Kitty Brando’s nightclub opened on Arlington Street on March 28, 1940. Seventy-five years later, a parking lot occupied its location at 111 Arlington Street, behind the Castle. It might still, I haven’t checked recently. During the 1930s, though, that address housed the Brown Derby, one of the fast-stepping Bay Village nightclubs in what columnist George Clarke called “the Conga Belt.” After a change in ownership, the club emerged as Kitty Brando’s, named after its new owner. (Her real name was Kathleen Barrie.)

I haven’t learned much about Kitty Brando. Barrie might have been Canadian by birth, and a singer named Kathleen Barrie worked in some of the ritzier rooms in New York in the late 1930s. So not much is known before she showed up at the Brown Derby in 1940. She might have been fronting for someone else. Clubs in that neighborhood often had histories as after-hours places, and from the city’s point of view, with questionable ownership.

Regardless, Brando wanted music that would set her apart from the other Bay Village clubs like the Cocoanut Grove and the Mayfair. She hired New York violinist and bandleader Joe Candullo to lead her house band. Candullo had been very successful in the late 1920s with his Everglades Orchestra, with many recordings to his name. He was working in some of the lesser New York hotels when Brando brought him to Boston. Candullo was probably responsible for the outstanding after-hours jam sessions there. Clarke described one in mid-April where Chu Berry, Cozy Cole, and others from Cab Calloway’s Orchestra met up with Louis Prima, his tenor man Bob Stuart, and a few others for a session. Calloway’s band was then in town at Southland, while Prima’s orchestra was at the Casa Manana.

Kitty Brando’s didn’t make it, but it’s hard to say just when it closed. Candullo moved to the Latin Quarter that October before heading back to New York.

In 1951, Brando was back with another club called the Brown Derby, at 1358 Boylston Street in the Fenway. This one lasted well into the 1960s. She started with jazz, and a lot of it. Serge Chaloff had a long residence, as did J.C. Higginbotham, but it was alto saxophonist Tom Kennedy who starred here. His band, the Fabulous Four, started at the Brown Derby in October 1955 and played until spring 1963. Well-known local jazzmen played with Kennedy at the Brown Derby: pianists Rudy Riley and Ernie Trotman; bassist Jim Clark; and drummers Harold Layne and Harold Ford.

It’s not clear when Brando left this club, either, but by 1967 it was called simply the Derby and offered folk music. There’s no record of her starting another club in Boston, but she might have done so in Florida. Nonetheless, she was a pioneer, a woman running a Boston nightclub at a time when all the club owners–all of them–were white men. Hats off to her for that.