Little Rock Look Back: Opening of Robinson Center Performance Hall

On February 16, 1940, after three years of planning and construction including several delays due to lack of funding, the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. It was a cold, rainy night, but those in attendance did not care.  (The concept of a municipal auditorium for Little Rock had first been raised in 1904, so this evening was truly a long time in the works.)

Searchlights painting arcs in the sky greeted attendees. They were borrowed from the Arkansas National Guard. Newspaper accounts noted that only a few of the men who attended were in tuxedos, most were simply in suits. The work to get the building opened had been so harried, that it was discovered there was not an Arkansas flag to fly in front of the building. Mayor Satterfield found one at the last minute courtesy of the Arkansas Department of the Spanish War Veterans.

The weather delayed arrivals, so the program started fifteen minutes late. Following a performance of Sibelius’ Finlandia by the fledgling Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra, Mayor J. V. Satterfield, Ewilda Robinson (the Senator’s widow), Emily Miller (the Senator’s sister-in-law and a member of the Auditorium Commission) and D. Hodson Lewis of the Chamber of Commerce participated in a brief ribbon cutting ceremony. Mrs Robinson cut the ribbon on her second attempt (once again proving that nothing connected with getting the building open was easy).

The ceremony was originally set to be outside of the building but was moved indoors due to the inclement weather. The ribbon cutting took place on the stage with the ribbon stretched out in front of the curtain. The opening remarks were broadcast on radio station KGHI.

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon

Tickets for the event, advertised as being tax exempt, were at four different pricing levels: $2.50, $2.00, $1.50 and $1.00.

The estimated attendance was 1700. Following the ribbon cutting, the main performance took place. The headliner for the grand opening was the San Francisco Opera Ballet accompanied by the new Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra). The featured soloist with the ballet was Zoe Dell Lantis who was billed as “The Most Photographed Miss at the San Francisco World’s Fair.”

Auditorium Commission chairman E. E. Beaumont, a local banker, noted that while event planners knew the evening of ballet and classical music would not appeal to everyone, it was intended to show the wide range of offerings that would be suitable in the new space.  Earlier in the week, children’s theatre performances had been offered to school groups through the auspices of the Junior League of Little Rock.

At the same time that the gala was going on upstairs in the music hall, a high school basketball double-header was taking place in the downstairs convention hall. North Little Rock lost to Beebe in the first game, while the Little Rock High School Tigers upset Pine Bluff in the marquee game.

Rock the Oscars 2019: Mikhail Baryshnikov

On July 24, 1983, Mikhail Baryshnikov danced on the stage of Robinson Center under the auspices of Ballet Arkansas.   Nearing the end of his dancing career with American Ballet Theatre, he was leading a summer tour of the Southeast and Midwest US.

In the early spring of 1983, Ballet Arkansas was contacted to see if they would be interested in having him perform in Little Rock.  (The $60,000 sponsorship was paid completely by the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT.) The performance was announced in April with tickets going on sale shortly thereafter.

Following Baryshnikov’s performance, he and his fellow dancers attended a reception at the Old State House Museum which was hosted by Governor and Mrs. Bill Clinton.  Baryshnikov would later be welcomed by the Clintons to the White House when he received a 2000 Kennedy Center Honors.

He returned to Little Rock in the summer of 1985 for a program entitled “Baryshnikov & Co.” It featured fifteen American Ballet Theater (ABT) dancers along with artistic director Mikhail Baryshnikov.

After dancing with the Mariinsky Ballet for several years, Baryshnikovdefected to Canada while the ballet was performing there in 1974. He later came to the US to dance with American Ballet Theatre and later New York City Ballet. He returned to ABT in 1980 to take on the role of Artistic Director and continue dancing.  It was in this capacity that he visited Little Rock.

He received a 1977 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the ballet-themed film The Turning Point.

 

Little Rock Look Back: Opening of Robinson Auditorium

robinson-auditorium-by-scott-carterOn February 16, 1940, after three years of planning and construction including several delays due to lack of funding, the Joseph Taylor Robinson Memorial Auditorium officially opened. It was a cold, rainy night, but those in attendance did not care.  (The concept of a municipal auditorium for Little Rock had first been raised in 1904, so this evening was truly a long time in the works.)

Searchlights painting arcs in the sky greeted attendees. They were borrowed from the Arkansas National Guard. Newspaper accounts noted that only a few of the men who attended were in tuxedos, most were simply in suits. The work to get the building opened had been so harried, that it was discovered there was not an Arkansas flag to fly in front of the building. Mayor Satterfield found one at the last minute courtesy of the Arkansas Department of the Spanish War Veterans.

The weather delayed arrivals, so the program started fifteen minutes late. Following a performance of Sibelius’ Finlandia by the fledgling Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra, Mayor J. V. Satterfield, Ewilda Robinson (the Senator’s widow), Emily Miller (the Senator’s sister-in-law and a member of the Auditorium Commission) and D. Hodson Lewis of the Chamber of Commerce participated in a brief ribbon cutting ceremony. Mrs Robinson cut the ribbon on her second attempt (once again proving that nothing connected with getting the building open was easy).

The ceremony was originally set to be outside of the building but was moved indoors due to the inclement weather. The ribbon cutting took place on the stage with the ribbon stretched out in front of the curtain. The opening remarks were broadcast on radio station KGHI.

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon

Mr. Lewis, Mrs. Miller and Mayor Satterfield look on as Mrs. Robinson cuts the ribbon


Though he had previously discussed how he had voted against the auditorium in 1937 before entering public life, the mayor’s remarks that evening were appropriately gracious, statesmanlike and a testament to the effort he had invested to get it open upon becoming mayor. “We hope you have a very pleasant evening and hope further that it will be the first in a long series which you will enjoy in this, your auditorium.”

Tickets for the event, advertised as being tax exempt, were at four different pricing levels: $2.50, $2.00, $1.50 and $1.00.

The estimated attendance was 1700. Following the ribbon cutting, the main performance took place. The headliner for the grand opening was the San Francisco Opera Ballet accompanied by the new Arkansas State Symphony Orchestra (not related to the current Arkansas Symphony Orchestra). The featured soloist with the ballet was Zoe Dell Lantis who was billed as “The Most Photographed Miss at the San Francisco World’s Fair.”

Auditorium Commission chairman E. E. Beaumont, a local banker, noted that while event planners knew the evening of ballet and classical music would not appeal to everyone, it was intended to show the wide range of offerings that would be suitable in the new space.  Earlier in the week, children’s theatre performances had been offered to school groups through the auspices of the Junior League of Little Rock.

At the same time that the gala was going on upstairs in the music hall, a high school basketball double-header was taking place in the downstairs convention hall. North Little Rock lost to Beebe in the first game, while the Little Rock High School Tigers upset Pine Bluff in the marquee game.

Rock the Oscars: Mikhail Baryshnikov

On July 24, 1983, Mikhail Baryshnikov danced on the stage of Robinson Center under the auspices of Ballet Arkansas.   Nearing the end of his dancing career with American Ballet Theatre, he was leading a summer tour of the Southeast and Midwest US.

In the early spring of 1983, Ballet Arkansas was contacted to see if they would be interested in having him perform in Little Rock.  (The $60,000 sponsorship was paid completely by the ARKANSAS DEMOCRAT.) The performance was announced in April with tickets going on sale shortly thereafter.

Following Baryshnikov’s performance, he and his fellow dancers attended a reception at the Old State House Museum which was hosted by Governor and Mrs. Bill Clinton.

After dancing with the Mariinsky Ballet for several years, he defected to Canada while the ballet was performing there in 1974. He later came to the US to dance with American Ballet Theatre and later New York City Ballet. He returned to ABT in 1980 to take on the role of Artistic Director and continue dancing.  It was in this capacity that he visited Little Rock.

He received a 1977 Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor for his role in the ballet-themed film The Turning Point.

Baryshnikov would later be welcomed by the Clintons to the White House when he received a 2000 Kennedy Center Honors.

Robinson Redux – April

RCMH AprilWhile Robinson Center Music Hall is closed for renovations, the Culture Vulture is taking a monthly look at past performances. Today’s entry looks at Aprils from 1940 to 2010 in years that end in a “0” or “5.”

Edward Everett Horton kicked off April 1940 at Robinson Auditorium on the 1st with the comedy Springtime for Henry. The performance was marred by the sound of the new building’s air conditioning system, which was being used for the first time during a performance.  Five years later, on April 1, 1945, the auditorium was home to An Evening of Sigmund Romberg which featured the composer in person with performers singing some of his songs.  April 1945 also saw a performance of Earl Carroll Vanities (the 3rd) and Carmen featuring the Metropolitan Opera singers (the 16th.)

Tenor James Melton performed on April 25, 1950.  In April 1955, the lineup included William Bendix in The Caine Mutiny Court-Martial on the 23rd. The next night the Spring Music Festival took place. It featured school children performing.

On April 25 1960, The Coasters, Bo Diddley, LaVerne Baker and others. The month ended with a youth concert aimed at children. April 1970 included a production of Arthur Miller’s The Price (the 6th), the Southwest Regional Ballet Festival (April 11) and drummer Buddy Rich (April 18).  In April 1975 (the 6th) Hair returned to Robinson for one performance. This time there was no controversy such as had met the first visit a few years earlier.

April 1985 was very busy. On the 13th, there was a Ballet Festival Gala. April 20 & 21 featured an Arkansas Symphony Orchestra classical concert.  A touring production of the musical Gigi performed on the 22nd.  It starred Louis Jourdan (who had appeared in the Oscar winning film, albeit in a different part), Betsey Palmer and Taina Elg. The ASO was back on April 28 with a children’s music concert.

Cathy Rigby flew into Robinson Center with a tour of Peter Pan from April 10 to 12.  On April 4, 1995, the Community Concert Association brought the Russian Seasons Dance Company for a performance.  The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra performed Verdi’s Requiem Mass in Memory of Manzoni on April 8 & 9, 1995. Singer Millie Jackson wrote and appeared in the play Young Man, Older Woman, which played on April 30 of that year.

Several Contemporary Christian music acts performed on April 3. The Arkansas Symphony Orchestra closed their 1999-2000 season on April 8 & 9 with a concert featuring Carolyn Brown on flute. On April 27, 2000, President Clinton headlined a memorial service for civil rights activist Daisy Bates.

April 2005 was full of a variety of performances. Natalie Cole was in concert on April 3 with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra.  On William Shatner narrated David Itkin’s Exodus with the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra on April 9 & 10, 2005. Arkansan Kyle Dean Massey starred in the tour of 42nd Street which started its performances at Robinson Center on April 18, 2005. In conjunction with an exhibit at the Old State House Museum, a gospel concert featuring the Racy Brothers and the Hunter Brothers closed out April 2005 on the 30th.

David Itkin bid farewell to conducting the Arkansas Symphony Orchestra in April 10 & 11, 2010, with a performance of Mahler’s Resurrection Symphony.  On April 15, the Electrify Your Strings! concert took place. Comedian Gabriel Iglasias and his Fluffy Shop Tour stopped at Robinson on April 24.