Joe Louis, BB King came to Binghamton Gentlemen Joe’s Jazz Club
Recently, while doing my monthly segment called “Binghamton Then” with Bob Joseph on WNBF, a listener called to discuss Gentleman Joe’s. I admit that I had heard of the establishment, but that I knew little more than that.
It was far from just another bar or restaurant that had vanished into dust; it was a vibrant place in our community with an important history.
It stood at the corner of Fayette and Susquehanna streets in the heart of Binghamton and operated from 1955 until it was sold in 1968. More than that, however, was its owner Joseph Taylor and the aura he helped create. create around this jazz club/restaurant.
Taylor was born in Alabama but moved to Binghamton as a child and attended Binghamton Central High School, where he learned three sports. He joined the army after school and learned to box while stationed at Fort Hood in Texas.
His first match dates back to 1947, which he won. In fact, he was 21-3 in his freshman year and won 60 fights before deciding to retire in 1952. During that time he fought Lee Sala at Johnson Field (where the Triplets played) in front of 7,000 people, and he boxed at Yankee Stadium. At one point, Taylor was ranked the No. 9 middleweight boxer in the world. Three years after retiring, Taylor was in Binghamton and ready for the next chapter of her life.
This chapter led him to open Gentleman Joe’s club on Susquehanna Street. It was a jazz club and a quality club with good music and fine food. This led to large audiences – both white and black – enjoying the vibe Taylor created at his club. It opened its doors in 1955 and quickly became a place for musicians to play one or more sets in front of the public. Audience members danced and moved to the music of players such as BB King, who appeared there. Others would enjoy a steak or some of the soul food Taylor offered on his menu.
In 1955, two Joes appeared at the club. No, it was not a musical act, but the appearance of Joe Louis, the former world heavyweight champion, who was on tour in the North East. He stopped to enjoy a steak, talk to reporters, meet his old friend Joe Taylor and enjoy a busy bar for a late afternoon hour. Most just wanted to say hello or thank the champ, who took it all in stride. While Joe Taylor could reminisce about the fight against Jake LaMotta, Joe Louis mentioned his fight with Max Schmeling.
While owning the club, Taylor maintained his cordial and humble nature. His marriage to his wife, Doris, in the 1940s kept the family healthy. However, the turbulent times made him rethink his club ownership. As he mentioned in an interview, the civil rights unrest changed the tone of the club and much of the white clientele stopped coming. Attempting to dispose of a drunken young man in the mid-1960s, the drunken and angry man bludgeoned and stabbed Taylor, causing him near critical injuries. Taylor recovered, but things were never quite the same.
In 1968 Taylor sold the club. It was the end of an era, but not for Taylor, who entered the next chapter of his life. This time he became an IBM employee before moving to help people in their lives. He first worked for Opportunities for Broome, then completed a development training program with Manpower. He finally landed with BOCES – helping people improve their lives every time. His final chapter worked as a security office, from which he retired in 1990.
Each of these chapters took Joe Taylor down a long and bumpy road. On September 18, 1995, the athlete turned veteran turned boxer turned club owner turned helper for families in need died at the age of 72. A proud man with a proud family. He brought significant jazz music to the area while creating a relaxed and happy atmosphere. Those memories live on to this day, and the strains of BB King’s Lucille play.
Gerald Smith is a former Broome County historian. Email him at [email protected].