Jewel's Catch One
Jewel's Catch One was a dance bar owned by Jewel Thais Williams, located on West Pico Boulevard in Los Angeles. Open for forty years, it was the longest running black gay dance bar in Los Angeles. It was briefly called UNION but has since reverted to the Catch One moniker and is owned by Steve Edelson.
Opened in 1973, Jewel's Catch One was one of the first black discos in the United States and was for a long time the major black gay bar in Los Angeles. The original owner of the club was Jewel Thais-Williams. She graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in History, and during her college years she wanted to be self-employed. Her first business was a boutique, but it went out of business, so she bought a bar. She opened the club after she experienced discrimination in different clubs around West Hollywood, because she was black and female. Women at the time were not allowed to tend bar, but Jewel saved enough money and bought the bar despite the limitations. When the club opened, it became a hub for a diverse population of performers, including Sylvester, Whitney Houston, Luther Vandross, Janet Jackson, Donna Summer, Whoopi Goldberg, Rick James, and Madonna.
Unfortunately, as the years went by, the attendance of the bar went down. Jewel was about to shut the club down, but it was bought by Steve Edelson (who also owns Los Globos) in November, 2015. After that, it became known as the last Black owned disco and was renamed The Union. It's still the site of a large LGBTQ crowd.
The club was featured as an organization in an exhibit in the City Hall in Los Angeles called "Defiant Spaces". Jewel's Catch One was one of the clubs written about by writer Nahshon Dion Anderson who had been attending the Catch One since 1995 at age 16 in the anthology Our Happy Hours: LGBT Voices From the Gay Bars.
Documentary on Jewel's Catch One
A documentary about the nightclub, Jewel's Catch One, directed by C. Fitz, started shooting in April 2010 and was finished in June 2016. The film premiered at Provincetown International Film Festival on June 19, 2016, followed by a Los Angeles Premiere at Outfest on July 10, 2016, a New York Premiere at UrbanWorld Film Festival on September 25, 2016, and a European Premiere at BFI London Film Festival October 9, 2016. The film celebrates the legacy of the legendary Los Angeles nightclub, its community, and the life-changing impact its owner, Jewel Thais-Williams, had on her community breaking down racial and cultural barriers and building the oldest black-owned disco in America. Jewel’s Catch One covers four decades of Los Angeles history honoring the music, fashion, celebrities, and activism that helped change the course of our country. Variety Magazine called the film “an undeniably loving documentary tribute by director C. Fitz to the club and its longtime owner Jewel.” In the film through, exclusive interviews and performances from Thelma Houston, Sharon Stone, Maxine Waters, Jenifer Lewis, Bonnie Pointer, Thea Austin, and Sandra Bernhard, plus rare archival footage of Madonna at the club, director C. Fitz documents how the club grew to be known as the unofficial Studio 54 of the west coast, except everyone was allowed in without judgement. The film culminates with Jewel and her Catch community becoming a national model of how to fight discrimination and serve the less fortunate. The film follows Jewel as she buys the building next door to Jewel's Catch One and builds a non-profit health clinic. The feature documentary was named one of the best LGBTQ films to watch on Netflix of all time by Logo TV’s NEWNOWNEXT in 2018. The film covers the Catch One family battling tirelessly against racism, homophobia, and hate for over forty-two years to keep the club doors open to everyone through its closing in 2015. It screened internationally on the film festival circuit in over fifty film festivals, including BFI, Palm Springs Film Festival (Best of Fest’ list January 10, 2017), UrbanWorld Film Festival, and Melbourne Documentary Film Festival.
In the spring of 2018, Ava DuVernay obtained the distribution rights from C. Fitz and Dancing Pictures LLC with her distribution company, ARRAY. Array released the Jewel's Catch One documentary on Netflix on May 1 with a US National screening tour to follow. It can be seen in five countries (US, UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada) on Netflix and has won four awards for “Best Documentary” and a Top Jury Award. Eight years in the making, this film tells the history of an important unwritten textbook of one of the original safe spaces for the LGBTQ, Black, and AIDS impacted communities.
Originally from Arkansas, Thais-Williams' father, in search of employment and educational opportunities, moved their family to Gary, Indiana, where Thais-Williams was born. She was the fifth born of eight children. During World War II, several of her uncles and cousins were drafted into the navy and stationed in San Diego. These relatives sent back word of San Diego's excellent weather. Her family, wanting to leave the harsh weather of Gary, decided to relocate to San Diego. They lived with relatives for a short time before moving their large family into a one-bedroom residence.
Shortly after high school, Thais-Williams moved to Los Angeles. Despite having several intimate (though not explicitly sexual) encounters with other women, she did not realize that she was a lesbian until her mid twenties. Her first date with a female was with a woman she worked with at a Safeway supermarket.
Having grown up black and in poverty, Thais-Williams felt that she would not be able to acquire personal wealth without starting her own business. She purchased what was then the Diana Club with a down payment of $1,000 and an agreement to pay an additional $18,000 within two months. With the help of her brother-in-law, a banker, she secured an advance for the remaining $17,000. Soon after acquiring the club, white customers stopped patronizing the establishment, and employees quit, not wanting to work for a black woman. Despite these initial challenges, she was able to succeed. A man named "Tex", whom Thais-Williams described affectionately as an old "redneck" from Texas, mentored her and helped her though the initial phases of setting up her business. Her bartender asked for his job back, and Thais-Williams obliged. Some of the white customers also returned and developed a strong relationship with her. Her club attracted a mainly African American clientele, which were underserved by the night club industry at the time. The blue collar white clientele would visit the club by day, and the blacks would be her primary customers at night.
While she was still owner of the nightclub, Jewel went back to school and got her Master of Science degree in Oriental Medicine from Samra University in 1998. Due to the high rate of preventable diseases, such as diabetes and obesity, in minority populations, Jewel decided to open a non-profit called the Village Health Population. It was created with the purpose of educating lower-income communities on nutrition and living a more healthy lifestyle.
Her active work in the community was documented in an academic journal in 2011 in a series called Thinking Gender Papers. The journal discussed Jewel's use of the club's building as a source to give health advice and run her non-profit. Also, it served as a space for political organizations to have their community meetings.
To honor her contributions to the LGBT community, Thais-Williams was appointed the Grand Marshall of the 2016 Los Angeles Pride Festival.
- Patti Austin
- Thea Austin
- Claudja Barry
- Carl Bean
- Sandra Bernhard
- Angela Bofill
- Pattie Brooks
- Jocelyn Brown
- Irene Cara
- Linda Clifford
- Natalie Cole
- Sarah Dash
- Sammy Davis Jr.
- Sheila E.
- The Emotions
- Gloria Gaynor
- Whoopi Goldberg
- Gwen Guthrie
- Dan Hartman
- Nona Hendryx
- Jennifer Holliday
- Loleatta Holloway
- Thelma Houston
- Whitney Houston
- Janet Jackson
- La Toya Jackson
- Rick James
- Grace Jones
- Chaka Khan
- Eartha Kitt
- Patti LaBelle
- Stacy Lattisaw
- Jenifer Lewis
- Cheryl Lynn
- Teena Marie
- Johnny Mathis
- Ullanda McCullough
- Stephanie Mills
- The Pointer Sisters
- Sheryl Lee Ralph
- Sharon Redd
- The Ritchie Family
- Vicki Sue Robinson
- Jermaine Stewart
- Byron Stingily
- Donna Summer
- Tina Turner
- Luther Vandross
- Sarah Vaughan
- Tata Vega
- Jody Watley
- The Weather Girls
- Deniece Williams
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- Tre'vell Anderso, Jewel's Catch One disco's demise marks era's end for L.A.'s gay blacks, Los Angeles Times, March 16, 2016.
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- AM, Tufayel Ahmed On 10/7/16 at 11:20 (2016-10-07). "Meet Jewel Thais-Williams, the woman behind Hollywood's first black gay club and an LGBT activist". Newsweek. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
- "Trailer Watch: "Jewel's Catch One" Offers a Look Into America's Oldest Black-Owned Disco Club". womenandhollywood.com. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
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- Brown, August. "The story of L.A. club Jewel's Catch One and its pioneering owner finds its way to Netflix". latimes.com. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
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- "Netflix Doc "Jewel's Catch One" Introduces the World to an African American LGBTQ Crusader". www.villagevoice.com. Retrieved 2019-02-09.
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- Hope, Analena (2011). "Fast Food, Slow Death and the Propaganda of Health: Jewel Thais-Williams' Radical Battle for Black Survival".
- LA PRIDE FESTIVAL, PARADE RUNS THIS WEEKEND IN WEST HOLLYWOOD, ABC7.com