From the earliest days of jazz in the United States, black musicians played for white audiences, with few nightclubs permitting blacks and whites to mix in the audience.

Even the famous Cotton Club was segregated for a long time so that only the occasional black celebrity was admitted. Barney Josephson, who died in 1988, is credited with bringing down racial barriers as the owner of Cafe Society, which opened in New York's Greenwich Village in December 1938.Josephson said he wanted a club where blacks and whites worked together and also sat together out front.