Breaking the Rules: Leroy Martin and the Sugar Bowl

gabrielle chaisson staff

In a time when Jim Crow laws banned whites and Blacks from integrating, a white Golden Meadow native broke the rules for the love of music.

Leroy Martin was born on Aug. 4, 1929, in Golden Meadow, Louisiana, and served as a Lafourche Parish assessor, a disc jockey for KTIB radio station in Thibodaux and a friend of Sugar Bowl owner Hosea Hill. 

As a child, Martin’s family moved to New Orleans for his father’s job, and during this time, he noticed the racist treatment of Black people, says his daughter Lisa Martin.

“My dad lived in New Orleans for two years, and I remember him telling me that Black people had to sit in the back of the bus,” she says. “It was unreal to him… He wanted to tell them that they could sit with him.”

He was a “historian by choice,” Lisa Martin says, so he wrote a weekly column for The Lafourche Gazette titled “In A Small Pond,” where he shared stories from his life.

In one column posted on Oct. 28, 2015, Leroy Martin shares his experience visiting the exclusively Black Sugar Bowl club in Thibodaux, Louisiana.

He and his station manager, Hal Benson, met with Hill and presented a plan to get into the club, according to his column. Martin recalls Hill saying the plan “broke no law, just bent them a little.” 

“Hosea’s plan was to stack beer cases next to [a wall opening looking out from the kitchen to the stage], technically hiding and segregating us…and arrange holes into the stacks big enough to see and hear the bands…We were in the presence of greatness,” Martin wrote in the column.

Martin saw artists like Lloyd Price, Tina Turner, Guitar Slim, Fats Domino and Allan Toussaint perform here before they became the big names of today, according to his column.

Martin was always passionate about music and became a popular musician whose style contained elements of blues, jazz and Cajun music, says his daughter. He performed across Louisiana, Canada and even at the Grand Ole Opry.

Martin also produced songs for other artists like Jimmy Donlay at Cosmos Studios in New Orleans, according to friend and local musician Tommy Lyons.

Martin’s opposition to the racist laws and his love of music brought him into the club, according to his column.

“Were we breaking the law? That law was later overturned and declared illegal by the Supreme Court, so, therefore, you cannot break an illegal law. Makes sense to me. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. BYE NOW!”

Although Leroy Martin died on Sept. 12, 2019, his column continues to shine a light on the Chitlin’ Circuit.