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Reflections on glory days of Clayhouse Inn

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Dr. Ewart Brown Book Signing at the St Pauls Centennial Hall (Photograph by Blaire Simmons)

When we saw the pictures of the Clayhouse Inn being demolished, it struck a special nerve.You see, our father, Ewart D.A. Brown started the Clayhouse Inn. The owner of the property was James Browne, father of National Hero Dame Lois Browne-Evans.Our dad always wanted to be in the entertainment business. (Few Bermudians know that he was a tap dancer in New York City with Clayton “Peg Leg” Bates in the Forties). His opportunity came in 1952.He had been the maître’d at Mid-Ocean Club and Castle Harbour Hotel before he opened D.A.’s Cocktail Bar in Flatts.He considered Clayhouse Inn the chance of a lifetime. If ever a person was made to run a nightclub, it was D.A. His combination of charm and hustle landed him in the right place. He figured he had solid connections with the black community in New York, especially his friend, Dave Hepburn, who introduced him to Ruthie Bowen, the owner of Queen Booking Corporation. At that time, QBC had most of the popular black acts under its banner and Dad used that connection to bring acts to Bermuda.Dinah Washington, Gloria Lynne, the Manhattans, Damita Joe, Brooke Benton, Shep and the Limelites, Chuck Jackson and Louis Jordan were just a few of the acts that he brought to Bermuda.Local acts including the Talbot Brothers, Hubert Smith and the Coral Islanders, Gene and Pinky Steede, the Aldano Sextet, Ghandi Burgess, Violeta Carmichael, Alva Simmons, Speedy Ming, Bishop Caines and Everett Legall performed on the Clayhouse Inn stage.Gene Steede, who still remembers our father fondly, was clear.“D.A. gave me my first job and from there I travelled all over the world entertaining people,” Steede recalled.Dr G.B. McPhee, Dad’s brother-in-law, remembers it as if it was yesterday.“Clayhouse was the place to go for entertainment in Bermuda for at least 20 years. Tourists and locals alike packed the place every night.”Our mother and her sister, Winnie Darrell Simons, were the cashiers at Clayhouse. Our mother taught school during the day and watched the money at Clayhouse at night! D.A. had a great relationship with the taxi drivers. They were his ambassadors and were proud to bring hotel guests to Clayhouse.The fun ended in 1975 when Dad had a heart attack and decided to get out of the demanding nightclub environment, opting to go into the gaming machine business, which he operated until his retirement in 1985.He passed in 2000 after teaching his children that life was meant to be lived! Ewart Brown, MD, is the former Premier of Bermuda (2006 to 2010). Emelita Brown Johnson emigrated to California in 1977 and managed her brother’s medical clinic. She still resides there with husband Gary