From the Great Depression through the post-World War II years, Joseph 'Ziggy' Johnson has been the pulse of Detroit's famous Black Bottom. A celebrated gossip columnist for the city's African-American newspaper, the Michigan Chronicle, he is also the emcee of one of the hottest night clubs, where he's rubbed elbows with the legendary black artists of the era, including Ethel Waters, Billy Eckstein, and Count Basie.
... buoyant and innovative ... I can't think of a more sparkling way to get some education about the history of Black Detroit beyond Motown than to read Randall's novel ... As its short chapters whiz by, you get a taste of what it might have been like to have sat in the audience of one of those nightclub shows that Ziggy emceed where, maybe, Moms Mabley was waiting in the wings while rumors were flying that Dinah Washington, along with her husband, the NFL superstar Dick 'Night Train' Lane, might be stopping by. Except here, Randall is our emcee and not all the featured guests in this novel are headliners ... a conventional enough premise for a novel and the only time that Randall relies on convention to tell this panoramic story ... Sepian, is a word that Ziggy uses a lot to refer to Black people: It's his opinionated, distinctive voice that rescues Black Bottom Saints from being the static series of tweaked Wikipedia entries it might have been. His anecdotes about real-life famous folks like the Mills Brothers, Bricktop, and Butterbeans and Susie, may be, like that Blue Blazer cocktail, part straight whiskey; part flaming invention, but they take readers deep into the world of mid-20th century Black entertainers who traveled the country by train ... a gorgeous swirl of fiction, history and motor oil; there are also plenty of cocktail recipes here to make the rougher stories go down a little smoother.
Randall draws on a real-life Ziggy Johnson, using his charisma and connections to reveal untold stories of Detroit and to celebrate an incredible network of artists and influences and the many ways of building community through church and club work but also through entertainment venues. This is an exuberant celebration of the arts, including the arts of living well and caring for others.
... a genre-bending series of profiles of the dazzling residents of Black Bottom, the commercial and residential heart of Detroit’s Black community in the era spanning from the Great Depression to the early 1960s ... an intriguing and beguiling look at the storied city at the height of its pomp. Randall shows us a warm, thriving, tightly woven community ... This is a book to read at your leisure, as you might a collection of short stories. Each profile offers fascinating insight into the characters that made Black Bottom a hub for glamour, culture and creativity.