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Saturday, August 8, 2015

Beauford's Paris: The American Center

During his Paris years, Beauford spent a fair amount of time at the American Center for Students and Artists in Montparnasse.

Known simply as "The American Center," it was founded as an educational/athletic community center in 1931. Its original home was a neoclassical building designed by Welles Bosworth, shown below.

American Center for Students and Artists

During the first thirty odd years of its existence, the Center offered popular language, music, and theater courses and was a frequent meeting place for Americans and French alike. In the 1960s and 1970s, it evolved into an incubator for avant-garde expression.

In one of the essays in the catalog for the Beauford Delaney: From New York to Paris exposition organized by Sue Canterbury at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. describes the ambiance at the Center in 1971 and tells how he was introduced to Beauford by a friend that he met there:

...I discovered that many young black expatriates...congregated at the American Centre, which had provided a space for jazz musicians to jam.

...It was heavenly; so much peace, so much healing, for one who had been so far away from home, and for so very long.

...Inevitably, a friendship or two kindled. And my new friend, an exuberantly open saxophonist, invited me - dragged me - to meet someone he called "Buford."

Two Les Amis blog posts include information about the American Center.

In an homage to Beauford by artist Douglas Petrovic, Douglas recounts the following story:

After an evening of jazz at the American Center, boulevard Raspail, I invited Beauford and several musicians to have a drink at my place. At around 6:30 AM, the musicians and Beauford decided to wake Paris up with a jazz concert. The balcony was long but not wide and they lined up, a trumpetist, a cornet player, Beauford in the middle, a guitarist, and a drummer who played the iron railing of the balcony with [pieces of] wood. That was the first time that I heard Beauford sing with a voice so sweet and admirable that you could only imagine it coming from children singing in Baptist choirs in New Orleans. All the windows of the neighboring buildings opened and everybody applauded despite having been awakened too early. The concert lasted a half-hour or more.

--Douglas de Petrovic

Contributor Colin Gravois tells us that the Mille Colonnes restaurant (where Beauford's commemorative plaque was recently installed) was favored by patrons of the Center:

The restaurant was only a five-minute walk from the American Center on boulevard Raspail, where many of us congregated in the afternoon or early evening, and many of the Center’s denizens eventually found themselves there sometime between 6 and 10 PM nightly.

The American Center remained at the Bosworth building until 1987. The building was demolished to make way for the Fondation Cartier for contemporary art, which moved into a new structure designed by Jean Nouvel in 1994.

For a complete history of the American Center, click HERE.

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