Little Rock Culture Vulture

Cultural events, places and people in the Little Rock area

Black History Month – The Biggest Show of 1951 at Robinson Auditorium (with Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan)

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big-show-1951On November 7, 1951, Duke Ellington and His Orchestra, Nat King Cole and His Trio, and Sarah Vaughan headlined a three hour stage show which was billed nationally as “The Biggest Show of 1951.”

The tour launched in September 1951 and continued through December.  Also part of the show were Marie Bryant leading the dancers, vaudevillian Peg Leg Bates, comedian Timmie Rogers, comedians Stump and Stumpy and comedians Patterson and Jackson.  The tour played New England, parts of Canada, and the South.  At some venues in the South, the white musicians in Ellington’s orchestra were not allowed to play on stage with the African American musicians.  Sometimes he referred to his drummer as a light-skinned Haitian.

This was not the first visit for Cole or Ellington.  The former had been there in 1943 and 1944.  The latter had played there in 1949.

At the concert in Little Rock, there is no reference to problems with the musicians appearing on stage together. In a role reversal, white audience members were restricted to the balcony, while the orchestra and mezzanine levels were reserved for African American audience members.  (Many Southern venues would not even allow African Americans to attend events there at all, or to be in the same audience as whites.)  There were separate box offices.  White patron tickets were available at the Arcade Building. Tickets were $2.55 with tax included.  African Americans could purchase tickets at Lloyds Cafe on West 9th Street. Tickets ranged from $5.66 down to $2.44 with tax included.  The Robinson Box Office would be open a couple of hours before the concert began.

The advertisements did not provide instructions as to which doors were to be used to enter the building, so it was likely that the patrons headed to the balcony were able to enter through the three main front doors, while the orchestra and mezzanine level patrons had to enter in the one segregated door to the east of the main doors.


Author: Scott

A cultural thinker with a life long interest in the arts and humanities: theatre, music, architecture, photography, history, urban planning, etc.

One thought on “Black History Month – The Biggest Show of 1951 at Robinson Auditorium (with Duke Ellington, Nat King Cole and Sarah Vaughan)

  1. Nice.