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Back in the Day: Rosa Pryor Remembers Pennsylvania Avenue

Mildred Taylor | 2/2/2018, 6 a.m.
Rosa Pryor remembers fondly the heyday of Black Baltimore.
Rosa Pryor has authored two books that highlight African-American entertainment in Baltimore in the early-to-late 20th century.

Rosa Pryor remembers fondly the heyday of Black Baltimore.

Men were clad in pinstriped zoot-suits and ladies wore evening gowns with sleek gloves as they hit the town, mostly to enjoy the 100 or so nightclubs and bars that lined Pennsylvania Avenue and the corridors that surrounded it.

“Everyone was dressed to the nines,” said Pryor, who writes “Rambling Rose,” a regular entertainment feature for the Baltimore Times.

Back in the day, Pryor was just as prolific. She performed at clubs, booked gigs for artists and clubs and parlayed her knowledge of entertainment into a career that she still thrives in today.

“Back in the day was the 1950s, 1960s and really through the early 1990s,” Pryor said.

“What people need to understand too, is that when we went out back in the day, they didn’t just play jazz, it was R&B and it was doo woop,” she said.

Mostly, it was along Pennsylvania Avenue in smoke-filled clubs and hotspots like the legendary Royal Theater, The Regent Theater, the Sphinx, and Club Casino, Pryor said.

There were entertainers from the city and those who came from around the country like Sammy Davis Jr.; Slappy White; Pearl Bailey; Billie Holiday; Ella Fitzgerald; the Ink Spots; Sonny Til & the Orioles; Cab Calloway; and Lionel Hampton.

“We had fun, we knew how to have fun,” Pryor said. “And, when you think about it today where there are only a couple of places to go and where they conspire against one another and talk bad about one another; back in the day there were more than 100 spots in one area and everyone got along.

“You could go from place to place and, even as a single lady, you could walk down the street and nobody would bother you, everybody looked out for you,” she said.

Pryor has authored two books that highlight African-American entertainment in Baltimore in the early-to-late 20th century.

Rosa Pryor has authored two books that highlight African-American entertainment in Baltimore in the early-to-late 20th century.

Rosa Pryor has authored two books that highlight African-American entertainment in Baltimore in the early-to-late 20th century.

One of her books, “African-American Community,” History & Entertainment in Maryland (Remembering the Yesterdays),” paints a picture of the bars, clubs, restaurants, bowling alleys and other establishments between the 1940s and 1980s. The other, “African-American Entertainment in Baltimore,” captures the brilliance of the city’s musical heritage from 1930 to 1980.

Pryor said the educational and entertainment volume invites readers to take a visual trip down memory lane to the days when Pennsylvania Avenue, the heart of the city’s African-American community, vibrated with life.

“It celebrates a time in our past that enforced expectations of excellence and captured the highest quality of people,” Pryor said.

Both books are set in a time when African-American men and women loved and respected the code of ethics – a time when men, women and children dressed “to the nines and stepped out in full fashion,” she said.

Everyone kept busy – a good busy – and Black families lived harmoniously in the same neighborhoods and helped each other, Pryor said.

“It was a time when there was always somewhere to go and have fun; a time when the music was so grand and the lyrics of a song would cause you to fall in love and start a family,” she said.

“It was a time when going to a party was in a basement with blue lights, food, dancing and conversation; a time when one could enjoy fifteen minutes of fame; a life of pride; a time when African-Americans headlined the marquees right in their own neighborhoods and reveled in the love and support of their community.

“Most of all it was a time when we all believed it took a village to raise a child,” Pryor said.