Cotton Club Founder Fannie Mae Duncan To Be Honored With Downtown Statue

Jun 21, 2018

 


"Everybody Welcome” was the catchphrase of Colorado Springs businesswoman Fannie Mae Duncan.

In the 1950s, she opened the Cotton Club, an integrated nightclub known for hosting jazz greats like Duke Ellington and Billie Holiday. It remained a popular local institution - and a symbol of racial progress in Colorado Springs - until it was demolished in 1975 as part of the city's urban renewal program.

 

Duncan died in 2005, but she’ll soon be honored for her contributions to Colorado Springs with a statue in front of the Pikes Peak Center, near the site of the old Cotton Club. A local group led by Duncan's friend and biographer, Kay Esmiol, is spearheading the effort.

 

Exterior of the Cotton Club with cars in front. Signs on building include "Cotton Club Presents Two Lavish Shows Nightly. Dining - Dancing. Duncan's Cotton Club." Sign in window reads "Barber Shop Yes We're Open."
Credit Norman Sams / Pikes Peak Library District, Digital Photo Archive, Image No. 101-4846

The group contracted Fort Collins-based artist Lori Kiplinger Pandy to sculpt the bronze likeness. The statue is expected to be finished and installed in 2019.

 

91.5 KRCC's Jake Brownell spoke with Kiplinger Pandy about her work and her hopes for the project. You can listen to the full interview in the player above.

 Interview Highlights

 On Fannie Mae Duncan's Story:
She [was] the daughter of sharecroppers, and they relocated [to Colorado Springs from Oklahoma] after her father had died... She was able to secure employment at [Peterson Air Force Base] when it first started, working at the ice cream shop. She realized that she had quite the flair for the business, and that kind of blossomed from there. It gave her the idea that, 'gosh, if I can do that for them, I can do that for us,' meaning herself and her husband. So from there she started looking around for other opportunities and opened a USO for black soldiers in Colorado Springs, which eventually blossomed into the Cotton Club.
  
On translating Fannie Mae Duncan's personality into a bronze sculpture:

 The first thing that I do is I study [a person's] face and the way they look at people - people have a tendency to use certain facial expressions - and then the next thing after that is body language. For Fannie Mae, it's got to be a very open piece. She was a very lively, open person who loved the spotlight. Her catchphrase was "Everybody's Welcome," so the body language is going to need to have a lot of confidence and a lot of open posture to it that feels welcoming. That's where it will get fun... trying to find something that really conveys that. 
  
On how the sculpture will reflect the phrase "Everybody Welcome:"

 I think she really embodied that spirit of community, regardless of race, that we should all be striving for, and it's something that I'm hoping we can see more of. By putting up a sculpture that epitomizes the fact that we're all the same and everyone is welcome, I hope that we can all start acting that way a little bit more.