Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Steptoe's Lounge "The Juke Joint in Arcola, Louisiana"

From Left to right rear Murphy Steptoe, Sr., not identified, not identified, Willie McCoy, not identified.  Second row: from left to right Mae Wilkerson, unidentified, unidentified, Ella Mae Henry, Eloise Jones.  These business men and women and their friends attended a business trip in New Orleans, LA.

One of the most prominent business men in this picture was Murphy Steptoe, Sr. Murphy was born to Ms. Willie Steptoe February 22, 1906.  Ms. Willie worked as a maid in a private home to support her boys, Murphy, Otis, and her youngest Sam.  Murphy attended schools for a while and at 14 began working at a local cotton gin factory to help support the family. He met Clara Tate in 1924, they dated and had a son M. J. Steptoe in 1925.   

Murphy worked for several years at the Cotton Gin factory, He later met and married Helen Perry and they had one son, Wesley Steptoe.  He and his wife lived with his mother for a while, and Murphy decided that he wanted something better for his family.  He and his brother Sam moved to Los Angeles, CA.  Murphy and Sam got jobs as welders.  While working as a welder, he got injured and could not work for a while. His injuries rendered him a nice sum of money.  He and his wife and son returned to Louisiana in the 1950s.  He purchased a large parcel of land in Arcola, La.  He built a night club called Steptoe’s Lounge. 
This was no ordinary night club, because it was a place where people of color could go and see live, popular blues artist. His clientele included teachers, doctors, lawyers, business owners and common everyday people.  It was “high class”, and the dress code was semi-formal or to us “Church clothes” without the hats. He also sold barbecue, which had a reputation of its own.  He prepared the best barbecue ribs and chicken in Louisiana. On Sunday the club was closed, but Murphy still had a heart to give the people good, quality entertainment.  He sponsored baseball games in a field where he had created a diamond for the game.  He gave people of color a place to go for good, Sunday Family Outings.  Many African American young men demonstrated their baseball talents and abilities on the Steptoe Diamond. Some were good enough for the “Negro Leagues.”

Bobby Blue Bland
The club was open on Friday and Saturday nights.  He would book top notch entertainers such as: Candi Statton, Clarence Carter, Percy Sledge, Tyrone Davis, Bobby “Blue” Bland, B. B. King, Joe Simon, Joe Tex, and Wilson Pickett to name a few.  He was negotiating a booking with the “King of Soul”, James Brown.
In July of 1971, Murphy was burning some debris using gasoline and he was badly burned. He was hospitalized, but never recovered from his injuries.  He passed away a few days after the incident. His grandson, Melvin Steptoe carry on his legacy by keeping his tradition of barbecuing.  I don’t do it commercially, but I do large scale barbecues for hire in the community.Steptoe’s Lounge will be remembered as well as Murphy the man who had a vision for “his people”.

Story and article submitted by Gloria Steptoe.