STARRED REVIEW
September 2020

Black Bottom Saints

By Alice Randall
This is a book to read at your leisure, as you might a collection of short stories. Each profile offers fascinating insight into the characters that made Black Bottom a hub for glamour, culture and creativity.
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Alice Randall’s latest novel is a genre-bending series of profiles of the dazzling residents of Black Bottom, the commercial and residential heart of Detroit’s Black community in the era spanning from the Great Depression to the early 1960s. Characters are revealed through the eyes of real-life emcee, theater director, newspaper columnist and dapper man about town Joseph “Ziggy” Johnson (1913–1968). From his deathbed, Ziggy recalls friendships with some of the city’s most notable characters, some well known and some not.

Black Bottom Saints is an intriguing and beguiling look at the storied city at the height of its pomp. Randall shows us a warm, thriving, tightly woven community of “breadwinners,” or auto industry workers who fled the Jim Crow South and became patrons of Detroit’s glittery club scene. Also part of the novel’s milieu are artists such as poet Robert Hayden, actor Tallulah Bankhead and theater director Lloyd George Richards, as well as United Auto Workers negotiator Marc Strepp, boxer Joe Louis, NFL Hall of Fame defensive back Dick “Night Train” Lane and entertainment industry figures such as Sammy Davis Jr. and Motown Records’ finishing school legend Maxine Powell. The final profile is of “Colored Girl,” whose identity is not quite clear. Perhaps she is Randall herself. Each chapter ends with a cocktail recipe in tribute to the profiled person.

This is a book to read at your leisure, as you might a collection of short stories. Each profile offers fascinating insight into the characters that made Black Bottom a hub for glamour, culture and creativity.

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Black Bottom Saints

Black Bottom Saints

By Alice Randall
Amistad
ISBN 9780062968623

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