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Wed, 12.31.1919

The Roseland Ballroom Opens in New York City

*The opening of the Roseland Ballroom in New York occurred on this date in 1919. 

This was a multipurpose hall where Black singers and musicians performed.  Roseland was founded initially in Philadelphia in 1917 by Louis Brecker with financing by Frank Yuengling of the D. G. Yuengling & Son beer family.   In 1919, to escape Philadelphia's blue laws, Brecker and Yuengling moved the venue to 1658 Broadway at 51st Street in Manhattan, on the second floor of that five-story building, opening on New Year’s Eve, 1919.   

It was a "whites only" dance club called the "home of refined dancing," famed for the "society orchestra" groups that played there.  The all-white, ballroom-dancing atmosphere of the club gradually changed with the ascendance in popularity of hot jazz, as played by Black bands on the New York nightclub scene. Clarence William's New Orleans Jazz Orchestra played the ballroom in 1924. Often, two or more orchestras alternated with one another in order to have continuous dance music.  The Fletcher Henderson band played at Roseland in the 1920s and 1930s. Louis Armstrong, Count Basie (with his "Roseland Shuffle"), and Chick Webb followed with their orchestras.  White bandleaders who played the venue included Vincent Lopez, Harry James, Tommy Dorsey, and Glenn Miller.

Many big-band performances were broadcast live from Roseland by radio networks; recordings survive several NBC broadcasts of 1940, featuring the young Ella Fitzgerald fronting the Chick Webb band.  Brecker popularized such stunts as marathon dancing (until it was banned), staged female prizefights, yo-yo exhibitions, sneezing contests, and dozens of highly publicized jazz weddings with couples who met at the club.  As the club grew older, Brecker attempted to formalize the dancing more by having hostesses dance for a fee, with tuxedoed bouncers (politely known as "housemen") keeping order.  

According to its website, it accommodated 3,200 standing (with an additional 300 upstairs), 2,500 for a dance party, between 1,300 and 1,500 in theatre style, 800-1,000 for a sit-down dinner, and 1,500 for a buffet and dancing.  The venue hosted many events, from a Hillary Clinton birthday party to annual gay circuit parties, to movie premieres, to musical performances of all genres, including Beyoncé's Elements of 4 show. It was also known as the place American singer Fiona Apple broke down during a concert in 2000.  

The rear of the venue faced West 53rd Street and the Ed Sullivan Theater.  On October 18, 2013, it was announced that the venue would close on April 7, 2014. Lady Gaga completed a short residency as the last performer before the Roseland Ballroom closed.

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