The Chitlin’ Circuit

The Chitlin' Circuit

The Chitlin’ Circuit


Now normally on Wednesdays we would be covering a publishing topic. This week we wanted to do something different and showcase an important moment in Black history: The Chitlin’ Circuit

Origins of Chitlins

The Chitlin' Circuit Chitlins

Chitlins, also known as chitterlings, are a soul food dish made from the intestines of pigs. This dish has origins way back in the 13th Century. In the U.S.A., however, it dates back to early colonial times in the South. Before the days of refrigeration, hogs would be slaughtered in December in preparation for winter. Slave owners would take the more desirable cuts of the meat towards the top of the animal. The term “living high on the hog” comes from this practice. They would leave the lower and less desirable parts, such as the intestines, for the slaves.


So Wait, What Does This Have to Do with Music?

Much like the dish, “The Chitlin’ Circuit” has its origins in American racism and segregation. In the Jim Crow era, practically all of the prominent clubs and music venues were “whites only” thanks to segregation. Because of this, black artists and performers did not have a means to perform and get paid.

Out of this adversity, however, birthed perseverance and a solution. A series of smaller venues opened throughout the South (and other lesser-traveled areas in the East and Midwest). These were both safe and open for black artists and performers.

Prominent examples are the Apollo Theater in Harlem, the Fox Theatre in Detroit, and the Royal Peacock in Atlanta. Some of these venues are still standing today.

The Chitlin' Circuit Royal Peacock Club

This circuit was officially known as either the “theatrical circuit” or the “one-nighter circuit.” The term “Chitlin’ Circuit,” however, became a more popular colloquialism throughout the years. This was because these music venues were “second class,” much in the way that chitlins the parts of the pig that were considered “second class”.

Here, black performers prospered, succeeded, and delivered world class performances. Both chitlins and the Chitlin Circuit were ways to make something great out of a bad situation.


Notable Artists Who Played The Chitlin’ Circuit

Many of the venues on The Chitlin’ Circuit weren’t very prominent. The artists who played these venues, however, certainly were. Many acts who played the circuit in the 40’s, 50’s, and 60’s would later become household names. Some of the most notable/popular artists include: James Brown, Sam Cooke, Little Richard, Jimi Hendrix, and Ike and Tina Turner, among others

The Chitlin Circuit Ike and Tina Turner

In fact, Etta James recorded her 1963 live album, “Etta James Rocks the House”, at the New Era club in Nashville, TN while touring the Chitlin’ Circuit

The Chitlin' Circuit Etta James

The Chitlin’ Circuit Today & Beyond

While a number of the venues still stand today, The Chitlin’ Circuit as it existed back in its heyday largely diminished as America began to integrate thanks to laws such as Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and Loving v. Virginia, amongst others. Despite this however, the effects of The Chitlin’ Circuit still remain permanently ingrained in American music to this day. In so many ways, The Chitlin’ Circuit represents beauty, perseverance, and resilience that came out of the ugliness of segregation and racism here in America. In his book, The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll, Preston Lauterbach states:

“The Chitlin’ Circuit was African-Americans making something beautiful out of something ugly, whether it’s making cuisine out of hog intestines or making world-class entertainment despite being excluded from all of the world-class venues, all of the fancy white clubs and all the first-rate white theaters… …I think ultimately there’s a lot of pride in it.”

Preston Lauterbach, The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll

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