Madden quickly realized that lots of money could be made because of Prohibition and within months of his release from prison teamed up with gangland partners and began opening nightclubs and speakeasies that sold illegal hootch that he controlled. Harlem's Cotton Club became his most famous and lucrative operation. Originally known as Club Deluxe, it was owned by the first black World Heavyweight Boxing Champion Jack Johnson. Rumor has it that Madden and his boys made him an offer he couldn't refuse.
The Cotton Club soon became the spot for rich white folks (blacks weren't allowed except as performers) looking for excitement, entertainment and, of course, access to booze. To keep them coming back, Madden made sure to hire the best talent-- especially up-and-comers who were, for the most part, unknown like Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Josephine Baker, and Lena Horne (16-years-old at the time) who would work as cheaply as they were willing to go.
That included the 20-something songwriting team of Harold Arlen and Ted Koehler. Despite coming off a hit record (Get Happy), they took on the job as songwriters for the Club's 1931 revue Rhyth-mania for $50 a week and all the food they could eat. Twenty-something Cab Calloway was chosen to replace Duke Ellington who had gone to Hollywood to make his first movie.
And this is where the Jitterbug! story begins as young black Americans Billy Rhythm and Tharbis Jefferson struggle against all odds in a Jim Crow world made all that more dangerous by working for the mob. They fall in love and through sheer perseverance and a little faith in God, overcome death threats and bloodshed by dancing unknowingly-- but triumphantly-- around the spinning center of the Jazz Universe, a black hole named Owney Madden.