Fannie Mae Bragg Duncan, whose bar, The Cotton Club, helped define entertainment in Colorado Springs, died Tuesday September 13th after a brief illness. She was 87 years old. She was born in Luther, Oklahoma to Herbert and Mattie Mae Bragg on July 5, 1918. She moved with her family to Colorado Springs in 1933, when she was 15 years old. After graduating from Colorado Springs High School, Mrs. Duncan worked at Camp Carson (Fort Carson) in the PX. She married Edward Duncan, and together they founded Duncan's Café and Bar. In the late 1950's, Mrs. Duncan expanded her operations to include The Cotton Club. The Cotton Club was known for attracting world famous musicians to Colorado Springs during the 1950's and 1960's. She hosted such luminary performers as Fats Domino, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Lionel Hampton, Fats Waller, and rhythm and blues guitarist BB King. It was a place where blacks could mingle and socialize freely, without the demeaning segregationist codes imposed at other establishments. After black music became widely accepted, and more people became interested in the talent she booked at The Cotton Club, white members of the Colorado Springs community asked if they were welcome at the nightclub. Mrs. Duncan responded by posting a huge, spotlighted sign in the window of The Cotton Club that read "Everybody Welcome." She always maintained that her only concern was a patron's age, not the color of his or her skin. Not only did such a statement grow her business, it improved race relations in Colorado Springs. Mrs. Duncan reminisced frequently about her establishment and how it had affected the community: "People used to tell me that they loved to come to the Cotton Club because they felt so at home there. It was easy to find, and hard to leave." She will be remembered most for her entrepreneurial, pioneering spirit, at a time when opportunities were limited for women, especially black women. Rather than accept imposed limitations, she made her own opportunities, choosing to think big and outside the box; a practice she encouraged in anyone seeking to improve their lives. Her husband, Edward Duncan; daughter, Yvonne Duncan; mother, Mattie Bragg; father, Herbert Bragg; sister, Selena Bragg Charlton; and brothers: Vernon, John, and Herbert Bragg Jr., preceded her in death. She will be missed by a host of nieces and nephews, friends and other family members. The visitation will be held on Sunday, September 18, 2005 from 2:00-7:00 p.m. at Evergreen Funeral Home and Mrs. Duncan's funeral services will be held on Monday, September 19, 2005 at 10:00 a.m., New Jerusalem Baptist Church, Fountain, Colorado.
Published in The Gazette on Sep. 18, 2005.