Catch One Disco: The Studio 54 Of The West Coast
Written by ZenKC on August 13, 2020
Story by Chuck Tackett
Catch One Disco: The Studio 54 Of The West Coast
” I would love to see those of you that are teenagers or younger, know that we were here to make it easier for you. I believe this is the mission. Take advantage of it. Learn as much as you can about what it is that we did.”
Jewel Thais-Williams, Owner of the world-famous Catch One Disco
Before I begin this article, I would like to dedicate it to Inoru M. Wade, Merrique Jenson, Lucky Garcia, Alex Martinez, Stedmond Ware, Korea Cavelli, and other Non-White Kansas City LGBTQ activists I may not be acquainted with. Your hard work is very much appreciated. The chickens are coming home to roost regarding the shade and racism that has been very much a part of some in the mainstream White LGBTQ community for decades. Keep on going with your zealous, diligent toil. Thank you all very, very much. (HUGS)
There is a documentary on Netflix that was giving this Baby Boomer life. I love learning about yesteryear of Non-White LGBTQ folks. It is no secret that our stories are purposely not told or they are purposely white-washed like it was in that 2015 cinematic boffola titled, “Stonewall,” where a fictitious White man was credited for the beginning of the 1969 Stonewall Riot. If you want more of an accurate account, watch the 1995 film, “Stonewall.”
That Netflix documentary I am talking about above is labeled, “Jewel’s Catch One.” It was directed and produced by C. Fitz. She is known for her work in “Queen Sugar,” “Queer Eye,” and “Showgirls.”
“Catch was the first Black Gay disco in the United States. It was also the longest-running Black Gay disco in Los Angeles from 1973 to 2015.
It was owned by a Black Lesbian. Her name is Jewel Thais-Williams.
For 42 years, Ms. Thais-Williams endured hatred and discrimination by police and some within the mainstream LGBTQ White Los Angeles diasporas.
“Catch One” formed originally as a safe haven where Black LGBTQs could party, who were not welcomed at White LGBTQ clubs.
Shortly, the word got out around within the Latinx LGBTQ populace, and other White LGBTQs, defined as undesirable at those discotheques, started patronizing “Catch One.” Ms. Thais-Williams welcomed them with open arms. The nightclub became world-famous. Some of the notable people that came to “Catch One” to dance and or perform were: Sylvester, Divine, Donna Summer, Luther Vandross, Sharon Stone, Margaret Cho, Whoopi Goldberg, Kathy Griffin, Whitney Houston, Madonna, Dan Hartman, Janet Jackson, Grace Jones, Patti Labelle, Tata Vega, and Johnny Mathis, just to name a few.
I was in Los Angeles, attending a weekend national conference, either in the early or mid-1980s. Back then, all I had heard was that there was this hole-in-the-wall disco, near downtown Los Angeles where Madonna occasionally went dancing.
I was staying at The Bonaventure Hotel, where the conference was being held. That night, after dinner and a short nap, I took a taxi. My cab driver was a young Latino male around 30. I asked him if he could take me to this disco near downtown that Madonna goes sometimes to party like a normal person. The driver turned around and smiled. He replied, “I know exactly what club you are talking about. I party there all the time.” He then gave me his card and told me he was working the graveyard shift. When I was finished partying to call him, and he would take me back to The Bonaventure.
When I entered “Catch One,” my mouth just dropped, because of how gargantuan it was, and how huge the dance floor was. I only sat down for a short while before I was dancing and thinking to myself, “Chuck, you’re not in Kansas anymore.” My mouth dropped a second time. The majority of the people there were mostly Black and Latinx with a sprinkling of White LGBTQs.
Soon afterward, my mouth dropped a third time. The deejay started playing Jeffrey Osborne’s hit, “I Really Don’t Need No Light,” a song that was never played in White Gay male discos here in Kansas City.
Back during the 1970s and 1980s, White Gay male deejays in Kansas City would never play songs like Jefferey Osborne’s that “Catch One” did. To keep the Black population down in the discos to a minimum, besides the doorman asking for 2 or 3 pieces of ID from Black people, White Gays only had to provide one or at times none at all. I saw this with my own eyes. My late best friend detested White Gay men because the doorman would call him by name and he would still ask for identification while White Gay males were not asked for anything. My friend was in love with this banker, but the banker boyfriend told him that they had to keep their relationship secret because his friends would not understand. Needless to say, my friend broke up with him. Racism was that prevalent here in LGBTQ Kansas City, and evidently, around the country. Another trick that was played besides what the doorman would do, was the White male deejays would play some obscure Eurotrash disco which would practically clear the floor. When he would switch to disco funk, the floor was packed. This was another game to keep the Black LGBTQ populace down to a minimum back then. During the 1990s/2000s, some White LGBTQs accused Black/Latinx brethren of being racist and divisive because of Black and Latino Gay Pride Festivals. I had written several times in my Chuck’s Chat articles and even told a popular Kansas City White Gay male, that Black and Latino LGBTQs do not need your permission for us to come together, empower ourselves, and address our issues. Some White LGBTQs try to play nut city, and every year would ask if they are welcome, even when it was advertised, “All are welcome.” but I digress. (smiling) Back to the Jewel’s Catch One documentary.
I had forgotten the name of that disco until I saw the building in the Netflix documentary recently. I said to the television, “I’ve been there.”
It warmed my heart with pride that for 42 years “Catch One” was owned by a Black Lesbian. Black woman magic front and center.
As always, I don’t want to give away all the information presented in this Netflix documentary.
For decades, some in the mainstream White Kansas City LGBTQ community have tried to define me as a racist. Some have tried to get me fired and to end my weekly article. For the past 24 years, I have written on a volunteer basis, as a labor of love. I retired from Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, so you haters are not affecting my coins.
To you young Non-White LGBTQs, again thank you so much for trying to make things more equitable for yourselves and for the next generation of Non-White LGBTQs here in Kansas City. It is a sad state of affairs that we have to deal with racism in the LGBTQ community. But as an older Black Lesbian told me 44 years ago sitting next to me in at a bar stool, “What goes on in the Straight community happens here also in the Gay community.” I have never forgotten her words to me, even after all this time.
Chuck’s Chat operates under an open authority. Opinions and comments are always welcome. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org