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Hampton Roads Community News

2019: Attucks Theatre Turns 100

NORFOLK/NJG

To observe the centennial of the first commercial theater developed and built by African-Americans in Hampton Roads, the City of Norfolk has planned a year-long celebration called “Attucks at 100.”

The city, in conjunction with the Attucks Centennial Commission named last summer, has scheduled a series of events, including concerts and other special events for 2019 which will be announced in the coming months. A full schedule of performances and community events will appear soon at www.attucks100.com.

“Norfolk is proud to celebrate the rich history of this landmark theatre and the cultural impact it has had on the city for the last 100 years,” said Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander. “Opened in 1919, the Attucks Theatre hosted legendary performances from Duke Ellington to Red Foxx. In 2019, this former mecca of entertainment for Norfolk’s African-American community will illuminate again with performances and events that echo its former glory and herald in a new era of entertainment.”

Located on Church Street, one of the oldest thoroughfares in the city and home to a proud African-American community, the Attucks Theatre was often referred to as the “Apollo Theatre of the South.”

Through the years, the Attucks showcased a host of legendary performers including big band hit-makers Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Cab Calloway and Billy Eckstine; chart-topping singers including Ella Fitzgerald, Dinah Washington, and Nat King Cole; pioneering artists like operatic star Marian Anderson and blues icon Bessie Smith; and jazz royalty including Dizzy Gillespie, Sarah Vaughan, Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton and Errol Garner.

comedians Redd Foxx, Slappy White and Moms Mabley; R&B trailblazers Smokey Robinson, Sam Cooke, and The Flamingos; and such homegrown stars as Norfolk’s Gary U.S. Bonds and Portsmouth’s Ruth Brown.

The Attucks Theatre was renovated and reopened in 2004, and since that time this fabled venue has bustled with performances by artists of all kinds, including jazz legend Wynton Marsalis, New York-based contemporary dance company Urban Bush Women, Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Tony Award-winning singer and actress Audra McDonald; comedians Paula Poundstone and John Mulaney; singers Mavis Staples, Ruthie Brown and Al Jarreau; diverse bands from the Afro-Cuban All Stars to the Avett Brothers and Cowboy Junkies; theatrical productions including L.A. Theatre Works’ The Mountaintop, the world premiere performances of the opera Kept: a ghost story; and many more.

Designed by African-American architect Harvey Johnson, the historic theater was the first to be built, financed, and operated by African-Americans. It was named in honor of African-American Crispus Attucks, the first American patriot to lose his life in the fight for American independence, in the Boston Massacre of 1770.

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In 1977, the United States Congress designated The Attucks Theatre a National Historic Landmark. In 2004, a partnership between the City of Norfolk’s Department of Cultural Facilities and the Crispus Attucks Cultural Center, Inc. led to a restoration of the famous theatre, and since then, the Attucks has once again become a gathering place for great performances and a proud icon of the Church Street community, the City of Norfolk, and the region.

Throughout this anniversary year of 2019, Attucks at 100 will celebrate the legacy of this landmark theatre, and its importance to the past, present and future of the City and the region, with a goal of making the Attucks Theatre a destination for visitors and for residents, a point of pride and home for great performances for many more years to come.

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