Town Hall

Located in Center City at Broad and Race, the Scottish Rite Temple, also known as Town Hall, was built in 1926. The 1,692 seat auditorium was a popular entertainment venue. Town Hall played host to jazz and blues greats, including Count Basie, Lester Young and Jimmy Rushing.

Town Hall - Count Basie - 7.5.15

On Nov. 17, 1955, Ray Charles and his entire band were arrested on drug charges.

Town Hall - Ray Charles - 7.5.15

Check out this account from the Ray Charles Video Museum:

Town Hall was divided into two sections; the theater and the cabaret. The Ray Charles show was scheduled for the cabaret. Excited about appearing with a major star like Charles, the Sensations settled into their dressing room and began preparing for the show. All of the sudden, the dressing room door burst open and Ray Charles entered with his entourage including band members David “Fathead” Newman, Jay Dennis, James Sheffield, William Peoples, John Willis, Joseph Bridgewater, Tommy Brown and vocalist Mary Ann Fisher. The Ray Charles band informed the Sensations that this was to be their dressing room and the Sensations must leave. While somewhat in awe of Ray Charles, the Sensations would not back down and give up their dressing room. They were Kae Williams’ group and Kae was producing and MC’ing the show.

If Kae wanted them to have the dressing room, they were staying put! In the middle of the ensuing argument, Kae Williams walked in.

“You don’t understand, I’m Ray Charles!” the famous entertainer proclaimed. Kae Williams had broken into radio a decade before, at a time when blacks were not welcomed in the business. His feisty nature had allowed him to fight back at prejudice and discrimination in the entertainment field. Where weaker men had been driven from radio, Kae had a reputation for not taking crap from anyone. “I don’t care who the @!*# you are!” snapped the fiery dee jay defiantly. “I’m Kae Williams!”

The argument continued for a short while with much shouting. Ray Charles and his band succeeded in getting Kae and his group out of the dressing room and locked the door. Alphonso and the group watched as Kae Williams went to the hallway pay phone and made a call. Shortly thereafter, another commotion ensued. A team of Philadelphia police officers were banging on the door to Ray Charles’ dressing room, looking for drugs. People in the entertainment field knew that members of Ray Charles’ group had at times indulged in the use of illegal substances. But then, drug use was rampant in the business. According to the Philadelphia Tribune, the police found a burnt spoon, a needle and syringe, and a small quantity of marijuana in the dressing room. In addition, Charles and three of the band members were reported to have fresh needle marks in their arms. Ray and his band members were promptly placed under arrest. Fearing a riot, the police consented to allow the show to go on. But through the entire show, the stage was encircled with cops.

After the show, Ray and his entire band were taken downtown and arraigned. Ray Charles made the $2000 bail. The rest were jailed overnight. The Sensations, who had only wine in their possession, were not arrested. Ray Charles, who recalled the incident in his autobiography, Brother Ray, denied the reefer even belonged to his band. The newspapers promptly ran the headlines, “Disc Jockey Had Own Dance Raided For Dope.” After going through a lengthy legal process, the charges were finally dropped. Ray Charles vowed never again to perform in Philadelphia. But Kae Williams further enhanced his reputation that night as a person not to be messed with. And this Kae loved.”

The landmark was demolished in 1983 to make way for Parkway Corporation’s parking garage and headquarters.

Town Hall Collage