It Takes A Village: Hosea Hill, Frank Painia and Deacon John Moore

gabrielle chaisson staff

The Chitlin’ Circuit was more than a gig or a venue—it allowed Black musicians and entrepreneurs to succeed in the Jim Crow era.

“In the region, there was a pretty elaborate network of educated musical people in the Black community and the music gravitated from them."

But at the heart of the circuit was the people behind the musicians. People like Hosea Hill, Frank Painia and Deacon John Moore each played a part in the circuit network.

Hosea Hill owned the Sugar Bowl, an exclusively Black club in Thibodaux, and managed circuit artists like Guitar Slim, Hosea Hill and the Serenaders, along with smaller artists. He also served as an entrepreneur, banker, cop, manager and father figure in his local community, says his niece Angela Watkins.

“Uncle Hosea was such a generous person,” says Watkins. “When you couldn’t pay he would say, ‘Can you wash the dishes? I’ll let you in if you can wash the dishes.’ He found ways to make money and help people at the same time.” 

Hill had connections that brought regional attention and entertainment to the Thibodaux area. He also worked with Frank Painia, owner of the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans, to book circuit artists, says former Hosea Hill and the Serenaders tenor saxophone player Ronald Goff.

Frank Painia originally opened the Dew Drop Inn in 1939 as a barbershop. Over time, it developed into a restaurant, hotel and popular circuit venue, according to a Dew Drop Inn press release.

Artists like “Ray Charles, Little Richard, Irma Thomas and Fats Domino” performed there, and it served as the birthplace of rock n’ roll, according to the Dew Drop Inn’s website.

The local community viewed the Painia family as “protective, familial and paternal. They really looked out for people,” says author and music journalist Ben Sandmel.

Painia violated the City of New Orleans code, ordinance number 828, and welcomed Blacks and whites to the venue, which led to multiple arrests, according to Painia v. City of New Orleans 1967 court documents.

This ordinance banned the sale and consumption of alcohol to both whites and Blacks under the same roof unless separated by a “solid partition.” 

Painia fought against these laws after each arrest and continued welcoming all races into the Dew Drop Inn, according to “A Closer Look NOLA’s” website.

Another prominent figure in the circuit was Deacon John Moore, a popular New Orleans musician, who served as the bandleader of the Dew Drop Inn’s house band in 1960 and led his own band called Deacon Moore and the Ivories, says Mississippi Blues Trail writer Scott Barretta.

Moore is an accomplished musician who got his start on the circuit performing at venues like 100 Men Club and the Dew Drop Inn. He now performs at private events along the coast.

“He’s only ever recorded a couple records and part of that has to do with the fact that he became the leading private party band,”  says Barretta. “Deacon John is not as visible as a recording artist, but he is extremely beloved as a live performer.”

Moore learned how to adapt his act over the past 50 years as music styles shifted from blues to rock n’ roll and Motown to funk, says Barretta.

“He’s performed here since he was 17 years old. He [Moore] says ‘I’m the last man standing on the Chitlin’ Circuit,’” says 100 Men Hall Director Rachel Dangermond.

Hill, Painia and Moore brought the Chitlin’ Circuit down to Louisiana through their clubs, connections and courage and helped shine a light on black talent. 

“To build a name [on the circuit], you needed to have a name behind you.”