Herman C. Clayborne, 80, jazz club manager, owner

June 20, 2006|By JACQUES KELLY | JACQUES KELLY,SUN REPORTER

Herman C. Clayborne, who managed and later owned a West Baltimore nightclub that showcased jazz entertainers, died of heart failure June 13 at his Gwynn Oak home. He was 80.

Born in Gloucester County, Va., he moved to Baltimore as a child and lived on Carey Street. After attending city public schools, he enlisted in the Army, where he learned the tailoring trade. He worked in that field briefly after his discharge.

In the late 1940s, he took a job at Club Astoria on Edmondson Avenue near Carey Street. He became its floor walker and then manager. Around 1970, Mr. Clayborne purchased the business, which also had a package goods store.

His Club Astoria was widely advertised in the black community as "the finest musical show bar south of New York." It had a bandstand in the center, tables and booths, and at one time featured a large aquarium.

"Herman was a good greeter, a people person and an affable, wonderful guy," said friend and Baltimore Circuit Court Clerk Frank M. Conaway. "He was also an astute businessman. I saw Billie Holiday at the Astoria. It was the place to go on many a night."

A 1982 article in The Sun called the Astoria "one of the city's best kept secrets," and said it had "the overall mood ... of life in an African village, in keeping with the club motif. There is tropical flora and African or African-American art and masks throughout the club. A map entitled `Mother Africa' hangs over the bandstand."

"Jazz is the staple, just as it's been since the Harlem Park nightclub opened in 1929," the article said, adding that its patrons "are accustomed to hearing the biggest names on the `chitterling circuit,' including some who later earn international acclaim."

Over the years, Mr. Clayborne brought in musicians including the rhythm-and-blues group the Swallows, the bands of Lester Young and Roy Eldridge, musicians Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and Shirley Scott, and jazz pianists Mel Spears, Church Anderson and Leonard Plato Bolden.

He sold the business about 15 years ago and it later closed.

Mr. Clayborne spoke out on community issues. In a 1970 interview in the Baltimore Afro-American, Mr. Clayborne said that "one of the most important things that happened in 1969" was the removal of "vicious" police dogs from neighborhood patrols.

In retirement, Mr. Clayborne set up bus trips to Atlantic City and to jazz concerts, and was a regular at Left Bank Jazz Society performances. He also enjoyed flower gardening and playing pinochle.

Services will be held at 11 a.m. today at the Phillips Funeral Home, 1721 N. Monroe St.

Surviving are his wife of 57 years, the former Dorothy Rebecca Wilmore, and a son, Kevin Clayborne, both of Baltimore.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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