In the early 20th century, segregation was a fact of life for African Americans in the South. It became a matter of law in 1926.
In 1919, a group of African Americans from Norfolk and Portsmouth met to develop a cultural center in Norfolk where African Americans “could be treated with dignity and respect.”
The Twin Cities Amusement Corporation envisioned something like a modern day town center for the African American community in Norfolk. The businessmen obtained funding from African American owned financial institutions in Hampton Roads, designed and built a movie theater/retail/ office complex at the corner of Church Street and Virginia Beach Blvd.
The businessmen chose 25-year-old Harvey Johnson to design a 600-seat “state of the art” theater with balconies and an orchestra pit. The Attucks Theatre is the only surviving theater in the United States that was designed, financed and built by African Americans.
The Attucks Theatre was named after Crispus Attucks, a man of African and Native American descent. He was the first person killed in the Revolutionary War during the Boston Massacre of 1770. The theater featured a stage curtain with a dramatic depiction of the death of Crispus Attucks.
The Attucks was an immediate success. It was was known as the “Apollo Theatre of the South.” Legends like Cab Calloway, Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald and B.B. King performed on the stage. By 1952, the theater had turned into a furniture store and most of the surrounding retail and offices were demolished. In 1982, a group of citizens worked to add the theatre to the National Register of Historic Places. The Crispus Attucks Cultural Center was formed to raise the millions of dollars it would take to restore the Attucks Theatre.
The Attucks Theatre reopened in 2004. It is a gem of theater, carefully restored to its former glory. There is not a bad seat in the house. Legends like Wynton Marsalis and Preservation Hall Jazz Band are back on the stage. The Attucks also hosts cutting edge performances like the world premiere of the opera “Kept: A Ghost Story.
“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. “Attucks at 100” https://www.sevenvenues.com/attucks100 will be a yearlong celebration of the history and the future of the Attucks Theatre.
On Friday, February 8 there will be a screening of The Historic Attucks Theatre: The Apollo of the South, a documentary produced by the city of Norfolk. It will be shown on stage at the Attucks Theatre and broadcast on WHRO.
The documentary is a living history of the theater from its heyday hosting legendary performers such as Smokey Robinson to its cultural importance to the city right now. Norfolk Mayor Kenneth Cooper Alexander will be on stage to introduce the documentary. After the screening, there will be a panel of civic leaders to discuss the history and importance of the Attucks Theatre to Hampton Roads.
The screening on February 8 will be free and open to the public, but tickets must be obtained at https://www.sevenvenues.com/attucks100/attucks-theatre-documentary
There will be great performances and inspiring speakers throughout 2019 to celebrate “Attucks at 100”. Listed are just a few of the upcoming events at the Attucks –
Attucks Jazz Club
The Virginia Arts Festival is partnering with Seven Venues to present the Attucks Jazz Club. There is a perfect place to hear jazz upstairs at the Attucks. Table seating, an open bar and an intimate setting to hear jazz the way it was meant to be.
Saturday, February 9
Billy Drummond, drums
Saturday, March 16
Nate Najar, guitar
Saturday, April 6
Ryan Keberle, trombone
These guest artists will perform with our local John Toomey Trio. For more information and to purchase tickets for the Attucks Jazz Club, go to https://secure.vafest.org/single/EventListing.aspx?k=11
Friday, February 15 – Sunday, February 17
Norfolk State Theatre Company will present Choir Boy as part of the “Attucks at 100” and the first year of the Norfolk Theatre Festival http://nfktheatre.com Choir Boy is “infused with the spirit and music of glorious gospel spirituals.” Tickets are available at https://www.sevenvenues.com/events/detail/choir-boy
Lawrence Brownlee and Eric Owens
Sunday, March 3
Lawrence Brownlee, named 2017 “Male Singer of the Year” by the International Opera Awards has been called “one of the world’s leading bel canto tenors.” Eric Owens with his “towering bass baritone” has performed with the Metropolitan Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago and around the world. They will be performing operatic classics and spirituals together at the Attucks. Tickets are available at
Saturday, April 20
Yes, that Leslie Jones. Jones, from Saturday Night Live and the female version of Ghostbusters will bring her stand-up comedy to the legendary Attucks Theatre. Tickets are available at https://www.sevenvenues.com/events/detail/leslie-jones
More events at the Attucks Theatre will be added throughout the year. Check the events page at https://www.sevenvenues.com/attucks100/attucks-100-events
or LIKE the Virginia Arts Festival’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/VaArtsFest/ for info about “Attucks at 100” and all the other great VAF events.