E. Russell Smith was a gangster and entrepreneur that carried the club scene of Seattle, Washington during the 1920’s. Nicknamed “Noodles,” Smith was known to keep just enough cash on hand for a bowl of noodles after a long night of gambling.
Around 1909, Noodles made his way to the Washington area with $17,000; money he said he had acquired in a three-day gambling spree. With his financing in place, Smith busied himself in the nightclub scene, dominating jazz sets for over 20 years. Partnering with Burr “Blackie” Williams, Smith opened famous places like the Dumas Club and the Alhambra, also known as the Black and Tan Club because it catered to both blacks and whites.
The clubs were located on Jackson Street, the heart of Seattle’s black jazz scene. The Black and Tan would become the longest-operating jazz club in Seattle, becoming the inspiration for Duke Ellington’s film Black and Tan Fantasy in 1929. However, the club was the frequent target of racist police raids. After a raid in 1933, newspapers sided with Smith, calling the police ‘malicious,’ and accusing them of the ‘unprovoked beatings’ of black bystanders. Seatte police were infuriated by the reports, especially since several cops were beat down in the dark during the raid and forced to retreat.
Smith was also frequently targeted by police because he was the one club owner who remained unaffected by the Great Depression. He sported his Stutz Bearcat sportscar and a 1921 Packard when everyone else was broke. Smith turned his attention to hotels, opening the Golden West and the Coast hotels in Seattle’s International District. The hotels hosted both Asian-Americans and Blacks.
Through his wealth, Smith became the go-to person for those looking for investors. With his help, people started their own businesses, but if they failed, Smith would acquire the business outright and make it successful. Smith retired in 1940 and spent his the rest of his life using his fortune to help the Seattle community.
By Erica L. Taylor, The Tom Joyner Morning Show