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  • Writer's pictureJAM

The Historic Club Mardi Gras Making a Come Back

Updated: Feb 2, 2021

Growing up in Wyandotte County, attending Notre Dame de Sion, Stephens College and New York’s celebrated Fashion Institute of Technology, Lisa Walker-Yeager probably didn’t expect Kansas City jazz to play a big role in her adult life. Now, that she inherited a family heirloom the “National Historic Club Mardi Gras” at 19th and Vine, part of our Historic Jazz District, her life’s mission is the Preservation of the “Historic Club Mardi Gras.” Kansas City Legendary Jazz, which is all about the music that made her hometown famous.

“I want to make it a place for our community to play jazz,” Lisa shared in a telephone interview with JAM Magazine. “Bring in artists from around the country. Kids will learn more if they are exposed to jazz—it should be a key factor in their lives.”

Lisa’s mother Marguerite played the piano—though stage fright kept her from a professional career. Father Johnnie Walker—not to be confused with the spirits—worked for GM. Her uncle was a friend of the guy who owned the Mardi Gras; and together with Lisa’s Dad, they bought the club for Marguerite. Her parents were always involved in the community and this was a chance to give back and to save a historic site.

In the 1980s, the Walkers took over the club. Still studying for her degree, Lisa came home to help her folks manage properties they owned. As I child, she had gone to Club Mardi Gras two or three times and met some of the artists who played there.

But she wasn’t involved quite yet.

Then Lisa’s uncle passed away, followed by her dad. Marguerite was the sole owner. The management took out a wall and the roof caved in. Lisa’s mom had to fix it while battling cancer. Lisa had another family tragedy—her husband, a US Army veteran, had a brain tumor and died in 1996. Then Marguerite passed away and the property went thru probate. By 2016, Lisa Walker Yeager, an orphan and widow, found herself the owner of a famous but long-closed jazz venue, the Club Mardi Gras.

A Loving Memorial for her Mother and Father, a Generational heirloom-- Lisa sought to bring back Club Mardi Gras as president of the National Historic Soul Jazz Blues Walker Foundation, dedicated to promoting, preserving, perpetuating and encouraging the music, arts, culture and heritage of communities here in Kansas City. Walker Yeager is the first Black female owner-developer in the 18th and Vine Jazz District, She saved Club Mardi Gras, where legends like Charlie Parker, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis performed. “My purpose driven life,” explained Lisa, “is to promote diversity and Black economic empowerment through ownership remembered and reclaimed.

It was featured in the famous Green Book, a destination recommended to African Americans visiting KC. Checking out jazz clubs in New York, Lisa got reacquainted with some of that great history.

Gentrification lurked in the shadows. The City insisted Lisa fix a wall that had a slight bulged next to the sidewalk. Even though City-owned buildings in the area were in bad or worse shape-- with full grown trees growing through the roofs of some of them-- the City tried to condemn NHSJB Walker Foundation’s property and take it over.

The Foundation removed and replaced the wall, added a new roof and secured the structure, working with limited funds due to the blighted condition of the neighborhood. Still, Lisa persevered.

Her next problem involved a loan on the property that allegedly never really existed. An effort to wrongfully foreclose on the Foundation is still working its way thru the courts; legal sources, along with Lisa, are confident that this challenge is going to be cleared up, too. It’s been a long and winding road, but the Club Mardi Gras may finally be getting close to reopening.

And what will it look like? With the Foundation as building owner, leasing space to the “Historic Club Mardi Gras,” Lisa says, “I’d like to see plays and music together-- like Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom—a jazz play type. And maybe a restaurant or live recording studio open to the public, with a Roof Top Jazz & Soul Ambiance.”

Whatever’s next, this corner of Kansas City jazz has a strong-willed supporter in Lisa Walker Yeager.

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