Racially integrated Celebrity Club to be remembered

Paul Filippi had been a doorman at the Providence Crown Hotel.

He saved up all his money until he was 36 and opened the first musical venue of its kind in the city - The Celebrity Club in 1949. It catered to the black community with performing artists like Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole, Sarah Vaughan and Count Basie.

"It went wonderful. He had the who's who of American musical history. It organically became integrated. The white community saw these musicians down there and wanted to participate," said Blake Filippi, Paul's son.

However, it wasn't always smooth sailing.

Even though there were no laws segregating the races, mixing just wasn't done at the time. There was harassment and raids, but the music played on.

"This was a place where people were integrated in the state of Rhode Island for purposes of entertainment. I think it's very important," said Joyce Stevos of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society.

The Black Heritage Society is hosting a free musical event at 4 p.m. Friday at the Marriott on Orms Street, with local students performing a tribute to the greats who once played there.

A placard will be unveiled to commemorate where the Celebrity Club once stood.

"What a short six years it was. We're talking about it 50 years later," Filippi said.