The campaign to “Save The Gay Hawk” all started about a month ago.
A GoFundMe page appeared online, and in a matter of hours, people had shared, liked, and donated.
“They were calling me from all over the country,” said Terica Bobo. “It was overwhelming and people were voicing their support and pledging to help me. All of that means so much. My father (Louis Bobo) would have been so happy to know that The Gay Hawk is remembered with so much love.
“Yeah, this would have made him so happy.”
Were he alive, “Bobo” would also be front and center this Friday night for the kick-off of “Save The Gay Hawk Historic Restaurant.” The event will feature live entertainment and is being hosted to help boost fundraising efforts for much-needed work on the beloved café.
The headliner is self-styled “International Queen of the Blues” Toni Green, with pro bono performances from Griffin Entertainment Band and Ken Jackson.
The evening’s emcee will be former local weather personality Leon Griffin, also known for dropping nuggets of pop culture history and interesting facts.
First National Realty agent Janice Crawford organized the fundraiser.
“I like to bring clients here for an old school lunch,” said Crawford, “and when I heard about the GoFundMe account, I wanted to give back and do all that I could to help Terica achieve her goal.
“The neighborhood is undergoing massive renovations,” she continued. “I just feel like we all need to band together and preserve this living black history.”
According to historic documents, The Gay Hawk was built in 1951 for African-American clientele by the man who owned the Gridiron Restaurant chain here in Memphis, Harris Scheuner. He also built two others for people of color—The Hitching Post and The Cotton Boll.
In 1961, Scheuner was found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot to the head. The Gay Hawk then closed for about two years, until Scheuner’s widow approached Lewis Bobo about buying the business.
When Bobo said he couldn’t afford to buy the restaurant, Scheuner’s widow offered owner financing — and the rest is Memphis landmark history.
For decades, the Gay Hawk has served homestyle cooking to common folk and celebrities alike. Among the big names to patronize the eatery: Little Milton, Albert King, Gene “Bowlegs” Miller, and Ike Turner, just to name a few.
Musicians and entertainers would go there just to have lunch. Rufus Thomas, Carla Thomas, bluesmen, musicians—they all mixed it up with regular clients just taking a lunch break from work.
“Memphis-native and actress Cybill Shephard was seen quite a bit at the Gay Hawk,” said Terica Bobo. “These people weren’t famous to me. They were just people who came in to my father’s place. I grew up in the Gay Hawk. All my birthday parties were down there. It was great.”
When her father passed in April, Terica Bobo didn’t have much time to grieve. She became an overnight restauranteur and she had a business to run. In fact, the business has been open continuously since 1963, she said.
“We never closed one day, not even when he passed,” she said. “I am applying to have the restaurant placed on the Registry of Historic Places. And I just need to take care of some things in the building.
“It means the world to me that everyone wans to help,” she continued. “I am overwhelmed.”
Friday’s headliner Toni Green remembers the Gay Hawk fondly as she was getting her start in the music business.
“In my early days, I was at the Gay Hawk all the time. Back in the day when black performers were booked at places like the Gay Hawk,” she said. “That’s all we had back then.
“I knew I wanted to be a part of this effort,” Green added. “The Gay Hawk has meant so much to so many Memphis entertainers over the years.”
Blues and jazz musician Ken Jackson will open Friday’s set.
“When I first came to Memphis, Bobo gave me a job, playing at the Gay Hawk,” Jackson said. “I am solo most of the time, but I’ve also played with a jazz quartet on and off for the past 20 years. Not only must we preserve our history, but we must teach our youngsters what landmarks like the Gay Hawk really mean.”
Jackson is an artist-in-residence at a performing arts school in Marion, Ark. There, he teaches his students about “our history and our music—students of all races. We don’t have very many of these places left. So when I heard about this, I said, ‘Count me in.’”
Friday’s event is just the first in a weekly series sponsored by JMarie Entertainment in conjunction with Tony Jones, INK!. The extended schedule is still taking shape, but future events will include an oral history of the Gay Hawk and more Memphis music.
Crawford invites those who can’t attend to make donations on the GoFundMe page or in person at the restaurant.
“This place is historic and iconic. We’ve got to hold on to our history because when our buildings are torn down, our history goes with it.
“The Gay Hawk is a piece of history worth preserving,” Green said.
“Save The Gay Hawk” runs from 5 p.m. – 9 p.m. For additional information, call (901) 215-4439. To learn more about the GoFundMe drive, visit: https://www.gofundme.com/gayhawkmemphis.