Frolic Theater

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The Frolic Theater was an 850-seat Vaudeville house and cinema, billed as "Birmingham's only colored Vaudeville house" when it was a stop of the Theater Owners Booking Association (T.O.B.A.) circuit in the 1920s. Henry Hury and Paul Englor's Hury Theatre Company managed the Frolic for Gay Theater Properties.

In 1921 the theater was located alongside the Champion Theater at 312-314 18th Street North. A year later, both houses were managed by Englor and shared an address at 1720-1722 4th Avenue North, across the street from the Famous Theater. By then it was said to be the finest of the city's black theaters, with its own five-piece orchestra led by Henry Callin with Walter Young, Shead Harris, Fred Moore and John Ovelton. The Frolic and Champion were operated together by Willie Swansey, Wallace Simms and H. Adams, with cashiers Martha Smith, Rachel Jones, and Julia Scott.

The venue was known for booking major blues acts. The Frolic enjoyed a packed house when it hosted Bessie Smith in 1923 and again on December 27, 1926. Ma Rainey performed several nights at the Frolic in August-September 1925 (with Bessie Smith in attendance). Other blues performers included Cleo Gibson, Ruby Smith and Lillie Mae Glover.

In addition, the Frolic hosted Seals & Mitchell's Melody Lane Girls in 1927, tapdancer Jack Wiggins, cornet player Lee Collins, comedy duo Butterbeans & Susie (with Jo Jones on drums). A March 3, 1923 performance by the Washington "Buttermilk" Goodner Trio was cut short due to "smutty" jokes. The act regrouped as a team and rehearsed a cleaner version of the show for manager Henry Hury and stage manager R. B. "Happy" Brown, but Goodner left during rehearsals and failed to finish out the week-long booking. Hury and Brown remained there through at least 1928. Engler continued to manage the business, then called the New Frolic Theatre, through the 1930s

The Frolic closed in the mid-1950s and was demolished. The site is presently occupied by a parking lot for the Hugo L. Black Federal Courthouse.

References

  • "Colored Theaters in Birmingham, Ala." (December 16, 1922) The Billboard
  • Billboard (March 3, 1923)
  • Polk's Birmingham (Jefferson County, Ala.) City Directory (1937) Richmond, Virginia: R. L. Polk & Co.
  • Collins, Lee, Mary Spriggs Collins, Frank Gillis & John W. Miner (1989) Oh, Didn't He Ramble: The Life Story of Lee Collins. University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0252060814
  • Smith, Eric Ledell (2003) African American Theater Buildings: An Illustrated Historical Directory, 1900-1955. McFarland Press. ISBN 0786449225