Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library just acquired this original pen-and-brush version of E. Simms Campbell’s nightlife map of Harlem, from 1932. The map, drawn by an illustrator who frequented many of the establishments he depicted, exudes an insider’s pride in the robust music scene in full swing during the Harlem Renaissance.
When he made this map, cartoonist Elmer Simms Campbell was at the beginning of a decadeslong career in illustration and commercial art. (Here’s some of his other work, for advertisers and magazines.) Campbell was “one of first commercially successful African-American cartoonists,” writes Rebecca Rego Barry. “He steadily produced artwork for Esquire upon its launch in 1933, and his work was also published in Cosmopolitan, The New Yorker, and Playboy.” This map first appeared in Manhattan magazine, as a centerfold, and later showed up in Esquire.
Campbell was friends with Cab Calloway, whose band appears at the bottom left-hand corner of this map. Swann Auction Galleries’ Kir Jordan links to this clip from a 2012 PBS documentary, in which Calloway walks viewers through Campbell’s map, remembering how he “bombed” with his first band at the Savoy Ballroom, and how much he always liked to say the name of the club that called itself “The Yeah, Man.”
The map will be in good company at the Beinecke Library, which holds a number of other collections related to the Harlem Renaissance, including the papers of Langston Hughes.