In celebration of Black History Month, I’d like to tell you about my friend Speedy Huggins. Speedy Huggins was a Kansas City jazz legend and friend of mine. When I was living Kansas City in the early 1990s, a soulful poster of Speedy was made as part of KC’s celebration of Black History Month. And for that reason, Black History Month and Speedy Huggins always exist together in my mind.
Speedy was a tap dancer, jazz drummer, and local night life legend, as well as a World War II vet, and a beloved Kansas City icon. He was part of the original 1930s Kansas City jazz scene.
How did I, a small town girl from Silver Lake, Kansas, know a Kansas City living legend?
I was a cocktail waitress at the Grand Emporium that’s how. During the early 1990s, the Grand Emporium was the place to hear live music in Kansas City. It was twice voted “Best Blues Club in America” by the Blues Foundation in Memphis.
I served drinks to customers while also having a real good time of seeing and hearing a full range of musical greats–Buddy Guy, Buckwheat Zydeco, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and Room Full of Blues just to name a few. From big name stars in the world of blues and jazz to local bands that had people dancing on the bar, I was there and so was Speedy.
Many a night, Speedy Huggins would drop by to see what was happening. He was in his late 70s at the time, but he still loved to dance with the ladies. He liked to have a Hennessy or two–but never three. And if a band asked him to jam, he would always say yes. Every so often, Speedy would stay until the lights were turned up, and it really was time to go home. After I’d wiped my tables down and stock the beer cooler, I would drive Speedy over to the old folks home where he lived. We would talk about the night, music, dance, and Kansas City.
Speedy was always dressed fine. In my mind, I see him looking so dapper, so sharp.
This fall when I was making the quilts for the BAM Biennial High Fiber Diet, I made one almost exclusively out of neutral fabrics from the 1930s and 1940s. Those prints reminded me of Speedy’s smooth style and his love for Kansas City music scene from the 1930s until the day he died in 1999 at the age of 85.
Thank you Speedy for playing the drums, for dancing with the ladies, for never growing old.
A few asides about this post.
If there are any other Grand Emporium Geeks out there– I discovered an archive of all the posters made to advertise shows there. Roger Naber, one of the original owners and THE promoter of the GE shows, donated his collection to the University Missouri Kansas City archives. It’s a pretty cool thing to see. And sure triggers a trip down memory lane.
After doing a little research, I discovered Speedy was also featured on a 2012 Black History poster. His likeness was used as part of a series of educational posters made by the Local Investment Commission along with the Kansas City Public Library, the Black Archives of Mid-America, and contributions from The Kansas City Star.
Speedy Huggins Plays the Drums is one of the quilts that will be featured in my exhibit at the 2013 International Surface Design Association Conference in San Antonio,Texas.
I came across your story because my boss’ sneezing this morning reminded me of Speedy for some reason. I worked at Thirsty’s Cantina in the late 80’s and Speedy always came in on Sunday nights when we had blues bands. When Speedy was healthy he only drank orange juice, but one time he was feeling sick so he asked for bourbon. It was the only time I saw him drink. Great memories! I’m sure we crossed paths back then. I went to the Grand Emporium quite a bit on my nights off to catch some music. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you Dana. I’m so glad Speedy lives on in our memories of him.
Wow! I remember L.C. “Speedy” Huggins very well. He was my uncle, my dads oldest brother. My sister and I would go see him at Jazz in the Woods. We would talk to him after his set. I will never forget Speedy.
He was a cool cat! A Kansas City Legend. Thank you for sharing your story!