The Negro Leagues operated from 1920 to 1960, an indecorous period for American race relations but a splendid time for jazz. Celebrities in a segregated country, black ballplayers and musicians “inspired each other,” says Lawrence B. Hogan, author of the African-American baseball history Shades of Glory. “They loved each other. They loved what each other was doing, and they just interacted all the time.” They traveled the same highways, stayed in the same safe havens and socialized in the same nightspots—places like the Grand Hotel in Newark and Crawford Grill in Pittsburgh.
Vibraphone master Lionel Hampton followed the Kansas City Monarchs. Billie Holiday was photographed with Satchel Paige. Lena Horne threw out the first pitch of a 1945 all-star game between a Negro team and a white team. Future country star Charley Pride pitched for the Memphis Red Sox, and was once traded for a team bus.
“We still talk about the over-importance of entertainers and athletes in the black community today,” says Ray Doswell, who curates the Negro Leagues Baseball Museum. “But it’s hard to deny the legacy of those individuals, and the importance that they had for pride and community, the respect that they had—even among whites in the community—because of their talent.”