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Royal Theater. First opened in 1922, as the black-owned Douglass Theater, the 1,000-seat theater was sold to whites, and its name was changed to the Royal Theater. It became one on a circuit of five theaters for black entertainment in big cities. Its sister theaters were the Apollo in Harlem, New York, Howard in Washington, D.C., Regal in Chicago and Earl in Philadelphia. All of the biggest stars in black entertainment, jazz and blues performed at the Royal including singer Louis Jordan and his band, The Tympany Five; Duke Ellington; Nat King Cole; Count Basie and the Sweethearts of Rhythm (a 40-piece, all female band). It was at the Royal that Ethel Waters debuted, Pearl Bailey sang in a chorus line and Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller worked as accompanists. The city’s first talking motion picture was shown at the Royal: a 1929 motion picture called Scar of Shame, featuring a black cast.
Other popular Baltimore clubs during this era included The Sphinx, Gamby’s and The Regent. Even larger than the Royal, The Regent, which could seat up to 2,000, was a vaudeville and movie house, famous for musical and dance revues with chorus lines stretching across the stage and featuring big bands of 1920s and 30s.
As middle class flight from Old West Baltimore continued during the 1960s and 1970s, the community began a period of decline that accelerated after The Avenue was attacked during the 1960s civil rights riots. In 1971, the Royal Theater was demolished. Before it closed in 1970, Nat King Cole, the Platters, Temptations and Supremes had all performed there.
The Royal Theater is now represented by an insult of a monstrosity that sits on a corner that is home to a pile of bricks with a marquee…none of which is indicative of the rich and very royal history that is part of the legacy of an institution that once was a determinig factor of an artist’s career success as well as a major venue for well known musicians, singers and vaudeville acts ie. tap dancer, singer, performers HINES, HINES and DAD (Gregory and maurice Hines, The Chick Webb orchestra with Ella Fitzgergerald, Jackie Wilson,James Brown Sam & Dave, The Motown Revue with the Temptations and The Miracles…a major venue on
the “Chittlin Circuit”..if you could make it through the Royal…generally your next step would be har;em’s Apollo Theater and then one might be on his/her way to the BIG TIME.
The Royal Theater is one of Baltimore City’s most famous treasures..yet the importance and emphasis of it’s historical legacy has been minimized and completely discounted in the hands of thoses whyo lack thye ability to understand the impact of preserving history in it’s proper form.
A land mark who in time will be forgotten because of of the lack of preservation skills.
Adjacent to the edifice that represents nothing of the past on the northwest corner of Pennsylvania Avenue and Lafayette Avenue is a statue of Billie Holiday loaded with misinformation..