly’s which was downtown in center city between Market and Chestnut between 15th and 16th alright. Small street, picture it. <inaudible> Golden girls. It was a little street but on this side there was a club called Spider Kelly’s and down the street there was a small bar. Cross the street there were two clubs and out of four of them three of them had live entertainment. Well now we did five. We did six nights a week. There was entertainment from nine until two every night. On Saturdays from four to seven you had a matinee live entertainment. On Mondays you had a matinee live entertainment. So we worked six days plus two matinees every week. If you were good the people liked you and there was enough places where we were able to go. From like say for instance south Philadelphia they had a place called Paradise they had Peps Show Bar. They had a place called Budweiser. All these places had entertainment even small hotels like the Glyn hotel downstairs was the bar but they had entertainment. All the places. When they they made ready to put in entertainment they made a space for it in their establishment. So you had places in south Philadelphia you had places here in west Philadelphia which was Polliton bar the 421. I could name about six out here Mr. Silks so many places that had live entertainment six nights a week seven and two matinees. All of them just thins so if you didn’t work south Philadelphia you may work south Philadelphia this week and then you go in a club in west Philadelphia. And people would
float they would come and see you. They would come out for the night. They would make a lot the spots north Philadelphia. I think we had the most in north Philadelphia because of a place called the strip when I came off the road <inaudible> I’m still moving when I found my self settling. I invested in a place called the strip because I thought that was the avenue that I thought would be forever swinging. Because in this film you saw that where I pointed out so many of the places and everyone of them had live entertainment. We had Billy Eckstine, Sarah Vaughn, Donna Washington. All of them because you had houses that were classified. You had a AA which maybe was Bulumbos down at 13th and Market. I worked there. We had B house C house D house. And I fortunately being with the groups like this and other groups I worked mostly the A houses or the AA. See then the places around the city. What we call the local places they were like B houses and C houses which meant when they rated the like that it meant financial. In the A house you got bigger money. In the D house your scale at that time in a D house I think it was like $15 or $20 a night. Ok in your C house it was like ya. In a D house I think it was $15 in a B house I think it was maybe $25. This is a night but you worked all week.

Dr. Muller: And this was largely in the 50’s?

Mother Dot: This was in the 50’s and 60’s.

Student: So if a AA house meant that you got paid more what did a patron pay to get in?

Mother Dot: And that’s another thing that’s astounding. There was no charges on the door. You just went in. And this is what you know if we could just bring it back because it meant so much and your attire and everything was so nice. It was you know back in the day it was so nice

Student: Were the patrons white and black?

Mother Dot: Yea. Now I retract that statement. In North Philadelphia it was 60/40 blacks 60/40. And South Philadelphia like Bulumbos that might have been 70/30 whites. And West Philadelphia might have been half and half. And the Northeast there wasn’t I wasn’t to familiar with to many places in the Northeast. Ok but I knew nothing positively absolutely nothing about segregation until I went to work in and it’s so close. Delaware I went to work and this stands out from the question that you asked me this stands out. But I sometimes try and put it back. And I was working there and I got sick like we do once a month once a month or so. And I went over to see to the girl the lady to come and see me all the time. And there is this restaurant around the corner whatever so I said I think ill go around and get some soup. I don’t want to go out you know cause my stomach was hurting and I went around and she said “oh dotty how you doin’ what do you want?” And I said oh I think I’ll have some soup. I said I’ll have it here in the booth. She said “oh dotty I’m so sorry.” I said about what. She said I can’t serve you. I can’t serve but I can give it to you to go.” I said your kidding I don’t want to take it out, my stomach is hurting. “She said no it’s the rules and my boss my come in.” I said ooh. And that was a slap in the face because I didn’t know it. My best girlfriend was Betty Cohen. I slept with her. I spent the night with her she spent the night with me and my momma when <inaudible> You know Ribba stayed with me I did not know. Until I hit the road I did not know anything segregation or prejudice. I did not know that. But it was there really wide and to be so close. I went to the movies I do not know to this day how this happened. But I was in
York Pennsylvania. York this is very close and I had went to the movies we didn’t have rehearsal that day. So I went to the movie and it was a good picture coming on next. So I was gonna come back. And we stayed at the house I wondered to why we didn’t stay at the hotel why we weren’t booked at a hotel like you know normally we would be. We stayed at a private home. A black home so when I went back all the band my group that I was with we all were staying there. It was the Holamayers here. And I said there’s a good picture playing tomorrow so if we don’t have rehearsal lets go. We went the three fellas and myself. And the lady that sold me a ticket said to me. No Michele went to the box office to get a ticket and she said we don’t have a balcony so she said that’s alright we can sit downstairs and she says well you know we don’t its segregated. I said your kidding I was here yesterday and you sold me a ticket. You know. It blew my mind. So a lot of the different places that somebody ask me about the segregation or how it was black or white. There were changes.

Dr. Muller: So did you grow up in center city or where did you grow up?

Mother Dot: Atlantic City?

Dr. Muller: Oh, Atlantic City?

Mother Dot: No, no.

Dr. Muller: Center city. In what part of the city did you grow up?

Mother Dot: I was raised here.

Dr. Muller: Here West Philly?

Mother Dot: No I was partly West Philadelphia and mostly North Philadelphia.

Dr. Muller: North Philly. Is that where you live now?

Mother Dot: Well its North Philadelphia. It’s not far from the zoo if a lot of you are familiar with the area. It’s called Strawberry Mansion. I bought that house for my mother in 1954 alright. They were great big monsters you know so I bought that for her and consequently I did hang on to it because the neighborhood started changing because you know the expression there goes the neighborhood. Yes my dear.

Student: Do you think that in the different neighborhoods of Philadelphia there were distinct jazz styles or was it all one for all of Philadelphia?

Mother Dot: One?

Student: Were there distinct jazz styles in the different neighborhoods?

Mother Dot: Jazz styles?

Student: Ya like did you hear something different in West Philadelphia versus if you went to North or South?

Mother Dot: So far as. I would say that South Philadelphia was a little different. Only because there were some parts of it that really loved jazz. Frank Sinatra was raised there in South Philadelphia. And Bulumbos was right there in South Philadelphia. And we played there so it must have been you know into the jazz. I know Miles Davis played there. So it’s just a matter of the clientele that were more of whites then blacks but the music itself remained the same because if you were a jazz lover you went everywhere.

Dr. Muller: Was it a different feel if it was predominantly white or did people respond differently?

Mother Dot: No its just like the big stars. If you’re good you just accept it. You just you know there was no thing. What people didn’t know they didn’t know. The people that knew or had open arms I didn’t give in to that.

Student: was the University of Pennsylvania in any way involved in the jazz community?

Mother Dot: University of Pennsylvania?

Student: Yes.

Mother Dot: Ya you have Drexel there now. So far as establishment its just in the later years and they have a place up there on Chestnut street around 36th or 37th something. They had a place that did have jazz because I came up a couple of times cause they had a fella playin’ Cliff Edwards he was fantastic. I followed him all over any place that I could hear him I was there you know. But this wasn’t back in the day. No I don’t know of to much activity. You either had to go to 52nd street where the jazz was or 60th street where the jazz was but not right in the community

Dr. Muller: So 40th street didn’t feature?

Mother Dot: 40th street just in the past Natalie’s came in about 15, 20 years ago. Natalie’s at 40th and Market that’s just start picking up in the last 10, 15 years or so.

Dr. Muller: So you never performed at any of those?

Mother Dot: No I love it. I go in there I think once or twice and they mentioned that I was in the house and I got up and I jammed what we called jamming and I jammed one. It’s very hard for a singer especially like me. I hate to be limited and a singer is sorta limited. Back in the day I could sing I didn’t mind getting up because the musicians knew the music. They knew. But now like I said I can’t learn a song today because where is the melody. You know and all the voices I could listen to Ella Fitzgerald or Peggy Lee or some of them “cry me a river” by Peggy Lee. I could learn that in twenty minutes because her voice was distinct. Her letters her lyrics everything would come right out I could hear it. But now I can’t understand when they yoooow. I can’t hear the melody you know what I mean. It’s hard. It’s hard.

Dr. Muller: Did you listen to a lot of radio and records growing up? How did you absorb the jazz repartee? How did you learn the songs? There weren’t schools that taught you or anything so where did you learn the music?

Mother Dot: I think it’s just listening. Just listening and like I said study, study, study. Learn, learn, learn.

Dr. Muller: So did you buy recording or did you hear it on the radio? Where did you listen?

Mother Dot: Radio we didn’t have a lot of recording. We weren’t fortunate. I think that momma’s first television was about as big as this. And you had a piece of clear paper like this plastic that had colors in it and it made color TV. Ok so we didn’t have all the beautiful feature and thing that you have today. You click it on and there it is you know. I can even remember my aunt having a Victrola. I think if I had to live all over again I’d love to. The era that I came up in because it was so wide and so open and if you didn’t learn it was because you didn’t want to and I was always nosey.

Dr. Muller: One quick question cause we are out of time.

Student: In your opinion who is the greatest female jazz singer?

Mother Dot: Today?

Student: Ever?

Mother Dot: Ever. Whoa. I wouldn’t dare to answer that because there are so many different styles and each one of them being creative and doing there own thing it would be hard for me to answer that. I have some favorites I was listening I will tell you one that will always stick out in my mind because of her range and of course that’s impossible for someone to duplicate all the time like you hear someone singing a record and you can do it just like they do it. But Emo Sumac. Emo Sumac she just had it all. You know if she really got into it. She could do a blues I imagine. I never heard her do that but her range and her I just Emo Sumac would be one of mine. I wouldn’t call her a jazz singer but she was a singer. And Ella was fantastic. Pearl in her style. Peggy Lee I loved her and Rosemary Clooney was my girl. Oh ya by far my girl. You know there so many different ones you couldn’t just pin point one but Rosemary was all that.