A plaque remaining from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem.

Above, a 1934 plaque from the Big Apple Night Club at West 135th Street and Seventh Avenue in Harlem. Discarded as trash in 2006. Now a Popeyes fast food restaurant on Google Maps.

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Entry from April 23, 2006
Fletcher Henderson popularization of “the Big Apple” in the 1930s
In 1990, Harlem Assemblywoman Geraldine Daniels published a letter in the New York Times that stated that musician Fletcher Henderson (1879-1952) popularized "the Big Apple" in the 1930s. This letter is also described elsewhere in this "False Etymologies" section.

Peter Salwen's Society for New York City History website originally hoaxed the public by stating that "the Big Apple" came from a 19th-century French whore named "Eve." In 2006, his website was totally changed and finally credited the "Big Apple" horseracing evidence. However, Salwen maintained that it was Fletcher Henderson who "popularized" the term "Big Apple" in the 1930s.

Actually, Fletcher Henderson has almost no connection to "the Big Apple" at all. A scholarly biography of Fletcher Henderson has been written as recently as 2005; Henderson gets no "Big Apple" credit there.

We now have fully digitized newspapers such as the New York Times and several black publications such as the Chicago Defender. There is not a single historical citation connecting Fletcher Henderson with "the Big Apple." Not one!

The 1934 Harlem club called "The Big Apple" was started by sportsmen. The club owners got that name from John J. Fitz Gerald's columns in the New York Morning Telegraph.

Fletcher Henderson has nothing to do with "the Big Apple."

(New York Public Library record)
Author: Garner, Charles.
Title: Fletcher Henderson, king of swing [microform]: a summary of his career, his music and his influences / by Charles Garner.
Imprint 1991.

(New York Public Library record)
Author: Magee, Jeffrey, 1961-
Title: The uncrowned king of swing : Fletcher Henderson and big band jazz / Jeffrey Magee.
Imprint New York : Oxford University Press, 2005.

(Photo caption -- ed.)
Best known today as Benny Goodman's finest arranger, Fletcher Henderson was a great bandleader in his own right and probably the man who did most to put the "Big Apple" nickname into wide circulation.
The older generation of jazzmen specifically credit Fletcher Henderson, one of the greatest of the early Big Band leaders and arrangers, with popularizing it, but such things are probably impossible to document. Be that as it may, the ultimate source actually was not the jazz world, but the racetrack.

26 August 1990, New York Times, letters, "Harlem Renaissance Gave Us 'Big Apple'" by Geraldine L. Daniels, pg. E18:
A colleague of Dr. Locke's in the 20's was Fletcher Henderson, a graduate of Atlanta University and native of Cuthbert, Ga. He was the arranger for Benny Goodman in the 1930's and 40's, a composer of jazz and other music, and conductor of his own orchestra, which is believed to have been the first black musical ensemble to play on Broadway.

It was Fletcher Handerson, Harlem griots tell us, who popularized the term "Big Apple." He enticed such jazzegreats from the South as the trumpeter Louis Armstrong and the tenor saxophonist Coleman Hawkins to come and join his orchestra in the Big Apple. Many talented black musicians followed them, making Harlem the mecca of jazz.

Posted by Barry Popik
New York CityThe Big Apple1970s-present: False Etymologies • Sunday, April 23, 2006 • Permalink

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