The Copa Club: Legends Played Here
Site of Ovation Concert Venue In Newport Once A Spot Where Jazz/Blues Greats Like Coltrane, Miles Davis, Count Basie And Dozens More Played
The land along the shores where the Licking River meets the Ohio in Newport, Ky is quite possibly the most historical sections of property in northern Kentucky. Patriots once parked their canoes there before engaging with British soldiers and Indians in 1779. And of course the Newport Barracks was there, training soldiers and shipping them off during the War of 1812, as well as being a makeshift prison for confederate sympathizers and a hospital during the Civil War.
But there was once a club on this property, at the foot of Central Ave. between 3rd and 4th St., where some of the most iconic musical legends sang, blew their horn or led their band.
It was called The Copa Club.
From the 1930s to the 1960s when Newport was “the gambling capital of the United States”, the northern side of Central Ave. was home to a handful of gambling joints, prostitution houses and nightclubs that were patronized mostly by the black population of the area.
310 Central had the Club Alibi, and later The Golden Lounge. 330 Central housed The Sportsman’s Club and 345 Central was Corky’s. But from 1954-1961, if you wanted to see the top musical entertainers of the day, you went to The Copa Club at 333 Central Ave.
The Copa, a 1,000 seat jazz club with a dance room was owned and operated by Frank “Screw” Andrews, one of the most notorious gangsters in the area. Andrews, with his “connections”, was able to bring in some of the top black musical acts of the day. For the first 5 years of the club’s existence, Andrews provided high quality entertainment by booking mostly local and regional bands as well as solo entertainers with the occasional national recording artist. But in 1959, with the help of the Cincinnati Jazz Club, he upped the ante with an amazing run of headliners.
Let’s look at what 1959-1960 was like at the Copa Club:
Feb. 1 - Dakota Staton, best known for her 1957 hit “The Late, Late Show” performs a 4pm show in the Dream Room.
Feb. 5-8 - Miles Davis and the Jazz Kings play 4 shows. The Jazz Kings were “Cannonball” Adderly on alto sax, John Coltrane on tenor sax, Winton Kelly on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.
Feb. 13-15 - Dinah Washington, the “Queen of the Blues” and 1993 Rock and Roll Hall of fame inductee.
March 27-29 - Earl Bostic had a string of hits including "Flamingo", "Harlem Nocturne", "Temptation", "Sleep", "Special Delivery Stomp", and "Where or When", and was a major influence on John Coltrane.
April 4-5 - Lionel Hampton and his 17 piece band. Hampton worked with Benny Goodman, Charlie Parker and Buddy Rich among others.
April 10-12 - Jackie Wilson, Rook and Roll Hall of Fame inductee in 1987.
April 17-19 - Capitol Recording star Donna Hightower
May 2-3 - The legendary Fats Domino
May 15-17 - Sam Cooke, the “King of Soul” with such hits as "You Send Me", "A Change Is Gonna Come", "Cupid", "Wonderful World", "Chain Gang", "Twistin' the Night Away", and "Bring It On Home to Me".
May 22-24 - 1993 Rock And Roll Hall of Fame inductee Ruth Brown.
June 5-7 - MGM singing star Tommy Edwards
June 12-14 - Wilbert Harrison who at the time had the number one hit “Kansas City” headlined with The Crests, an acclaimed doo-wop group opening the shows.
June 19-21 - Art Blakley and the Jazz Messengers. The Messengers were a group of contemporizes that played for well over 35 years, made up of such legends as Chuck Mangione, Chick Corea, Freddie Hubbard, Wayne Shorter, Lee Morgan, Benny Golson, Kenny Dorham, Hank Mobley, Donald Byrd, Jackie McLean, Johnny Griffin, Curtis Fuller, and many others.
July 10-12 - The iconic BB King took to the stage for the weekend with opening act Big Maybelle.
July 17-19 - Recording star Brook Benton who managed 50 Billboard chart hits.
July 24-26 - Master trumpeter and band leader Dizzy Gillespie
July 31-Aug. 2 - LaVern Baker, who had such hits as "Tweedle Dee" (1955), "Jim Dandy" (1956), and "I Cried a Tear" (1958).
Aug. 4 - Count Basie and his band appeared for one night only.
Aug. 7-9 - The Platters with Dave Baker Orchestra.
Aug. 14-16 - Jackie Wilson returned to the Copa for a weekend set.
Aug. 17 - One night only: The brilliant Duke Ellington and his band.
Aug. 21-23 - National act The Billy Williams Quartet, who that spring appeared on The Ed Sullivan Show and performed a rousing version of "Goodnight Irene".
Sept. 12-13 - Renowned tenor sax man Jean-Baptiste "Illinois" Jacquet came to town for a weekend set.
Sept. 16-20 - Tommy Edwards returned to the Copa for a week.
Sept. 30-Oct. 4 - The Clovers, one of the biggest acts of the 1950s, scored a US hit in 1959 with the Leiber and Stoller song "Love Potion No. 9".
Oct. 7-11 - Roy Hamilton. His two most influential recordings, "You'll Never Walk Alone" and "Unchained Melody", became Epic Records first two number-one hits.
Oct. 16-18 - Sam Cooke returns for a weekend engagement.
Oct. 28-Nov. 1 - Dinah Washington returns to Copa.
Nov. 11-15 - Lloyd Price, singer of the hit song "Personality" played the weekend.
Nov. 16 - One night only. Mr. Ray Charles.
Jan. 8-10, 1960 - The Isley Brothers gigged the weekend to start the new year.
Feb. 12-14 - The Four Step Brothers, the first black act to perform at Radio City Music Hall.
Mar. 3-6 - The sensational Cab Calloway brought the house down Thur.-Sun.
Mar. 18-19 - The return of Dinah Washington.
May 16 - One night only. Count Basie returns.
May 28-29 - Dakota Staton makes return appearances.
Jun. 3-5 - The Platters come back to Copa for weekend shows.
Jun. 9-12 - Brooks Benton returns to club for Thur-Sun. shows.
Jun. 24-26 - Muddy Waters is engaged for the weekend set.
Although unknown at the time, the Muddy Waters shows would be the last big act to perform at the Copa.
Newport was beginning to change and the era of the nightclubs were coming to an end. By August of 1960, the Newport Municipal Housing Commission purchased the Sportsman Club and The Golden Lounge (directly across from Copa Club) to make way for a new low-rent 50 unit housing project. On September 25, 1960, Screw Andrews sold the commission his Copa Club for $205,000.
By 1961, the Central Ave. club scene was no more.
But there will be music again on the spot where The Copa Club once thrived. In 2019, it was announced that a new $40 million concert venue by AEG Presents/PromoWest would be built.
Although not a tiny, smoke filled jazz club, the property along Central will once again resonate with music. Shouldn’t there be a marker or some other designation at the site to remember and inform people of the greats that once took to the stage on Central Ave.?
I sure think so.
Such a cool story! Yes there should be a marker. I'm floored at how many absolute stars played there. Thanks for writing this!
We must honor and preserve our links to the past.