Stop #5: The Lyric Theatre

New Orleans' largest African American vaudeville theater in the 1920s hosted many jazz, blues and vaudeville stars, and featured the John Robichaux Orchestra..

The Lyric Theater existed as New Orleans' premiere African American vaudeville theater during the 1920s.

Formerly located at the downtown-lake corner of Burgundy and Iberville streets in the French Quarter, the Lyric Theater was touted as “America’s Largest and Finest Colored Theater” The African-American playhouse catered to great musicians, and featured the orchestra of locally prominent violinist and band leader Professor John Robichaux. The orchestra was adept at performing both hot jazz and more formal orchestra music. Pianist Margaret Maurice, drummer Zutty Singleton, clarinetist Alphonse Picou, and cornetist Andrew Kimball all performed in the orchestra.

Throughout its existence, from 1919 to 1927, the theater hosted well known singers, dancers and entertainers on the Theater Owners Booking Assc. (TOBA) black vaudeville circuit including Esther Bigeou, Sara Martin, Josephine Baker and Ethel Waters.

The theater often held "midnight frolics" for white only audiences. Local white news papers promoted these midnight performances as the latest popular entertainment for their white patrons.

"The Lyric used to be crowded every day in the week, upstairs and downstairs. A group would come for a week, start a new show Monday, play it Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. Then on Thursday they would change the show, have the same cast, but a different show. Friday and Saturday they had "midnight rambles" which were different, a little nasty. They started at 11, ended around 2 am. They would let the white people in on "ramble" nights." Cornetist/Trumpeter Punch Miller, Hogan Jazz Archives

"I went to the Lyric Theater quite often. Located downtown on Iberville and Burgundy streets. Robichaux Orchestra was always the best. They all read music. John Robichaux. They used to play for the stage shows. Andrew Kimball was the cornetist in the band (my choice)." Louis Armstrong, as published in Thomas Brothers, ed., Louis Armstrong in His Own Words (Oxford Press, 2001)

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Brennon Slieff, Kathy Bradshaw, Courtney Carver, Charles Chamberlain, “Stop #5: The Lyric Theatre,” New Orleans Historical, accessed July 20, 2017, http://www.neworleanshistorical.org/items/show/1316.
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