Earle Theater

The Earle Theater was a stop on the “Chitlin’ Circuit.” It was the most expensive theater ever built in Philadelphia at the time. The Earle had an ornate interior and exterior and seating for 2700. It was demolished in July 1953.

In an interview with the Smithsonian Oral History Project, Philly native and NEA Jazz Master Benny Golson talked about how he was inspired to master the saxophone after seeing Lionel Hampton and Arnett Cobb at the Earle Theater:

I guess they usually went until 9 or 10 at night, which meant that they had about three or four shows a day. It was an ongoing thing. Week after week they’d have whatever band was popular. Benny Goodman, Woody Herman, anything. Charlie Spivak, Claude Thornhill, Tommy Dorsey. Any band that was popular, they would bring there. It was an ongoing thing. Count Basie, Duke Ellington. They all came there.

The reason I went is because I was in high school – Benjamin Franklin High School. The kids were coming back and says, “Oh man. You got to go to the Earle Theater and hear Lionel Hampton. You got to hear him play Flying Home.” Blah blah blah blah. So one day I didn’t go to school. I went there. That’s when I heard him. That’s when my life changed. That’s when I heard Arnett Cobb. Incidentally, years later – many years later – it must have been 50 years later – I happened to see him in Nice, France. I said, “You’re the reason that I play the saxophone.” He says, “I never knew that. Really?” I said, “Yes.” He had tears in his eyes, because he knew who I was. I said, “I hear you play, and that’s when my life changed.”

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