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Kansas City's Thanksgiving Breakfast Dance Is One Of A Kind

Thanksgiving Breakfast Dance Facebook Page

On Thanksgiving morning, when people all over the nation express their gratitude by sleeping in or toiling away in the kitchen, several hundred Kansas Citians step out in their finest attire to head to a giant party — with live music, dancing, and heaping helpings of Louisiana gumbo.

For breakfast.

The first Thanksgiving Breakfast Dance took place about 60 years ago, at a venue at 26th and Prospect in Kansas City, Mo. It was Albert Blues Boy King who started the whole thing. He had been trying to organize a Thanksgiving dance in the evening, but realized that people were busy with their families at night. That's what inspired the idea of hosting a blues show in the morning.

"That tradition has lived on in Kansas City, and in Kansas City exclusively," says Anthony Arnold, one of the event organizers.

Arnold's first time attending the dance, he was 14 years old. His father, blues musician Johnnie Taylor, was headlining the event that year, as he often did. It was a highlight of Arnold's young life. 

"Let me paint the picture for you," he says of that first Thanksgiving Breakfast Dance experience. "At 9 o'clock in the morning, people start arriving. They got on their best Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. They have the cooler in one hand and part of their Thanksgiving meal in the other. They come and take the table cloths off and put their fancy table cloths on, some of them even have candles, and they lay out part of their Thanksgiving meal right there ... These people, at 10 oclock, are dancing and drinking and fellow-shipping with one another, and it's like something I've never seen!"

He hasn't missed a Thanksgiving Breakfast Dance since.

Johnnie Wilson, who has also been attending the dance since his teen years, says it's a hallowed tradition for a lot of families in our area, and he says it's not uncommon to see kids as young as 12, or people in their older years. All dancing together to live music. 

Wilson says that there's standard breakfast fare on the menu, sausage and eggs and the like, in addition to fried chicken and Louisiana-style gumbo.

"If it's from Louisiana or New Orleans, it's got to have everything in that gumbo," he explains. "Shrimp, chicken, some beef, served over rice."

This year's headliner is an old-school R&B musician by the name of Latimore, best known for his hit, "Let's Straighten It Out."

"Latimore is one of the few legends that are still with us in the blues industry," says Arnold. "We've lost quite a few of the headline blues artists. Latimore is one of the few that stands out that are still with us."

What advice do Arnold and Wilson have for Thanksgiving Breakfast Dance first-timers?

"You definitely want to put on your absolute best," says Wilson.

"If you've never been to one of these, you should come out and see what's going on," adds Arnold. "And if you're one of the old-heads, we know we'll see you in the place."

People don't make cameos in news stories; the human story is the story, with characters affected by news events, not defined by them. As a columnist and podcaster, I want to acknowledge what it feels like to live through this time in Kansas City, one vantage point at a time. Together, these weekly vignettes form a collage of daily life in Kansas City as it changes in some ways, and stubbornly resists change in others. You can follow me on Twitter @GinaKCUR or email me at gina@kcur.org.