Lyric Theater Reopens Doors to City

by Nadia Smith
Staff

After 47 years the historic Lyric Theatre reopened its doors today at noon with a special ribbon-cutting ceremony with Mayor Jim Newberry. The theater that once hosted big name acts like Ray Charles, Cab Calloway, Duke Ellington, Count Basie, Ella Fitzgerald, Ike and Tina Turner, and many more, sat vacant for decades until the recent renovation project began.

According to Joan Brannon, program director for the theater, the Lyric originally opened in 1948 in response to the segregated movie theaters in Lexington where African-Americans would have to enter through the back door and sit in the balcony in order to see a show. Brannon said that the Lyric was a movie theater where African-Americans could “go in the front door and sit in a comfortable seat.”

The theater had a small stage for performances and in time it attracted famous jazz and R&B artists. It also provided a performance space for regional bands and local singing groups as well as local talent and fashion shows, even a Miss Lyric pageant. After the integration of Lexington theaters, however, the Lyric eventually closed down in 1963.

Since then, it has been what local poet Bianca Spriggs, a Transylvania alumna, called “a labor of love for well over a decade to put it back on its feet.”

Spriggs got involved with the Lyric when invited by councilwoman Andrea James and Tom Martin, writer for Business Lexington and member of the local band “The City,” to write a piece about the reopening of the Lyric. Spriggs collaborated with cellist Ben Sollee and videographer Kylie Lang to perform the piece for a fundraiser at Buster’s Billiards & Backroom last November. It was received well and they were invited to perform it again for the grand opening concert.

Brannon described the Lyric as “a bridge facility, building partnerships, building audience,” creating interaction between different arts groups in the community.
One example is the Lyric quilt that was done in cooperation with the Lexington Art League (LAL) and involved the local community.

The project was documented by senior H.B. Elam, who is also the photo editor for The Rambler. His photos are on display downtown at the LAL at the mayor’s office gallery. The quilt will be revealed as part of the grand opening events.

“(The facility) is the only one of its type in the neighborhood,” Brannon said.

“It’s a different space than anything we have right now,” said Spriggs. “Lexington needs a place where all the arts converge — visual, musical, written — a home base for arts enthusiasts.”

She hopes people will take ownership of this center and want to be good stewards of it.

The grand opening events that started today have something for everyone. Local elementary schools were invited to see a movie, tour the facility and participate in an art project. On Friday, the center will be open to the public, and senior citizens are invited to attend “Golden Oldie Movie Day.” There will also be a reception that night for the exhibit on display in the cultural center, “Rhythm and Relief,” and throughout the weekend there will be several presentations.

Saturday is the grand opening concert, featuring performances by Miki Howard, Tee Dee Young and Scandalous, Bianca Spriggs and Ben Sollee, a commemorative poem by Nikky Finney, and more. Tickets range from $25 to $50.

If you can’t make it out to the grand opening concert, Brannon encouraged everyone to come to the grand opening remix on Friday, Nov. 5. Its theme is “The Devine Experience,” described as “a fusion of hip-hop, spoken word, music and art.” Tickets are $7 and will only be sold at the door.

“We want to have the space open and accessible to younger people; they’re really the future of this place,” said Brannon.
For more information, schedules and showtimes for the Lyric Theatre you can go to: http://lexingtonlyric.com.

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