I’m going to Black Mountain, me and my razor and my gun… I’m here for trouble, I’ve got Black Mountain Blues.
“Black Mountain Blues” by JC Johnson
Many in western North Carolina are familiar with the song “Black Mountain Blues,” originally recorded in New York City in 1930 by Bessie Smith and later covered by Janis Joplin and Nick Drake, which Smith said rose I’m guessing it was written after playing a gig at Rand Gardens. A small juke joint in the African-American community of Brookside, just outside of downtown Black Mountain.
Although actually performed by Smith, the song was written by New York City composer JC Johnson. Did Johnson write this song after visiting Black’s Mountain?
If Johnson, an African-American, visited the Black Mountain, he would have spent a night, perhaps a night, at Roseland Gardens, the city’s favorite juke joint. , drinks, and where African-American tourists, locals, and performers stay during quarantine.
Roseland Gardens was owned and operated by Horace Chambers Rutherford for nearly 60 years. Rutherford was born in Swannanoah in 1896 to a Cherokee mother and an African-American father. He inherited the land on which the club was built from his mother’s native American relatives.
Rutherford built Roseland Gardens around 1920, probably around 1918. At this time, he saw the need for a social space for friends and neighbors at a time when racism prohibited the black community from patronizing local restaurants, bars, pools, lakes and music venues. I was. .
“People who worked in Montreit, Ridgecrest and Blue Ridge were coming from all over, but of course those people had no social space other than church,” said Rutherford’s granddaughter at the time. Catherine DeBrow, who was 67, said in a 2006 interview with Sally and Garry. Biggers. “That’s why his grandfather built a juke joint. But he was also a businessman, so he came up with all these ideas about how to make money.”
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Roseland Gardens’ reputation for lively entertainment quickly spread. This was something DeBrow understood from her next-door neighbor watching her in action (although she was seldom allowed inside her hall to dance). Soon, people from as far away as Asheville, Old Fort, and Marion began to make their way to the present-day flat He regularly climbed the narrow dirt road to the Brookside community at the intersection of the Creek and Padgettown roads. went. Capitalizing on the popularity of Roseland Gardens, at least two of her little Juke His joints have opened in Brookside over the next 50 years. There was neither Roseland’s patronage nor longevity.
Brookside also had a church, a school, a hair salon, a corner grocery store, and a gas station. Grammy-winning artist Roberta Flack was born not far from Roseland Gardens, but she had never performed at the venue.
“We know he[Rutherford]went to New York and visited the Roseland[Ballroom]there,” DeBrow recalls. “I think that’s probably why he gave his name here … If you look at old photos of Roseland, New York, he had some of the same features in the buildings. One of them is that chandelier…he was in the dance hall area, meaning no one else in the area had anything like it.
A short March 1950 Asheville citizen article identified Roseland Gardens as “the largest private recreation center for people of color in western North Carolina.” The center was open during the summer, and twice a week he hosted dances and movies, and provided “facilities for picnics, croquet, horseshoes, barbecues, and other entertainments.”
“Another thing about Juke Joint is that the church used to have a picnic here every year,” Debrow recalled. “He (Rutherford) had little benches all over the woods.
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The main building at Roseland Gardens offered a large open space with a wooden dance floor and stage. A small cement block building was added in the 1940s and used as a bar. “He had a little kiosk … made out of concrete blocks,” DeBrow said. “He sold beer.
Two crescents were cut into the wood above the shop door visible from the road. According to local music historian Don Tully, the moon indicated that moonshine was available on the premises, similar to what is usually found on exterior doors.
Debrow described her grandfather as “a very colorful man” who carried two .45 caliber revolvers. “It was his way of controlling what he called ‘riff fluff.
Roseland Gardens is one of the first public integrated spaces in western North Carolina.
“As a matter of fact, there were always white people in and out of my grandfather’s juke joint,” DeBrow said. So it was probably the only place in the afternoon where anyone could come in and sit down and have a cold beer, and I think that’s why everyone in Black Mountain remembers Roseland Gardens.”
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In the 1930s, with the opening of a white-only theater in Black Mountain, Rutherford acquired a used projector and began showing movies in the evenings and Saturday mornings at Roseland Gardens.
“My grandfather used to think that the kids in the Valley had no entertainment,” DeBrow said. “There was no other black theater in the area. Not in Asheville. Not in Black Mountain. Not in Hendersonville. Not in any area.”
Roseland Gardens closed in 1976. The building existed only a few years ago. Before being bulldozed down, Debrow donated many items to the Swannoa Valley Museum, including a movie projector.
“For me, it’s a very important part of the history of this valley, both for the black community and for the white community, because they were all socializing together in that building, even though there was racism at the time. “Everyone always tells me, ‘Your grandfather had the best music in town.'”
Ann Chesky Smith is executive director of the Western North Carolina Historical Society and author of the 2021 book Murder at Asheville’s Battery Park Hotel: The Search for Helen Clevenger’s Murderer.