For 13 years, the BRIDGE Center’s annual Cotton Club has evoked the Harlem Renaissance through live jazz, open-mic performances and classic soul food.
“It’s the perfect event for Black History Month because it’s social but also educational,” notes Ysanet Batista '12, president of JWU’s National Society of Minorities in Hospitality (NSMH) and part of the event’s planning committee. “Students need to be aware of the impact that African Americans had on music.”
“The Cotton Club wasn’t just the birthplace of many amazing artists,” notes Astrid Pena '11, NSMH program director. “It was also a safe zone where African American artists could express themselves, and where whites could experience jazz.”
But this year's event almost didn't happen, thanks to some ugly winter weather.
Snow Isn’t Going to Ruin this Show It promised to be the biggest Cotton Club of all: booked at JWU’s expansive Culinary Arts Museum, the organizers planned for an opulent night of jazz-era glamour, complete with old-school jazz and with the museum’s vintage bar as the centerpiece (perfect for serving mocktails).
Then, in classic winter-in-New-England fashion, a giant snowstorm swooped in to wreck everyone’s plans, forcing the event to be re-scheduled with very little notice.
But the show must go on, and the event’s planning committee quickly sprang into action. “The biggest challenge was keeping the momentum alive,” says Pena.
Pulling Off a Stylish, Successful Event These hospitality students knew they didn’t have a moment to waste: they scaled down their original plan so it would work in their new space, the Intercultural Center. And they rushed to lock in caterers, bartenders, decorations and entertainment.
Adrian Smith '11, a College of Business senior, stepped in as the high-energy MC, while house band Randy Ashe and Just Friends played jazz-era favorites through the night. A lavish soul food buffet was served; students sang, performed poems and danced the electric slide in a rave-up finale that took over the entire dance floor.
“The biggest surprise was that everything went really well,” notes the Center’s director, Patricia Trosclair. “We stuck to our plan and pulled off a successful event,” adds Pena. The funds raised were split equally between two charities: the Akilah Institute for Women in Kigali, Rwanda, and Day One.
Always practical, Batista is already looking ahead to next year. “We’re booking two dates just in case Mother Nature strikes again!”