This is the second blogpost of our series on the Temples of Jazz. The initial post was dedicated to the ballrooms and dance halls. This one will cover those theatres(ers) where jazz musicians performed during the Jazz Age, while the final post of the series will highlight notable jazz clubs around the nation.
Instead of listing every single theatre in the country where a jazz performance may have taken place during its golden age, the list below identifies those theatres(ers) either located in historically-black communities that both helped give rise to and sustain the jazz era or those theatre(ers) which played an important local/regional/national role in advancing jazz and jazz musicians.
Because jazz came of age during segregation and the Jim Crow era, opportunities for African-American musicians were limited, especially at white-only venues. As a result of these unfortunate and bigoted policies, the Chitlin’ Circuit was established as a work around.
“The Chitlin’ Circuit was the collective name given to a series of performance venues throughout the eastern, southern, and upper mid-west areas of the country that were safe and acceptable for African American entertainers to perform in during segregation.”
Those theatres(ers) listed below that are identified below with a * were particularly significant historic jazz-related sites. As can be seen by the listings, theatres(ers) changed names with great regularity. For retracing history, this can be rather frustrating, but the best attempt has been made to properly identify each venue.
Please feel free to forward any suggestions, additions, corrections, or clarifications so the list can be as accurate as possible. Peace!
*Athens, GA: Morton Theatre – 195 W. Washington Street (1910-1930s) – Adapted to a performing arts space in 1987. Added to the National Register of Historic Places as one of the few surviving original vaudeville theaters that successfully transitioned into live jazz performance in the 1920s and motion pictures in the 1930s.
Baltimore, MD: Regent Theatre – 1629 Pennsylvania Avenue (1916-1974) – demolished in 1980 and replaced with a Family Fun Center.
*Baltimore, MD: Royal Theatre – 1329 Pennsylvania Avenue (1922 -1971) – opened in 1922 as the black-owned Douglass Theatre. It was a jazz venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. It was damaged during riots of the 1960s and demolished in 1971. Royal Theatre Marquee Monument erected in 2004, but the actual building site is vacant.
* Birmingham, AL: Carver Theatre – Fourth Avenue N. & 17th Street N. (1935-?) – a jazz venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ circuit. Restored as a live performance venue named the Carver Performing Arts Center and home to the Alabama Jazz Hall of Fame.
Boston, MA: RKO Theatre (originally the Keith-Albee Theatre) – Washington & Essex Streets (1925-1986) – currently sits vacant and unused.
Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Apoll0 Theatre – 1531 Fulton Street – (1914-1965) – opened as the Throop Theatre and renamed the Apollo in 1925.
Brooklyn, NY: Brooklyn Paramount Theatre – (1928-1960) – owned by Long Island University sine 1960 and converted to school uses in 1962.
Buffalo, NY: Plaza Theatre – 1412 William Street (1914-1950s) – closed in 1964 and razed in 1975. Sammy Davis, Jr. is reported to have performed here at the age of five.
*Chicago (Bronzeville), IL: Grand Theatre -3110 S. State Street (1911-1952) – Sadly, this truly historic site was demolished in 1959 to make way for an expansion of the campus of the Illinois Institute of Technology.
- The Grand Theatre is the place where Jazz music was first introduced to Chicago in 1915 by the Original Creole Orchestra.
Chicago (South Side), IL: The Monogram Theatre (originally South Side Merit Theatre) – 3451 S. State Street (1910-?) – building has been demolished.
Chicago (Loop), IL: Oriental Theatre (recently renamed the Nederlander Theatre) – 24 W. Randolph Street (1926-1998) – since 1998 has been utilized for performing arts and stage productions. Added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Chicago (Bronzeville), IL: Pickford Theatre (originally the Lux Theatre 1912-1914) – 108 E. 35th Street (1914-1938) – renamed the Louis Theatre and served as movie house from 1938-1965 – served various uses after 1965, but demolished in 2011.
*Chicago (Bronzeville), IL: Regal Theatre – S. Parkway & 37th Street (1928-1970) – jazz music venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. Demolished in 1973.
Chicago (Loop), IL: State-Lake Theatre – Start & Lake Streets (1919-1941) – converted to movies only after 1941. Currently used/owned by TV station WLS.
Chicago (Bronzeville), IL: States Theatre – 3507 S. State Street (1913-early 1950s) – demolished after closing.
*Chicago (Bronzeville), IL: Vendome Theatre – 3145 S. State Street (1919-late 1930s) – . The Vendome closed in the late 1930s and was demolished in 1949.
- The premiere African-American theater in the city until the Regal (see above) opened in 1928.
Cincinnati (West End), OH: State Theatre (originally Metropolitan Theatre) – 1504 Central Avenue (1915-1983, though its main jazz timeline was during the 1940s-1950s) – reopened as a theatre briefly in the late 1980s. since then operated as a worship center until being demolished for a soccer stadium in 2019.
*Columbus (King-Lincoln), OH: Lincoln Theatre (originally the Ogden Theatre) – 769 E. Long Street (1928-early 1970s) – Became the Lincoln Theatre in 1939. The Columbus Jazz Arts Group and Columbus Jazz Academy both are located and perform here. The restored and reopened (in 2009) theatre is part of city efforts to revitalize the King-Lincoln neighborhood. The Lincoln was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1992, due to its historical significance, including:
“The building was developed by an African-American fraternal organization; constructed by an African-American construction company; managed by an important local African-American entrepreneur; and was a center for stage and screen entertainment for Columbus’ African-American population for decades. It is one of the best remaining vestiges of early 20th century African-American history in the city.”
* Dayton (West Side), OH: Classic Theatre – 815 W. 5th Street (1927-1959) – Performances by many jazz greats took place upstairs in the ballroom, while first-run movies were shown in the theatre. Sadly, it was demolished in 1991 despite efforts to save this important historic venue.
- Believed to be the first theatre in the nation built, owned, and operated by African-Americans.
Dayton (West Side), OH: Palace Theatre – 1125 W. 5th Street (1927-1950s) – movies continued to be shown here into the 1970s. Many of the jazz elite played here. Once again another prominent African-American theater was demolished; this time in 2002.
Denver (Five Points), CO: Roxy Theatre – 2549 Welton Street (1934-?) – African-American theatre. Converted to a club called the Roxy. Now a live performance and events venue using the original name.
Detroit, MI: Fox Theatre – 2211 Woodward Avenue (1928-1970s) – a jazz venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. Restored in the 1980s. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1985 and a National Historic Landmark in 1989. It is the largest of the Fox Theatres.
Detroit, MI: Michigan Theatre – 238 Bagley Avenue (1926-1940) – Movies only shown between 1940 and 1975. Briefly operated as a nightclub until it was converted into a parking structure after closing in 1976.
*Detroit (Midtown/Paradise Valley), MI: Paradise Theatre – 3711 Woodward Avenue (1941-1951) – Prior to 1940 the building was known as Orchestra Hall. Sat vacant after closing for several decades before being restored and reopened as Orchestra Hall again – the Detroit Symphony Orchestra re-occupied the building in 1989 and has been performing there ever since. Added to the National; Register of Historic Places in 1971.
- In its heyday, the Paradise was important to African-Americans in Detroit as the Apollo was to those in Harlem.
Fort Wayne, IN: Embody Theatre – (1928-1971) – name changed to Embassy Theatre in 1952. Building has be restored and renovated as a performing arts venue. It has been added to the National Register of Historic Places.
Hartford, CT: State Theatre – Main & Morgan Streets (1926-1962) – demolished.
Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Theatre – 136 W. Washington Street (1927- 1980) – its Indiana Rooftop Ballroom (address 140 W. Washington) was a jazz and swing-era venue until 1958, though due to segregation laws, African-Americans were limited to attending shows held at the Walker Theatre (see below). The main theatre was converted to showing films only in 1933. The facility became home to the Indiana Repertory Theatre in 1980 and remained so since then. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979.
*Indianapolis (Indiana Avenue), IN: Madame Walker Theatre – (1927-1960s) – now a cultural and historical center with performing arts. A jazz venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980 and designated a National Historic Landmark in 1991. A new $15 million restoration is underway.
- Funded by the first African-American female millionaire entrepreneur and hometown philanthropist, Madame C.J. Walker.
Jacksonville (LaVilla), FL: Ritz Theatre (originally the Rizoli Theatre) – West State & Davis Streets (1929-1971) – A jazz venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. Sadly demolished. A new Ritz Theatre opened on the site in 1999.
Jacksonville (LaVilla), FL: Strand Theatre – 701 W. Asheley Street (1915-1930) – One of the original TOBA theatre (Theatrical Owners Booking Agency), but after the nearby Ritz Theatre opened in 1929, the theatre’s prominence ended. It closed in 1968 and was demolished in 1969 after a fire.
Kansas City, MO: Mainstreet/Empire Theatre (now the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema) – 1400 Main Street (1921-1941) – exclusively films after 1941. Closed in 1985, but renovated, restored, and reopened in 2009. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2007.
Lexington, KY: Lyric Theatre – 300 E. 3rd Street (1948-1963) – a late jazz age venue that welcomed performers as part of the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. Closed in 1963 and stood vacant until being renovated and reopen as a theatre and African-American cultural center in 2010.
Los Angeles, CA: Orpheum Theatre – 842 S. Broadway (1926-1950s) – switched to rock and roll acts in the 1960s. Restored in 1989 and still in use.
Louisville, KY: National Theatre – 500 W. Muhammed Ali Boulevard (1913-1952) – a jazz venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. Unfortunately, the facility was bulldozed for a parking lot in 1953.
Macon, GA: Douglass Theatre – 355 Martin Luther King Boulevard (1920-1972) – Established by African-American Charles Douglass and included as part of the Theatre Operators Booking Agency (TOBA). Restored and reopened in 1997, approximately 25 years after closing.
Marion, IN: Luna-Lite Theatre – 113 W. 4th Street (1910-1952) – originally opened as the Orpheum Theatre. Live jazz performances were added in the 1920s as Bix Beiderbecke and the Wolverines played here in the spring of 1924 with the Charlie Davis Band. This may have been the first theatre performance by Bix and the Wolverines who previously had primarily played in bars, dance halls, and at Indiana University fraternities. Unfortunately, this theatre was demolished in 1952.
Milwaukee (Bronzeville), WI: Rose/Regal Theatre – North MLK Drive (1917-1958) – demolished and now a housing development is located on the site.
Nashville, TN: Bijou Theatre – 423 4th Avenue North (1904-1957) – flagship theatre of one of the first African-American theatre chains in the South. Part of the Theatre Owners Booking Association. Unfortunately, it was demolished in 1957 for a new Municipal Auditorium.
*New York City (Harlem), NY: Apollo Theatre – 253 W 125th Street (1914-present) – opened originally as the white’s-only venue named the Hurting & Seamon’s New Burlesque Theater. Changed to the Apollo in 1934 when it opened to African-Americans. A venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. Added to the New York City Landmarks’ List and the National Register of Historic Places in 1983.
New York City (Midtown), NY: Capitol Theatre – 1645 Broadway (1919-1968) – demolished in 1968.
New York City (Harlem), NY: Douglas Theatre – 652 Lenox Avenue (1919-1922) operated as a whites-only venue in Harlem next to the Cotton Club. The building was demolished in 1958.
Source: cinema treasures.org
*New York City (Harlem), NY: Lafayette Theatre – 132nd Street & 7th Avenue (1912-1951).
- Duke Ellington made his New York City debut here in 1923.
- The Lafayette was also one of the first theatres in New York City to allow African-Americans to desegregate and sit on the main floor with whites.
It became a church in the 1950s. Sadly, the building was dramatically altered in 1990 and demolished in 2013.
*New York City (Harlem), NY: Lincoln Theatre – 58 W. 135th Street near Lenox Avenue (1915-1960s). Has been part of a church since the 1960s.
- The Lincoln was the first theatre in Harlem (then a primarily white community) to cater exclusively to African-American audiences.
Oakland, CA: Pantages Theatre, a.k.a. the Lurie, Hippodrome, Premier, Roosevelt, and Downtown (1912-1946) – now mixed use space and park of the Downtown Oakland Historic District.
*Oklahoma City (Deep Deuce), OK: Aldridge Theatre – 303 N. 2nd Street (1919-1940) – Part of the TOBA chain of African-American owned theatres. Only showed movies solely in the 1940s and 1950s. Sadly demolished.
Peoria, IL: Palace Theatre – 437 Main Street (1921-1963) – the saying, “If it’ll play in Peoria” originated here. Remodeled in 1974, but was closed in 1980 and later demolished.
*Philadelphia, PA: Earle Theatre – 1046 Market Street (1924-1953) – Recording artists appeared here to promote their records, as movies were secondary. Demolished in 1953.
*Philadelphia, PA: Dunbar/Lincoln Theatre – SW corner of Broad & Lombard Streets (1919-1955) – erected by African-American bankers. Renamed the Lincoln in 1931. Hosted many African-American performers from the 1920s-1940s. Sadly, this historic site has been demolished.
“From the beginning, the theater played a critical role in addition to serving as the city’s most desirable stage for African American performers. The Lincoln was often dedicated to race relations, human rights and political protest.”
*Philadelphia, PA: Pearl Theatre – 21st and Ridge Avenue (1927-1963) – the theatre was a notable jazz and dance venue. Demolished in 1970.
- Pearl Bailey was discovered here during one of their amateur contests.
*Philadelphia, PA: Royal Theatre (1920-1976) – the theatre had an all African-American staff. It hosted many jazz luminaries, talent competitions, and radio shows. While it was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980, the facade is all that remains of this historic venue.
*Philadelphia, PA: Standard Theatre – 1100 block of South Street (circa 1914-1931) – a regular stop for African-American performers. Became movies only venue in 1931 and closed in 1954. The theatre was demolished in 1957.
*Philadelphia, PA: Uptown Theatre – 2240 N. Broad Street (1929-1978) – undergoing renovation and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1982. The theatre was famous for its amateur night competitions and was a jazz venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit.
- At one point during the late 1950s/early 1960s, the Uptown rivaled Harlem’s Apollo Theatre for prominence.
Pittsburgh (Hill District), PA – Elmore Theatre – 2312 Centre Avenue (1923-1930) – showed only movies after 1930 until 1933 when it was converted into the Savoy Ballroom.
Pittsburgh (Hill District), PA: New Granada Theatre (also once known as the Pythian Theatre) – 1909 Centre Avenue (1928-?) – local leaders are looking for ways to restore the theatre.
Pittsburgh (Hill District), PA: Roosevelt Theatre – 1862 Centre Avenue (1929-?) – Nicknamed “The Show Place of the Hill.” Appears to have been demolished.
Pittsburgh (Downtown), PA: Stanley Theatre – 237 7th Street (1928-1946) – Pittsburgh’s premiere movie and music venue for many years, particularly during the Big Band era. Movies only from 1946 until the mid-1970s. Later, it was renovated and renamed the Benedum Center and still being used today for events and performing arts.
*Richmond (Jackson Ward/The Deuce), VA: Hippodrome Theatre – Second Street (1914-1970) – a jazz venue on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. Fully restored and a key African-American cultural site in the city.
San Francisco, CA: Golden Gate Theatre – 1 Taylor Street (1922-1972) – closed in 1972, but reopened in 1979 as a performance venue.
Seattle, WA: Pantages/Palomar Theatre – 1300 3rd Avenue at University Street (1915-1965) – was demolished in 1965.
*Washington, DC: Dunbar Theatre – 1901 7th Street NW (1920-1960) – floors above the theatre itself were occupied by the Southern Aid Society, which is the oldest African-American insurance company in the country. It was closed in 1960, but aded to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986. It now houses a bank branch.
*Washington, DC: Howard Theatre – 620 T. Street (1910-1970 and 1974-present) – one of the jazz venues on the segregation-era Chitlin’ Circuit. Renovated in 2012. Added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1974.