‘Attucks at 100’ celebrates a century of the historic theatre’s cultural impact

The Historic Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia (Southside Daily photo/taken by Mal Garrett)
The Historic Attucks Theatre in Norfolk, Virginia (Southside Daily photo/taken by Mal Garrett)

NORFOLK — Attucks at 100 is the year-long celebration to commemorate the 100th anniversary of historic Attucks Theatre.

Celebrations including concerts, theater, and special events are planned for 2019 and will be announced in the coming months, according to a news release from the theatre.

“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, the 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.”

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Located on bustling 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.”

According to the theatre’s news release, Attucks showcased a host of legendary performers over the years, 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; 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 theatre was renovated and reopened in 2004, and since that time 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, among others.

Designed by African-American architect Harvey Johnson, the theatre 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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