The Alamo Theatre

The Alamo Theatre - Jackson

The Alamo Theatre opened at this location in 1949. Prior to that, the Alamo occupied two other spots in the area. The theatre showed movies, hosted music competitions, and presented blues and jazz concerts by artists such as Nat “King” Cole, Elmore James, Louis Jordan, and Cab Calloway during the 1940s and ‘50s. Gospel groups and vocal ensembles also performed. Local resident Dorothy Moore’s many victories at Alamo talent contests ultimately led to a successful recording career.

Talent shows have long served as an entry to the world of professional entertainment, and in Jackson many aspiring artists began their careers in contests at the Alamo Theatre. One was Dorothy Moore, who was offered a recording contract after consistently winning the Wednesday night talent contests here while in junior high. In 1966 she recorded an album as the lead singer of the vocal group the Poppies. Moore later sang background vocals for Malaco Records in Jackson and was soon recording there as a featured artist. In 1976 her record “Misty Blue” was a huge hit and established Malaco as a major player in the soul and blues field. Her other hits included “Funny How Time Slips Away,” “I Believe You,” and “With Pen In Hand.” She later formed her own label, Farish Street Records, and her honors include a 1996 Governor’s Award For Excellence in the Arts and her own Blues Trail marker in 2022.

For many decades the Alamo served as a major African American entertainment venue under the management of Arthur Lehmann. The theatre opened at 134 North Farish Street in 1915 and moved to 123 West Amite Street, just off Farish, in the 1920s. In 1948 Lehmann constructed a new building at this location to house the Alamo. Lehmann sold the property in 1957. The Alamo served mostly as a movie theatre, initially showing piano-accompanied silent movies and, after 1932, “talkies.” The theatre also booked vaudeville, jazz, blues, and gospel performers, including Elmore James, Tiny Bradshaw, Nat King Cole, the Southern Sons, and the Rays of Rhythm from Mississippi’s Piney Woods School. Al Benson, who later became Chicago’s top radio personality, promoted shows here in the 1930s and sang with the Leaners Band, which featured George Leaner on piano. Lillian McMurry of Trumpet Records, whose offices were located on the same block, attended gospel shows here to discover talent. Blues pianist Otis Spann recalled winning an Alamo talent contest as a child, and other local artists who competed included Sam Baker, Jr., Mel Brown, Sam Myers, Cadillac George Harris, Little Jeno Tucker, Tommy Tate, Amanda Humphrey (Bradley), Roosevelt Robinson, the vocal group the Quails (Dequincy Johnson, George Jackson, and Sam Jones), Albert Goodman (later of the Moments and the trio Ray, Goodman & Brown), and drummer Jimmi Mayes (a 1960s bandmate of Jimi Hendrix in New York). In the 1950s and ’60s Jobie Martin of Jackson’s WOKJ radio emceed the contests. The Alamo closed in the 1980s, and following extensive renovation, reopened under non-profit ownership in 1997. The theatre began to celebrate Farish Street’s musical legacy again with occasional music programs, and in 2000 Jackson bluesman Eddie Cotton, Jr., recorded his CD Live at the Alamo Theatre here followed by Live – Back at the Alamo Theater in 2010.

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