When a person makes their living by singing, playing an instrument, or otherwise performing in front of a crowd, it is best that they are allowed to be free to do this. There are regulations and rules to follow that must be abided by, but the manner in which they live and perform needs to remain a private affair best left out of the politics of business. The cabaret card used in the early 20th century to allow performers to play in night clubs and various other venues is a prime example of why politics and entertainment should not mix. Performance art of any type should be confined to a meaningless identity card.
Throughout the 20th century New York City was a major hub for entertainers. It served as a staging ground for many popular musicians to make their names known and to create a culture that was unlike anything that had come before it. Unfortunately in 1926 the party almost came screeching to a halt when the Cabaret Law (Kjorness 2013) was put into place in every establishment within the city. This new law made it necessary for every performer that graced the stage to be fingerprinted and documented so that they could be allowed or denied the chance to practice their craft. The only venues not affected by this law were those that catered to high society and were considered exempt from the more undesirable acts that might otherwise taint the morality of the general public.
Despite the Cabaret Law the music scene in the 1920s and onward thrived. The only real
roadblock that saw many individuals actually barred from performing in certain venues and even
within the city itself came when control over the cabaret cards and the privileges they granted were given to the New York City Police Department. Unlike the Department of Licensing that had been fairly judicious with the cards, the NYCPD did not always act in the best interests of performers. Sworn to uphold the peace and protect and serve, the police quite often would ban performers from a venue seemingly because they wanted to, eschewing the need for probable cause.
While it has been stated that the Cabaret Law is still enforced (Bruni, 2017), the truth is that while many clubs and other venues are supposed to check a performer’s cabaret card, very few ever bother. This is enlightening as it hearkens back to a time when performers could simply earn their living doing what they love while seeking to entertain others as best they can. What sparked the Cabaret Law in the 1920s was the supposed need to maintain the morality of the general public. This was largely due to the already illicit actions being undertaken in regards to prohibition, which spawned a great deal of criminal activity. It was widely believed that racy music and performances would be the next logical step to cause the breakdown of society.
Such an act seems highly unconstitutional as well as born of paranoia. Performance art, music in particular, is an expression of one’s dreams, hopes, and talent that takes whatever form the individual feels is necessary. More often than not music is a means to lift up the spirit and stimulate the soul in a manner that promotes positive emotions with lyrics that can tell a story and even inspire others in several different ways. To deny any musician the right to practice their craft simply because their music is different is a crime against humanity that does not inspire hope, but promotes conformity to a way of life that is bereft of anything other than the need to fit a particular mold. The adherence to the use of cabaret card is a rather antiquated and unnecessary practice that has no practical use in the modern age.
Bruni, Isabella. “Aged Cabaret Law finally at its end?” Queens Chronicle.
Kjorness, Chris. “Show Me Your License, Daddy-O.” Reason.com.
http://reason.com/archives/2013/01/29/show-me-your-license-daddy-o, Accessed 14 May 2017.