Do Drop Inn Celebrates 50 Years of Lifting Spirits


By Stefanie Jackson

In honor of the recent 50th anniversary of the Do Drop Inn restaurant and lounge in Weirwood – one of the oldest blackowned businesses on the Eastern Shore still in operation – local radio station WHRO held a live broadcast of “Another View” with host Barbara Hamm Lee at the Barrier Island Center on Sept 21.

WHRO-TV followed on Sept. 22, taping a musical celebration at the nightspot which featured Black Elvis and Snowflake, Billy Mercury, McKay Shockley, The Snow Hill Allstars, and The Chris English Band.

Jane Cabarrus, owner of the Do Drop Inn and daughter of founder Lloyd Giddens, along with Joan Wilson, daughter of Herman Edmonds, who supplied the jukebox, and Clearance Giddens, aka Black Elvis, who was a regular performer there, all shared fond memories of the old neighborhood gathering place for the radio hour.

Cabarrus, the youngest of Lloyd Giddens’ seven children and the “outgoing girl that wanted to be under daddy’s wing,” was a natural fit for taking over the family business that first opened in 1967.

She described how, as a youth, she would sit behind the bar and learn everything related to the business, from shooting pool to treating people right.

Cabarrus recalled her father telling her, “I don’t care who come in this door,” whether that person has “greasy hands, dirty clothes,” or is “dressed up in a suit – you treat them all the same.”

Giddens was a carpenter by trade with a sixth-grade education and also a factory worker who built the business with own two hands.

His first attempt failed when he was unable to borrow $2,000 from the bank, but success came after a white friend gave Giddens an old house that he carefully took apart, nail by nail, and built the Do Drop Inn as it stands today.

During the Do Drop Inn’s heyday, Cabarrus worked three jobs. On weekends, she worked at the lounge until closing at 2 a.m., went to bed by 3 a.m., then got up at 6 a.m. to work at the former Northampton-Accomack Memorial Hospital in Nassawadox. She also worked in private care.

Wilson said, “The black people on the Shore, they worked hard, they labored in the fields, they didn’t have a lot to look up to.” Her father wanted them to have “somewhere to go and something to do, and good music to listen to.”

R&B, blues, and gospel were the most popular types of music on the jukebox. People danced to the gospel music, too. “The black people were praising the Lord and they didn’t even know,” Wilson said.

There was also live music. Clearance Giddens first became interested in playing at the Do Drop Inn – where he eventually had his own corner – because of its association with Arthur Crudup, the writer and original performer of “That’s All Right (Mama),” Elvis Presley’s first single. (Crudup received few royalties for his songs and lived in Northampton for a while working in the fields.)

Giddens wasn’t always an Elvis impersonator. He began his music career in a gospel group that later broke up. His girlfriend at the time, an Elvis fan who liked hearing Giddens sing “Love Me Tender,” encouraged him to imitate Elvis.

“I took a second look at her, I said, ‘Hmmm … A black man doing Elvis Presley? Nobody’s gonna buy that.’”

But after much thought, Giddens asked himself, “What have I got to lose? The rest of it is history,” he said.

Wilson remembered the Do Drop Inn as a place for the whole neighborhood, especially after church on Sundays. Children got ice cream, the local baseball team played, and even the preacher showed up.

It was a safe haven for kids of all ages, from children trick-or-treating on Halloween to teenagers dating. “You belonged to the family there,” Wilson said. “You were looked after. … You get to the door and you think you’re going to sneak outside – that’s not going to happen. … They’re going to ask you why, and, ‘I know who your mama is.’”

But “the Do Drop Inn wasn’t always black,” Cabarrus said, “because Daddy has this thing about him about people. Daddy had white people to come in, and our beer man, Billy Sturgis’ daddy, would come and sit on the stool and they would have a great conversation.”

When asked about the civil rights movement, Wilson said she was a “child of integration” and spoke of her experience with the Freedom of Choice initiatives for school integration. She said of her family, “They were proud that you decided to go” to an integrated school. “They would always tell you that your books were your best friend and how important that education was.”

“Yes, they had made it, but they wanted you to do even better,” Wilson said.

Cabarrus describes the Do Drop Inn today as a “community center” and a “political arena.” Speakers there have included Gov. Ralph Northam before he became governor and Dr. L.D. Britt, of Eastern Virginia Medical School, the first black American surgeon to receive an endowed chair in surgery.

She said, “Instead of being mad, around 18, about what was going on at the ending of the Jim Crow laws … I decided that I was going to do something about it.” She was inspired by her dad, “who put his pants on the same way other men do.”

In her dedication to “make the world a better place,” Cabarrus became president of the Northampton County NAACP, in which she is still active.

“Diversity is our best key, because we’ve all got to live in this world together.”

“I’m not angry about slavery … because we all, at some point, no matter what color you are, have been in enslavement, because enslavement of the mind is the worst kind of enslavement. It’s not all the shackles all the time, but it’s … the way you think.”

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