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After 91 Years, New York Will Let Its People Boogie
QuoteA nearly century-old law that turned New York bars into no-dancing zones, prevented singers like Billie Holiday and Ray Charles from performing and drew protest from Frank Sinatra, is finally set to be struck down.
The Cabaret Law was created during Prohibition to patrol speakeasies, and while its restrictions on musicians came and went, the ban on social dancing has remained
QuoteIn New York City, only 97 out of roughly 25,000 eating and drinking establishments have a cabaret license. Obtaining one is costly and time-consuming, requiring the approval of several agencies, and only businesses in areas zoned for commercial manufacturing are eligible.
QuoteThe Cabaret Law was enacted in 1926. It made it illegal to host musical entertainment, singing, dancing or other form of amusement without a license. The law is widely believed to have originally been used to target racially mixed jazz clubs in Harlem, but it was broadly applied. Music was not permitted at unlicensed bars at all until 1936, when the law was amended to allow radio- and piano-playing. The same year, operators of a ship that had taken men from the Bowery Mission on a day cruise were fined for running an unlicensed cabaret because a tap dancer was on board.
From 1940 to 1967, the city required performers and employees of cabarets to be fingerprinted and carry cabaret cards, which could be denied if the applicant had a police record. The star-studded list of musicians who were denied cards or had them revoked includes Thelonious Monk and Charlie Parker. Billie Holiday could not get a club date for many years before her death because she had a narcotics record. Ray Charles the blind blues singer cannot work here for the same reason, an article in The Times noted in 1966. Frank Sinatra refused to sing in New York for years rather than submit to the indignity of the required fingerprinting.