LEO'S CASINO was a premier showcase in Cleveland for R&B and Motown artists. The co-owner of Leo's Casino, Leo Frank, got his first taste of the entertainment business while serving in the Navy in 1945. He was in charge of a theater on a base near San Francisco that featured Bob Hope, Harry James and other prominent entertainers. In 1952 Leo Frank opened his first club, called Leo's, at E. 49th St. and Central Ave. It started as a bar but expanded into a jazz room, featuring musicians like Dizzy Gillespie and Cannonball Adderley. The building burned down in 1962. With his business partner Jules Berger, Leo Frank started Leo's Casino in 1963 at the old Quad Hall Hotel at 7500 Euclid Avenue. The new Leo's held about 700 people and served dinner. Admission was two dollars. The club continued to feature jazz until R&B acts quickly took over. The club usually had three shows a night, Thursday through Sunday.
Between 1963 and 1972, an illustrious entourage of musical acts performed at Leo's Casino, including Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Jackie Wilson, Marvin Gaye, Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, the Supremes, the Temptations and the Four Tops. Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin gave some of their first performances at the club while Otis Redding made his last stage appearance at the club prior to his fatal plane crash in 1967. The club also provided a springboard for numerous comedians, such as Richard Pryor, Flip Wilson and Redd Foxx.
Because of its racially mixed audiences, Dick Gregory called the place, "the most fully integrated nightclub in America," however Frank always explicitly made it clear that social justice had nothing to do with his motivations. His reason for opening the nightclub was to make money. The club served as a unique haven in the midst of the racial tensions that gripped Cleveland in the 1960s. In 1966 during the Hough riots, just a few blocks away, hundreds of people, black and white, waited in line to see the Supremes. The Supremes played two sets on Sunday night, July 24, but the police told the club's owners to cancel the third show and shut down the club. Leo's Casino shut down for four weeks and then reopened with Ray Charles.
As the acts that performed at Leo's Casino grew more successful, the singers started playing one-night stands at larger venues for more money. While Leo's Casino would pay an act $3,000 or $4,000, they could get $15,000 at the larger stages. In 1970 Frank sold his share in the nightclub to Berger. Two years later Berger closed the club. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame (See ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAME AND MUSEUM) designated the club an historic rock'n'roll landmark on June 24, 1999. Two weeks after the dedication ceremony, Leo Frank died of respiratory failure and pneumonia.