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  1. The Regal Theater (Chicago, Illinois)
  2. The Regal Theater and Black Culture
  3. Theatre Journal
  4. The Regal Theater (Chicago, Illinois) - Wikipedia
  5. About This Item

In addition, as carriers of the new music, Black reading musicians were a fundamental part of a small but growing Black middle class, who were essentially independent contractors and entrepreneurs.

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They were music teachers, booking agents, music store-owners, and the like. With the strong demand for live music and no technological alternative, there was plenty of work available locally, which negated the need for constant travel, and which enhanced the economic base of a routinely economically exploited Black community.

William Everett Samuels exemplified the Black reading musician as entrepreneur. He at one time played in the house band at the Regal and was a professional musician in Chicago for sixty years.

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I am working every weekend making a hundred dollars, two hundred for three hours. I was making more money playing the music than I did with the gas company.

The Regal Theater (Chicago, Illinois)

He ran Sunday evening dances for churches until the Savoy opened in and captured this market. Samuels formed his own band, the Society Syncopators, and worked the major hotel ballrooms. He played at weddings and sorority, fraternity, and private parties for rich Whites in the northern suburbs of Chicago, and he toured during the summers.

I never had to search hard for good musicians. I was looking for musicians who could read and play anything I wanted them to play. I remember [Wilbur Sweatman], and he was good. He could play two instruments at the same time. He lived upstairs over me at Dearborn Street. Also, Hughes further challenged the misconception that Black musicians who excelled at European classical music rejected jazz and blues.

Hughes was a formally trained musician with degrees from Oberlin, Howard, and Northwestern, but she embraced the music and social causes of the masses. Revella Hughes was one of the most talented and versatile performers of her time. However, according to historian Ted Vincent, Hughes passed up much greater fame because of her commitment to Garveyism and other social causes. Hughes sang classical music, show tunes, spirituals, blues, and jazz. Hughes starred in Broadway musicals Shuffle Along, Running Wild, Boombolla, Hot Rhythm and was a highly skilled pianist, choir director, and symphony leader.

She was the first to record in for the historic Black record company, Black Swan, founded by Harry H. Hughes was celebrated for her work at the Regal with jazz musician Fess Williams, and she could swing with the best, vocally and on piano. He observed that FortySeventh and South Parkway employed the largest number of first-rate musicians in the Black community. Many were college trained, and sixty-nine musicians on definite contracts worked among five orchestral units. The Regal employed twenty-two; the Metropolitan Theater across the street from the Regal employed fifteen; the Apollo and Owl Theaters in close proximity to the Regal each employed five; and the Savoy Ballroom had two orchestras with eleven musicians in each group.

The Regal Theater and Black Culture

Live shows built around stage bands to supplement the film presentations were the trend in these theaters. Also, major films came to the Regal after completing their first run at the downtown Loop houses. The effects, however, were mixed, depending upon the location. The Metropolitan Theater across the street from the Regal at South Parkway was able to benefit from the overflow crowds at the Regal.

Patrons who could not get into the Regal could simply walk across the street for their entertainment. The Metropolitan also was positioned well in the dynamic and growing section of the Black Belt where commercial activity was exceptionally strong. Theaters to the north near Thirty-Fifth Street, in the older, declining section of the Black Belt were not as fortunate. However, economic conditions and the introduction of talking pictures probably stimulated much more change in the policies of surrounding theaters than the competition brought by the Regal.

Talking films drastically shrank the demand for musicians and other kinds of performers. Economic conditions changed rapidly and caught most people off guard. In the rapid expansion of motion picture houses was exemplified by the opening of the 20th Century Theater at Forty-Seventh and Prairie, only a few blocks from the site of the Regal. Its policy was motion pictures and not live entertainment, but it did hire musicians to accompany silent films.

In February the Chicago Defender declared that area theaters were booming. In the next month, however, the Defender reversed itself and declared that because of unemployment business was down at South Side houses. The Regal, it noticed, was getting most of the business. In March the Apollo Theater, a small house around the corner from the Regal on Forrestville and Forty-Seventh Street, was doing good business with first-class movies and musical stock. However, the Willard Theater at Fifty-First and Calumet cut the size of its orchestra from twelve to six, and by May it eliminated its orchestra, substituting organ accompaniment.

By April the Vendome also cut the size of its orchestra.

Furthermore, the Chicago Defender reported that the Monogram Theater at South State Street in the older, declining portion of the Black Belt was the only theater on State Street that was making money. The Regal, of course, remained the main attraction. Technological change became more of an issue, and musicians were concerned about the efforts of small theaters to replace them with mechanical musical devices. Contract negotiations broke down between the Metropolitan and the Erskine Tate orchestra, for example, and the Metropolitan tried to go without music.

Tate and the Metropolitan reached a settlement later, but small theaters in outlying districts failed to sign contracts with their orchestras.


The technology spread quickly throughout the South Side, and the Regal acquired vitaphone and movietone technology for talking pictures by December Many theaters in the Black Belt that offered live shows shifted to showing only films, and theaters that showed silent films with orchestral or organ accompaniment no longer needed musicians. The Vendome, at one time one of the greatest theaters for movies and live shows in the Black Belt, struggled mightily in early and closed down for a brief period.

Theatre Journal

However, by late February the Apollo had shifted to motion pictures and eliminated its orchestra. Early in the Chicago Defender declared that show business was at a low ebb in the Black Belt. Williams later brought an orchestra into the Chicago Savoy in March Bob Williams, known for his eccentric dancing, was a hit and stayed at the Regal for at least four consecutive shows.

Williams caught the eye of management, and officials installed him as the new master of ceremonies the week before they instituted the new vaudeville and movie policy on February 10, Hal Bakay became the MC and directed the jazz presentations.

The Regal Theater (Chicago, Illinois) - Wikipedia

Writing in his newspaper column, Dave Peyton described this change: Hal Bakay opened triumphantly last Saturday, May 4, as the new jazz maestro at the Regal theater, Chicago, the only one of its kind in the world. Hal hails from the sunny shores of California and is endowed with unlimited talent.

Chicago has readily accepted Hal Bakay. Also during the Regal Steppers became the Regalettes.

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Monopolistic corporate controls, connections to organized crime, changes in entertainment policies, shifts in management, and community involvement were all significant in this regard. Access to talent, the selection of talent, prevailing entertainment traditions, and broader societal developments affecting Black popular culture were also important.

Paramount released feature films a year and required theaters to show all of them in order to receive any. This trend toward vertical integration and block booking would later come under scrutiny and sanction by the federal government for violation of antitrust laws. Sam Katz, one of the founders of Balaban and Katz, became president of the theater division. At the time, Balaban and Katz was the most profitable theater chain in America.

It effectively dominated motion picture exhibition in Chicago and controlled many of the largest theaters in the Midwest. After the merger, Balaban and Katz controlled, at various times, thirty-eight to forty-nine theaters in Chicago and its suburbs and twenty-seven theaters in the other cities in Illinois. The average seating capacity for Balaban and Katz theaters was 2, For all others it was 1, Also, its million-dollar debt grew into the hundreds of millions.

When Paramount-Publix purchased theaters, it paid in stock that was redeemable at a fixed date and price, and redemption dates after the stock market crash meant lower stock values. Thus, the company had to pay too high a price for the devalued stock and eventually went under.