'The Avenue' will be jumping again this weekend, like the old days Tilton remembers the Comedy Club: He found a wife there BALTIMORE CITY

February 26, 1993|By Robert Hilson Jr. | Robert Hilson Jr.,Staff Writer

Ruby Glover remembers the clubs along Pennsylvania Avenue in the 1940s as the launching pads for her career. Many black entertainers came to "the Avenue," and as a girl she watched the stars and learned.

"I was always amazed," said Ms. Glover, who became a singer and performed in local clubs and halls. "I would have never have had a place to begin" a singing career if not for Pennsylvania Avenue clubs like the Comedy Club and Gamby's.

Few of the old clubs remain on the Avenue. However, tonight and continuing through the weekend, the ambience of the old-time clubs will be re-created during a celebration of the 1950s along Pennsylvania Avenue sponsored by the African American Heritage Society and Renaissance Productions.

The ballroom at the People Encouraging People building at 4201 Primrose Ave. will be transformed to resemble the cozy atmosphere of the Comedy Club, one of the more popular clubs on the Avenue during its heyday in the 1940s and 1950s.

Thomas Saunders, a historian of Baltimore's black history and the producer of the weekend gala, said the event will salute many of the black pioneers of Baltimore's entertainment district as well as celebrate Black History Month.

"All of the old black entertainers performed on the Avenue -- Ray Charles, Slappy White, Dinah Washington, Pearl Bailey, Nat King Cole, Redd Foxx," Mr. Saunders said. "Because of segregation, this is basically the only place that we had."

Much of the atmosphere of old Avenue clubs will be re-created, including a Copacabana-type orchestra pit, parlor tables, cigarette girls and palm trees, which "we keep cool until we're ready to use them," Mr. Saunders said.

Many of the acts will be similar to those of the 1940s and 1950s, such as tap dancers and silky ballad singers, much like Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald.

Ms. Glover, 69, who lives in East Baltimore near the Old Town Mall, said she was "20ish" when she first saw Billie Holiday at the Comedy Club. "The fellas [her managers] decided it was time for me to see her. They were the last days of Billie Holiday," Ms. Glover said. "I was an emerging artist finding my own character and developing my own sound. But I was mesmerized by her."

Ms. Glover remembers the coziness of the Avenue's clubs, and especially the Comedy Club, and hopes that this weekend's transformation will be similar. "It was intimate. There were small tables, four to a table and close to the stage," she said. "The Avenue enhanced my career. It was an area that could introduce you to the sights of enjoyment."

Kenneth Tilton, 70, a lifelong resident of Baltimore, plans to attend this weekend's recreation.

Mr. Tilton said he frequented many Pennsylvania Avenue clubs during the 1940s and 1950s, and he met his wife "while traveling solo" at the Comedy Club. "Usually, I had a girlfriend with me, but this time I didn't take anyone and I saw my future wife at the Comedy Club," said Mr. Tilton, who lives not far from Pennsylvania Avenue.

"I didn't take a girlfriend with me because I wanted to enjoy the show. But I saw her and sat with her in a corner table of the club and that was heaven for me," he said. "It was a night at the Comedy Club with a woman who was right for me. That's what it'll be this weekend."

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