Ida James, Cafe Society, Greenwich Village, NYC 1944 (Roman Vishniac)
Compared to the other chanteuses of the Café Society, including Sarah Vaughan and Billie Holliday, Ida James is little remembered today, yet when Vishniac took this portrait of James she was at the height of her career, famed for her grace, charm, and sugary, high voice. A popular vocalist on stage, radio, and screen, she recorded a hit duet with Nat King Cole, “Is You Is or Is You Ain’t My Baby” and her signature song, “Shoo Shoo Baby,” in 1944.
Four years after Vishniac photographed Ida James, Josh White, and dozens of other African-American musicians at the Café Society, the legendary integrated nightclub closed its doors, one of many victims of the persecution of the House Un-American Activities Committee. These pictures remain a testament to Barney Josephson’s groundbreaking vision, to the broader reality of segregation, and to the inestimable contribution of African-American performers to American cultural life in the 1940s.