This Black History Month, the Globe is saluting people who have made a difference in Massachusetts.
Joseph “Wally” Walcott brought jazz icons like Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, and Dizzy Gillespie to Boston in their heyday, and he left behind a legacy that his family continues to carry on at Wally’s Jazz Club in the South End.
Walcott opened his club in 1947, across the street from its current location at 427 Massachusetts Ave., and called it Wally’s Paradise. He was the first Black man in New England to own a nightclub and the first in Boston to receive a liquor license.
He worked hard to draw the top artists to perform at his place, often driving back and forth to New York City to fetch them, and he created a space that brought local people together in a time of strict segregation, his family said.
“He put together a platform where everyone from all walks of life could come in and enjoy the arts,” said his grandson, Paul Poindexter, who runs Wally’s with his mother, Elynor Walcott, and his brothers, Frank and Lloyd.
Walcott, who died in 1998 at the age of 101, immigrated to the US from Barbados as a boy and passed through Ellis Island sometime between 1910 and 1915, according to his family.
He came to Boston, where two of his brothers were already living, and began working small jobs. He saved his money and started a taxi business, but that was merely a precursor to living out his dream of owning a nightclub.
Wally’s first location had a dance floor, multiple bars, and a full kitchen downstairs, but it closed in 1978 when it was taken over by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. He reopened a year later in a bar across the street and entered a new era with Wally’s Jazz Club, where the small stage tucked in the back became a proving ground for up and coming musicians.
The coronavirus pandemic forced the bar to close in 2020, but Walcott’s family said they will reopen.
It’s been 24 years since Walcott’s death, but his passion for the music that has filled his club for decades, and the community that it created, continues to be the guiding light for the business and his family.
“We’re still running his program that he initiated,” Poindexter said. “No deviations, just improvements.”