Chitlin’ Circuit

The “Chitlin’ Circuit” was a touring route Black entertainers used in the early 20th century. It provided safe venues and reliable lodging for traveling performers during Jim Crow discrimination. From the 1930s into the 1950s, new types of music developed along the circuit. Some emerged from string bands. New genres included the blues and rock ’n’ roll. Performers included Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Ruth Brow, Ray Charles, Aretha Franklin, Billie Holiday, James Brown and Lena Horne. The circuit also featured dance and comedy. Besides giving performers a stage, the circuit also helped support Black businesses. The circuit was named after boiled pig intestines, a soul-food staple. The name plays off Jewish entertainers’ Borscht Belt.

Listen to rock historian Ed Ward discuss two books about the “Chitlin’ Circuit” and play some music from that era on NPR’s “Fresh Air.”


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