“Another Giant Gone”: Earl Grant and the Pigalle

It was standing room only when Earl Grant played the Club Pigalle. Located at 4135 South Figueroa, the venue hosted hundreds of musicians, comedians and other local acts, but when Earl Grant, “master of the organ and pianist extraordinaire” took the stage, the crowd surged.[i] Grant was so popular that the room had to be expanded three times to accommodate his fans.[ii]

Figure 1: Earl Grant press photo from 1967

Figure 1: Earl Grant press photo from 1967. A number of Grant’s records can be head on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HCn-z1h8MSk http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5id-92fBODg

Born in Oklahoma in 1931, Grant settled in Los Angeles after a brief stint in the army (Figure 1). He received a master’s degree in music from USC and had planned on becoming a music teacher. He played the organ at night to make a little extra money, but his performances became so successful that the day job was quickly forgotten. Grant, who would go on to record more than 30 albums for Decca Records, was frequently compared to Nat King Cole who “stood in his way – not in anger, but by being the first with a style of some similarity”.[iii] Over the course of his career, Grant performed on the Johnny Carson show and on the Ed Sullivan Show.[iv] He also appeared in a number of films, including Tender is the Night, Juke Box Boogie and Imitation of Life where he sang the title song.[v] Tragically, Grant died in an automobile accident on the way to a gig in Juarez, Mexico in June 1970. He was 39.[vi]

While the Pigalle gave Grant his start, detailed information about the club is scarce. It was a clearly popular spot (Figure 2). A 1953 photograph from the Los Angeles Sentinel identifies the owner as the boxing champion, Willie Bean. Another boxer, Chalky Wright, apparently managed the Pigalle.[vii] Wright had won the world featherweight boxing title in 1941 and had been involved with the actress Mae West as a chauffer, bodyguard and possible lover.[viii]

LAPL 00001489 Slappy White standup at Pigalle

Figure 2: Photograph of comedian, Slappy White at the Pigalle in the 1950s. Source: LAPL Photo Collection, http://jpg1.lapl.org/pics03/00001489.jpg

In 1955, the Pigalle was featured in Robert Aldrich’s film noir, Kiss Me Deadly as the nightclub where detective Mike Hammer hung out. The following year, when Grant was at the height of his popularity, the club is listed as Leroy’s Pigalle Club Cocktail Lounge.[ix] The venue closed in 1960 but was reopened as the Grand Prix in 1965.[x] The late sixties line up featured Shirley Butler, Lady Teagula the “queen of exotics direct from Cleveland” and Gail Anderson, the “girl with the million dollar voice.”[xi] Other regular performers included Lady Marquis, “exotic dancer supreme” and the Continental Three. The Grand Prix remained open until at least until 1985.

[i]Photo Standalone 19 — No Title, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Jun 30, 1955, pg. A10

[ii] “Men and Events” Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jun 14, 1970, pg. K5; John L. Scott, “All Stops Out for Organist Grant: Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Jan 4, 1969; pg. B5

[iii] “Earl Grant Guest On Cloey Show” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Feb 14, 1957, pg. B11; Earl Grant’s Memory Lingers On, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Jul 3, 1980, pg. B5; Doc Young, A S, “Another Giant Gone” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Jun 18, 1970, pg. A7

[iv] Doc Young, A S., Another Giant Gone, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Jun 18, 1970, pg. A7; Earl Grant’s Memory Lingers On, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Jul 3, 1980, pg. B5

[v] Earl Grant’s Memory Lingers On, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Jul 3, 1980, pg. B5

[vi]“Entertainer Earl Grant Dies in Crash”, Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File), Jun 11, 1970, pg. C3

[vii]Photo Standalone 6 — No Title,Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Mar 12, 1953, pg. A4

[viii] Jones, Jack, Magazine Lied About Her and Boxer, Mae West Says: Charges Chalky … Los Angeles Times (1923-Current File); Aug 23, 1957, pg. 2

[ix] Los Angeles Street Directory available at LAPL; “Earl Grant Guest On Cloey Show” Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005), Feb 14, 1957, pg. B11;

[x]Los Angeles Street Directory available at LAPL; Classified Ad 1 — No Title, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Feb 11, 1965; pg. B9

[xi]Photo Standalone 32 — No Title, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Oct 2, 1969, pg. E3; Photo Standalone 35 — No Title, Los Angeles Sentinel (1934-2005); Jul 24, 1969, pg. E2

2 comments

  1. David Matthews · · Reply

    Thanks for the bio, there is not much about Earl on the web. I collect vinyl LP’s and just listened to Send For Me (1969). What a tragic loss in 1970, his legacy is still appreciated by many. Ebb Tide is still one of my favorites, it takes all the stress away. RIP Earl

    1. Thanks David for the comment. Grant seemed to have been one of those amazing talents that could electrify a room. A real loss.

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