She welcomed everyone with open arms. And now, the city is embracing her.
Colorado Springs will finally have its first statue of a local historic woman in the form of iconic Cotton Club owner Fannie Mae Duncan. Flaunting a jaunty hat, stylish jacket and skirt and the 4-inch heels she was known for, an effigy of Duncan circa her mid-30s will now live permanently near the Pikes Peak Center. Surrounding the sculpture are a granite tablet, etched with Duncan’s story, and granite donor walls, inscribed with the names of individuals and organizations that contributed to the monument.
“Her story has a lot of lessons that are important for the public to think about, especially now,” said Kay Esmiol, project manager and committee chairwoman for the Fannie Mae Duncan Statue Steering Committee. She’s also the author of “Everybody Welcome: A Memoir of Fannie Mae Duncan and the Cotton Club.”
The sculpture is located close to where Duncan’s famous racially integrated jazz club operated from the early 1950s until the city took over the property and tore it down as part of an urban renewal effort in 1975. Arguably one of the city’s best business owners, Duncan, whose club slogan was “Everybody Welcome,” brought in musical legends, such as Duke Ellington, Etta James, Billie Holiday, Muddy Waters and Count Basie, to entertain the ethnically diverse crowds and staff. Duncan died in 2005.
“Her intent was to create an environment where everyone could relax,” said Esmiol. “She wanted to welcome everybody because everybody loves music. That’s one way the world is united.”
Fort Collins sculptor Lori Kiplinger Pandy’s $100,000, 6-foot-1-tall statue of Duncan will be dedicated Saturday at the center with live music and remarks from Esmiol; Mayor John Suthers; County Commissioner Longinos Gonzalez; Kate Perdoni, the Rocky Mountain PBS producer/director of the documentary “Colorado Experience: Fannie Mae Duncan,” and others.
A free music festival will follow the dedication in the center’s Studio Bee and feature the Coronado High School jazz band Draw 5, Triple Play, Tidal Breeze and Tony Exum, Jr., and Stephen Watts of Dotsero.
The statue’s genesis sprouted from the minds of teens Esmiol, a retired School District 20 teacher, supervised in after-school clubs.
“She’s considered a catalyst for the peaceful integration of the city,” said Esmiol.