BNHA Royal Theater Marquee Monument

Interpretive Framework

Gaining Freedom for All: African American Heritage and the Struggle for Equality

Shaping a Monumental City: The City’s Growth in the 20th Century

Star Attractions

Pennsylvania Avenue Heritage Trail

Resource Type

Points of Interest

W Lafayette Ave & Pennsylvania Ave

Baltimore, Maryland 21217

Built as the Douglas in 1921, the theatre was renamed the Royal in 1926. With seating for more than 1,000, it became Pennsylvania Avenue’s biggest entertainment jewel, but sadly was demolished in 1971. According to journalist James “Biddy” Wood, the Royal Theatre was “a citadel for the finest black entertainers, who could not showcase their exceptional talents elsewhere in Jim Crow America.”

All of the biggest stars in black entertainment, including those in jazz and blues, performed at the Royal: Nat King Cole, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Moms Mabley, and Redd Foxx. The first integrated all-female band, the Sweethearts of Rhythm, was a 40-piece band that toured with Count Basie and featured some of the best female musicians in the world. The Royal was a “must play” venue for African American stars; Pearl Bailey debuted as a lead singer for the Sunset Royal Band here. Later groups, such as the Platters, Temptations and Supremes, played the Royal. Boxer Jack Johnson gave a boxing exhibition on stage, and local groups followed the headliners.

Baltimore City’s first motion picture featuring an all-black cast, The Scar of Shame, was shown at the Royal in 1929. It was produced by The Colored Players Film Corporation of Philadelphia and is one of the earliest examples of films with a black cast produced for black audiences.