Ella Fitzgerald, circa 1946
At the intersection of 8th Street and Henrietta Avenue, in the northwest corridor of downtown West Palm Beach, sits a slice of Americana that’s due for a renovation. The historic Sunset Lounge is hallowed ground for jazz, blues, and soul aficionados; the place to see names like Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, The Duke, Ray Charles, and James Brown in the 1940s through the 70s. A haven for African American artists during the days of segregation, Sunset was known as the “Cotton Club of the South” in the 1950s. Now it’s a cultural landmark awaiting a return to its former glory.
The 1920s era building—an Art Deco beacon amidst a neighborhood of single-family homes and apartment buildings—lost much of its musical backbone from the 1980s to today, operating mainly as a cocktail lounge, with the adjacent buildings converted into apartments. But all that changed in the summer of 2015, when the City of West Palm Beach purchased the historic site, along with the adjacent property, in hopes to redevelop and revitalize the area as a jazz and music destination. The plan is to create a Jazz District, making the area a tourist destination, complete with a jazz park with an outdoor performance area, an Entertainer Walk of Fame recounting the Sunset Lounge’s storied history and long line of legendary performers, and a renaissance of the lounge itself with a 1930s theme, making it a cultural hub for traveling and local musicians to perform.
Sunset Lounge | Courtesy of West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency
Helping spur the redevelopment action, and draw some attention to a very unique slice of West Palm’s heritage, the West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) will host the Sunset Lounge Jazz series, a free concert series held at the Sunset Lounge.
Rendering of the proposed Sunset Park jazz district. | Courtesy of West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency
“The goal of this free event series is to not only showcase the restoration efforts of the Sunset Lounge, but also encourage our local community to become champions for the Northwest revitalization efforts,” said Jon Ward, West Palm Beach Community Redevelopment Agency Executive Director. “The City’s Northwest area has a rich culture and history and unique events like this support our development efforts.”
On January 16 at 7 p.m., music fans are in for a treat when two acts grace Sunset’s stage. Opening the evening will be the Nicole Yarling Quintet, followed by Best Friends, featuring Tom Schuman (keyboardist) and Jay Beckenstein (saxophonist) from the Grammy Award-winning band, Spyro Gyra.
- The concert is free and open to the public. For reservations, call 561-822-1550. For more information, visit wpb.org/cra.