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CONTINENTAL ZYDECO BALLROOM

Continental Zydeco Ballroom

Owner Doris McClendon stands at the door of her club,
the Continental Zydeco Ballroom in Houston. The
legendary venue, originally owned by her grandfather,
Charley Johnson, was the Bayou City's premier zydeco
showcase until it closed after McClendon's death in 1997.
Photograph by James Fraher.

CONTINENTAL ZYDECO BALLROOM. The Continental Zydeco Ballroom, the largest and best-known venue in Texas to feature zydeco music on a regular basis until its closure in 1997, was located at 3101 Collingsworth in Houston, Texas. The venue, originally owned by Charley Johnson, was first called Johnson’s Lounge in the 1940s when it functioned as a neighborhood entertainment venue. The facility, which initially hosted orchestra and swing-band floor shows, at first declined to book zydeco musicians. Around 1951 following the success of zydeco musicians at Irene’s Cafe however, Johnson hired accordionist Alfonse Lonnie Mitchell to play at the lounge. During this period, zydeco could be heard at the venue on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights.

After the death of Charley Johnson, Mitchell leased the business and renamed it Mitchell’s Lounge. Mitchell, who continued performing at his club, often hosted zydeco music six nights a week. When his five-year lease expired, the property reverted to Johnson’s granddaughter, Doris McClendon. After taking control, McClendon promptly changed the name to the Continental Zydeco Ballroom. She continued to hire Mitchell, sometimes up to six nights a week, until his death in September of 1995. As owner, McClendon worked vigorously to promote the ballroom, often appearing on the Big Roger Collins’s Sunday morning radio show on KPFT-FM to announce upcoming performances at the ballroom. The club hosted virtually every major act in the genre, including: Buckwheat (Stanley Dural), Boozoo (Wilson Chavis), “Rockin’ Dopsie” (Alton Rubin), John Delafose, Clifton Chenier, Beau Jocque (Andrus Espre), and L. C. Donatto. The ballroom closed following McClendon’s death in November of 1997.

BIBLIOGRAPHY: 

Lawrence Clayton and Joe W. Specht, eds., The Roots of Texas Music (College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 2003). John Minton, “Houston Creoles and Zydeco: The Emergence of an African American Urban Popular Style,” American Music, Volume 14 (Winter 1996). Roger Wood, Texas Zydeco (Austin: University of Texas Press, 2006). 

Jason Sweeney

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Jason Sweeney, "CONTINENTAL ZYDECO BALLROOM," Handbook of Texas Online (http://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/online/articles/xdc09), accessed February 11, 2016. Uploaded on May 28, 2013. Modified on September 1, 2015. Published by the Texas State Historical Association.