Tuxedo Junction

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This article is about the streetcar junction in Ensley. For other uses, see Tuxedo Junction (disambiguation).

Tuxedo Junction, located in Ensley at the crossing of the Wylam and Pratt City streetcar lines, and also at Ensley Avenue and 20th Street, was a social hub for Birmingham's black community in the 1920s and 30s.

The junction got its name from its proximity to the Tuxedo Park community of worker's houses platted in 1899 and used by Tennessee Coal Iron & Railroad Company employees. It is likely that the subdivision was named for New York's Tuxedo Park, an enclave of large estates dating to 1885 that later lent its name to the cropped Tuxedo jacket.

As juke joints and dance halls grew up around the busy intersection, the area became known as a premier entertainment district for black workers. The junction's nightlife was immortalized by Alabama jazz great Erskine Hawkins in his classic song, "Tuxedo Junction," recorded by many other artists, from Glenn Miller in 1940 to the Manhattan Transfer (1975):

Way down south in Birmingham
I mean south in Alabam'
There's a place where people go
To dance the night away.

The familiar and hypnotic song originated during the Erskine Hawkins Orchestra's residency at the Savoy Ballroom. Without words, it served as a musical "vamp", which signaled the next band to come to the stage. To Hawkins, the ensuing commotion of bands coming and going resembled the busy Tuxedo Junction streetcar hub. When the song was developed by Hawkins with arranger Bill Johnson and lyricist Buddy Feyne, it focused more on the nightlife of the district.

In the late 1950s much of the area was demolished as an urban renewal project that resulted in the construction of the Tuxedo Court housing project. The Belcher-Nixon building at the junction housed an active dental practice and other businesses. It stands as the only surviving commercial structure marking the formerly vibrant intersection. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in August 2009. Community leaders are working with Main Street Birmingham on plans to develop a cultural center in the building.

Since 1985 the annual Function in the Junction festival in Erskine Hawkins Park has celebrated the musical and social heritage of Tuxedo Junction.


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