Theaters

Historic Places - Chitlin' Circuit Theaters

Buildings and Structures Cities Parks and Public Lands Theaters

Jim Crow laws and culture did not allow black artists to play “white only” downtown theaters. As a result, a string of entertainment venues throughout the eastern and southern United States known as the "Chitlin Circuit" were created to give black audiences a place to see black performers. Included in the Chitlin Circuit was Howard Theater, the oldest in the circuit; Royal Theater in Baltimore; Apollo Theater in Harlem; Uptown Theater in Philadelphia and the Regal in Chicago.

  
Apollo Theater
253 West 125 Street
New York, New York 10027

 
  

Built in 1914 on 125 Street in Harlem, NY, the Apollo began as the Hurtig and Seamon New Burlesque Theater. African American audiences were not allowed to view the all white cast composed of scantily clad white woman and comedy routines.

In 1934, Ralph Cooper decided to do a live version of his radio show "Amateur Nite at the Apollo", at the Apollo Theater. Performers who got there start by winning Amateur Nite at the Apollo include Billie Holiday, India Arie,
Pearl Bailey, Josephine Baker, Mary J. Blige, Brandy, Ella Fitzgerald, Celia Cruz, Eartha Kitt, Alicia Keys, Nina Simone, Tony Bennett, Ruben Blades, James Brown, Ray Charles, Nat King Cole, Sean P. Diddy Combs, Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Michael Jackson, Ludacris, B.B. King, Frankie Lymon, Prince and Jackie Wilson and many other great performers. It was not long before the Apollo became known as the place, “Where Stars are Born and Legends are Made.”

The Apollo fell into declined during the 1970’s and was revived during the early 80’s. Percy E. Sutton, a businessman, civil rights activist, lawyer and elected New York City official, purchased the building through his firm. In 1985, it was designated as a city, state and federal landmark and reopened. The State of New York purchased the Apollo in 1991. It is currently run by the Apollo Foundation, Inc. a nonprofit organization.
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PICTURES:

First L:
Apollo Theater. M: Apollo Theater side view. R: Apollo Theater Marquee close up. 

Second L:
Good Luck Tree Stump. M and L: Stage area and Balcony.  

Pictures taken July 3, 2010.

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SOURCES:

Books
Finkelman, Paul, Ed. "The Encyclopedia of African American History." Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Internet
"Apollo Theater." apollotheater.org/about/history, Web. 3 Jul. 2011.

Site Visit
Apollo Theater. New York, NY. 3 Jul. 2010.
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SUBMITTED: July 10, 2010.
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New
Howard Theater
620 T Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001

 
 
 
  
Located in the historic Shaw neighborhood, the Howard Theater showcased the country’s newest, best and most famous black artists.

The 1,200 seat venue with its balcony and dressing rooms for 100 performers, opened August 22, 1910. From its debut until early 1930, the main forms of entertainment were road shows, musicals, vaudeville acts, and circuses. The theater closed after the stock market crash of 1929. In 1930, the Stiefel brothers purchased the property and hired Shepard Allen as theater manager. Through the 1940’s Allen brought in the best black acts from around the country like native Washingtonian Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Eckstein. Other great performers who played Howard Theater during the 40’s include Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Lena Horn and Lionel Hampton.

By the 1950’s and through the 1960’s, teenagers and young adults made up the majority of audiences. They came to see R&B artists like James Brown, Johnny Mathis, Pattie La Belle and the Bluebelles, Jackie Wilson, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Temptations.

Interest in the theater declined in the late 1960’s due to desegregation, the 1968 riots, and an increase in crime in the neighborhood. The doors closed in 1970, however, Howard Theater reopened on April 9, 2012. 

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PICTURES:

First L:
Howard Theatre circa 1915. Man pictured believed to be Andrew Thomas, original lessee and theater manager. Copy of original picture. R: Howard Theater December 2008.
 
Second L:
Sign in front of theater. R: Duke Ellington celebrating 20-year anniversary of his band. Picture appeared in an April 1, 1942, newspaper.

Third: The new Howard Theater.

Fourth: Duke Ellington Statue and plaque. 

Color pictures taken December 13, 2008. Third and fourth row color pictures taken June 30, 2013.
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SOURCES:

Books
Finkelman, Paul, Ed. "The Encyclopedia of African American History." Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Internet
"Howard Theatre." howardtheatre.org/home.html, Web. 13 Dec. 2008.

Site Visit
Howard Theater. Washington, DC. 13 Dec. 2008.
Howard Theater. Washington, DC. 30 Jun. 2013.
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SUBMITTED: February 17, 2010. Updated March 5, 2015.
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Royal Theatre
1329 Pennsylvania Avenue
West Baltimore City, MD 21217

 
The Royal Theatre opened in 1922 and was the most famous of all the theaters located along Pennsylvania Avenue in Baltimore. The Royal showed movies and hosted many black entertainers including Billie Holiday, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Louis Jordan, The Supremes, Etta James, the Temptations, Jackie Wilson and James Brown.

In the early 1970’s Royal Theater fell into disrepair. By the late 1970’s, it was torn down. Currently there is a replica of the theater's marquee erected on the theater's original location. Across the street is a statue of
Billie Holliday, famous jazz vocalist and performer at the Royal Theater.
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PICTURES:

L:
Royal Theater Marquee Replica. R: Marquee Sign. 

Pictures taken June 12, 2010.

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SOURCES:

Books
Finkelman, Paul, Ed. "The Encyclopedia of African American History." Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Internet
"Royal Theater." kilduffs.com/RGA.html, Web. 1 May 2010.

Site Visit
Royal Theater. Philadelphia, PA. 27 Mar. 2010.
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SUBMITTED: June 28, 2010.
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Uptown Theater
2248 North Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19132

The 2000 seat Uptown Theater open in 1929 and was built to play a new type of movie, “talkies.” Sam Stiefel owner of Howard Theater in Washington, DC and Royal Theater in Baltimore, Maryland purchased the Uptown Theater in 1951 and made it part of the “Chitlin Circuit”.

Hosts of the Uptown include; Kae Williams, Jocko Henderson and Georgie Woods. Famous performers included The Silhouettes who were discovered at the Uptown, Ray Charles, James Brown, Jackie Wilson, Stevie Wonder, The Isley Brothers, Marvin Gaye, Gladys Knight and the Pips, B.B. King, The Supremes, The Jackson Five, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles and the Temptations.

By the 1980’s, the Uptown was turned into a movie theater and used as place of worship. The building later fell into disrepair and as is currently no longer in use.
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PICTURED:

Uptown Theater. 

Picture taken March 27, 2010.
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SOURCES:

Books
Finkelman, Paul, Ed. "The Encyclopedia of African American History." Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009. Print.

Internet
"Uptown Theater." thesilhouettes.org/uptown-theater.htm, Web. 9 Mar. 2010.

Site Visit
Uptown Theater. Philadelphia, PA. 27 Mar. 2010.
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SUBMITTED: March 27, 2010.
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All pictures taken by Percy White and are the property of FindFamilyRoots.com unless otherwise indicated.

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