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Partners of the Heart
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Vivien's Baltimore: Arts & Culture

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Pennsylvania Avenue was the backbone of West Baltimore. During the daytime, people shopped in many black-owned businesses, or visited the offices of black lawyers and doctors. At night, the avenue glowed with the lights of restaurants, clubs and theaters.

The Royal Theatre was a landmark. On par with Harlem's Apollo Theatre and Washington's Howard, the Royal booked the leading performers of the age. Count Basie, Cab Calloway, Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, and Billie Holiday all played the Royal. They often could not play other venues in Baltimore because of the city's segregation policy. Such rigid boundaries outside the theater made for a tight bond between artist and audience.

My first visit to the Royal Theater -- which frightened me because of the live band and its sound was so tremendous... I had to sit in the balcony because my mom couldn't get a seat downstairs and traveling up the flight of stairs was frightening... -- they had a special hour at twelve o'clock; I think you could get in for a quarter, which was great. I remember sometimes study periods at the high school and we would all go down and catch a quarter show. I saw everyone, Pearl Bailey... Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Doc, Count Basie, oh golly, so many of them... Count Basie was my favorite. In fact he did the last show there, and they closed. The last show there was January the sixth in 1965 and... the last show was Count Basie... the man's hands were like I don't know what on the piano. It was just beautiful, it was great.
-- Delores McIntyre, hospitality director, Senate Club, on the Royal Theater

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