Chicago’s entertainment community lost an icon this week when Gerri Oliver, owner of the legendary Bronzeville venue Gerri’s Palm Tavern, died Monday. She was 101 years old.
Over the years, Oliver appeared in a few WTTW features, among them the 1987 WTTW special about 47th Street, “Precious Memories.” In it, she talked about taking over the Palm Tavern from Bronzeville businessman James Knight in 1956.
“Mr. Knight turned the Palm Tavern over to my husband and I, and we did what we could with it,” she said. “The area at the time was going through a transition, and all the ‘in’ people, all the people with money …they were forsaking 47th Street because integration had taken its toll, and everybody was seeking the beauty of integration. There is a need until someone comes to perpetuate what Mr. Knight was about in his era, what I’m about in my era … But I’m waiting for the carrier of the torch to come and take over.”
Sadly, no one did come along to claim that legacy: The Palm Tavern closed in 2001.
But Oliver was memorialized by Chicago bluesman and Oliver’s close friend Billy Branch in 2014. Branch recorded the song “Going to See Miss Gerri One More Time” for his album “Blues Shock.”