Ernie King

King, Ernie

"Ernie to me was a builder." —Chuck Logan

1919—June 10, 2004

As both a performer and a businessman, trombonist Ernie King was an influential figure in Vancouver's entertainment industry. Drummer Chuck Logan notes that King taught him, "There's nothing in the world you can't do," a motto that King himself lived by. His nightclub, the Harlem Nocturne served as a testament to this attitude: In 1957, King found himself with a great band and no place to play, so he opened up a club in Vancouver's East End. King had originally assembled his group, which was comprised of Bobby Frogge on trumpet and piano, Bob Miller on bass, Chuck Logan on drums, Doug Kent on sax, and of course himself on trombone, for an ongoing gig at the New Delhi. However, when the owner decided to stop paying union wages, Ernie walked away, refusing to work without a contract. He proceeded to purchase his own venue from a struggling Italian bootlegger-cum-restauranteur and, in December 1957, opened the Nocturne to a full house. His faith in his musicians was not misplaced, and the nightclub soon became famous for its fantastic rhythm section.

The Nocturne was also known for being the only black nightclub in Vancouver. As such, its host of employees and patrons included individuals from King's own nearby neighborhood of Hogan's Alley, Vancouver's black community. Like many of the residents of this area, the families of both Ernie King and his wife, Marcella "Choo Choo" Williams, came to Canada from the United States during the Oklahoma Migration of the early 20th century. King's parents in fact met on a train to Canada in 1911. Both families originally settled in Alberta, but King's mother decided to bring her children to Vancouver in 1929 following her divorce. Years later, Choo Choo moved to Vancouver to marry Ernie, and ended up pursuing a career as a professional showgirl during the Golden Age of Striptease. She worked first at the New Delhi and the Smilin' Buddha, and then at the Harlem Nocturne. Although she worked club primarily as a dancer, she also helped Ernie run the club, stepping into the role of cashier or waitress after the end of the floorshow.

"I used to like to watch the show. I got a kick out of looking at her. She could shake it up! She had some shake-up costumes! I wasn't jealous. She was being paid to dance, and I was being paid to play the trombone, and I'm playing the trombone on the stage above her and I'm keeping her in line!" —Ernie King

According to King, business at the club began to go downhill following the assassination of John F. Kennedy in 1963. He notes that patronage was only at half capacity that night, and that it never really bounced back in the months that followed. He attempted to sell the club in 1964, but was never paid, so he took it back in 1966. Two years later, he successfully unloaded the venue and returned to the trucking business, which had been his main source of income before his stint as a club owner. His other business endeavors included the sponsorship of a basketball team named after his nightclub, and the creation of the Sepia Players theatre company. As Chuck Logan comments, his "greatest love was the theatre."

"God bless the man for who he was, and God bless the people that he made. But God bless me for having such a friend as Ernie King." — Chuck Logan


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  • Ernie King


Ernie King on the trombone

Ernie King on Duke Ellington

Ernie King - jamming at the King residence

Ernie King - buying the venue for the Harlem Nocturne

Ernie King - Harlem Nocturne (part 2)


"Memorial for Ernie King - Vancouver"
(Web page)
Bullard, Darlene. "Memorial for Ernie King — Vancouver." E-Drive. Canadian Actors' Equity Association. 16 June 2004. 11 May 2008.

"Men Behind the Marquee"
Ross, Becki. "Men Behind the Marquee: Greasing the Wheels of Vansterdam's Professional Striptease Scene, 1950-1975." The Striptease Project. 2008.

"Spectacular Striptease"
(Journal article)
Greenwell, Kim, and Becki Ross. "Spectacular Striptease: Performing the Sexual and Racial Other in Vancouver, B.C., 1945-1975." Journal of Women's History 17.1 (2005): 137-164.

King, Ernie. Personal Interview with Mark Miller. Vancouver, BC. 18 Oct 1994.

JazzStreet Vancouver Interview
Logan, Chuck. Personal Interview with Gavin Walker. Vancouver, BC. 10 Nov. 2005.