The Sugar Bowl

sarah kraemer features editor

Every Saturday night, the Sugar Bowl’s walls reverberated with the sound of the blues and R&B. 

The club was a safe space where the community would gather for entertainment and support when needed. The club was known for its Cajun food and live music. It was one of the most popular hotspots in Louisiana on the Chitlin’ Circuit.

“It was part of Black culture. Saturday night they went out to listen to music, and in Thibodaux, it was the Sugar Bowl.”

Hanusch is a family friend of the venue’s owner, Hosea Hill, and his family.

The Sugar Bowl started around 1932 as a bar in a rented building on Narrow Street.

Thibodaux native Hill owned the bar, hoping to target people from his mother’s nearby cafe. 

Hannusch says the venue’s name came from its patrons, such as cane workers from the sugar mill about 10 minutes down the road called Lafourche Sugars.

The sugar industry, which started over 200 years ago, is still bustling today. Lafourche Sugars produced 231 pounds of sugar in 2018, according to the American Sugarcane League. 

About 20 years later, Hill moved the Sugar Bowl to a larger, more permanent location at 915 Lagarde Street. The bigger venue included a dance hall “that could hold more people and attract larger artists,” says Hannusch.

Tina Turner, “the Queen of Rock n’ Roll,” and Guitar Slim, a guitarist known for hits like “The Things I Used To Do,” are some of the many artists that played at the venue.

Guitar Slim, a guitarist from Mississippi, would play with the bands as a house musician, says Hannusch. 

House musicians would sit in with bands who were missing musicians during their time at the venue. 

They performed R&B, Blues and Rock n’ Roll music at the Sugar Bowl as they couldn’t play in mainstream white venues because of the segregation laws.

“The cops would always hassle them. Hill would have to pay the cops off at times.” Hannusch says. “There used to be a problem back in the day when white people went to black clubs [and vice versa].”

But that did not stop white people from coming to the Sugar Bowl. 

Hannusch says during segregation there were risks of getting arrested.

But, he says Hill would let those white people in so long as they paid their admission fee.

The payment and risk factors were the least of Hill’s concerns because he focused more on creating a positive space for musicians and the community. 

“He helped a lot of musicians out,” says Hannusch. “He bailed a lot of bands out that got stranded. He put them out for free until they could get on their feet.”

Hill helped the community through the Sugar Bowl, too, according to his niece. 

“Resources were very limited on the Chitlin Circuit,” says Hill’s niece Angela Watkins. “Fortunately for us, Uncle Hosea was the guy at the right place and the right time to be able to help people furthering their careers, help with raising children, and help with feeding the community.” 

The venue burned down around 1969, but the community helped him to build the club back in close to 30 days, says Hill’s grandson Harvey Hill. 

“The community really supported the club,” he says. “The fire marshall, police chief and people of the community helped to build it back.”

Hosea died in 1973 from cancer, and the club closed shortly after. 

“There’s no Chitlin’ Circuit [or Sugar Bowl] anymore, but if [people] listen to the music of the era [they can] get an appreciation for what it was like."