“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

6 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.

  2. Donna Manier · · Reply

    I moved to LA when I was 18. My friends who were quite a bit older and married women, took me to the Pigalle where my friend Melitta introduced me to this diminutive man who sat at the organ. I sat mesmerized by Early Grant , his voice, his organ playing. Suddenly tonight I thought of him and asked Alexa to play his music. Took me back 60+ years. My friend Melitta played piano for Sunday matinees at the Pigalle!

    1. What a wonderful memory! Thanks so much for sharing it. He was indeed a remarkable man.

  3. Allan Ulves · · Reply

    New Year’s Eve, 1956 was my first visit to Leroy’s Club Pigalle down on Figueroa St. in Los Angeles. I was 18, and taken there by the black maid, Carrie McClough, who worked in the Beverly Hills household, where I had the privilege of living with a wonderful family, while a student at UCLA.

    Guest appearance that night was the Savage Jazz Dance Company – who put on an electrifying performance!!

    I was concerned that my being under age would limit my beverage orders to Coke or 7-Up. I guess an exception was made for me that special night, as I was the only white face in the crowd of what was known back in the day as a “black and tan club”.

    But the main attraction was a young talent, with a velvety-smooth voice, and an amazing talent to play both organ and the piano – OFTEN AT THE SAME TIME!!! One could not help but notice how similar his young voice (he was majoring in music at USC) was to Nat King Cole. His name was Earl Grant, and Friday nights often saw the lines to get in, stretched down the street.

    I was a frequent customer – and OFTEN the only “white guy” in the place.

    Many of my classmates thought I might be “at risk”, as even then, that area was not considered “safe”, especially for “white folks”.

    Frankly, I was never treated better by any other group of people than those who both served me, and shared in my enjoyment of the music.

    I got to know Earl on a “first name basis”, along with his sax player, “Eddie” and drummer, “Freddie” (a tall drink of water).

    After Earl graduated, he was booked at the Palladium, in London England, causing him to give up his “Sunday job” where he played organ at “The Church of the Bells” on Adams Blvd.

    He returned in the mid-1960’s, and landed a Saturday morning spot on local TV called, “Club Checkerboard”.

    He also got booked at the [then] famous Crescendo on Sunset Blvd in Hollywood – “THE PLACE TO BE!!”. My wife (who had never met him) and I went down to see him. The first performance was sold out (he had become the “darling” of the celebrity crowd). We went in for the second show, and found our seats in the “more affordable” nose-bleed section. Earl was down on a small stage, and taking his break between sets, talking to movie star, Broderick Crawford. Eddie, still his drummer, was on his way out for a smoke, and as he passed our table, I said, “Hi Eddie, how ya doin’?”

    He looked down and said, “OMG, AL!!!!??? Does Earl know you are here?”

    I told him “No”, but not to “disturb him, as he was talking to BRODERICK CRAWFORD!!”

    Eddie said, “Oh Earl can talk to him ANY TIME” and let out an ear-splitting taxi whistle.

    Earl looked up, saw Eddie pointing at me, AND EARL IMMEDIATELY EXCUSED HIMSELF from Mr. Crawford and came up and sat with my wife and me for the duration of his break.

    We chatted about the “old times” at Club Pigalle, and his experiences in England, and the astounding success he was experiencing.

    That was the last time I saw Earl. To this day, I miss him very much.

    Allan Ulves

  4. George mina · · Reply

    I still think about earl grant, my parents love earl grant an
    When he passed away I felt a part of me will never be the same. My dad bought me my first Hammond organ an paid for all my lessons. Here in Vancouver was a fellow that copy Earl Grant playing style (Tim Adams). I wanted too be just like him . So in a few years I was playing around town but did not enjoy the night like, so I just play for my own enjoyment. I have the complete collection of albums . What a waste of talent

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