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Thursday, December 9, 2021

Preserving The Legacy of The Sphinx Club

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Part Two of a Two-Part Series

Sphinx Club
The rendering by architect Klaus Philipsen is among plans being considered for the site. (Right): The Sphinx Club now sits boarded-up along Pennsylvania Avenue. Photos Courtesy of Druid Heights Development Corporation

To ride past 2107-2109 Pennsylvania Avenue today, passer-byers might look at the structure and consider it as just another boarded up city building. But for those who know the building’s history, the structure is one of the jewels of Pennsylvania Avenue’s heyday. A place where many successful Blacks gathered, and where the likes of Sam Cooke, Redd Foxx, Sarah Vaughn, and other famous entertainers came through its doors. It is the site of the Sphinx Club, opened in 1946 by Charles Tilghman, and one of the nation’s first African American owned nightclubs.

On Saturday, October 16, 2021 at 12:30 p.m. an estimated 150 community residents will join Mayor Brandon Scott, elected officials, members of the Tilghman family and former Sphinx Club members to participate in a “Celebration of the Legacy of Charles P. Tilghman and the Sphinx Club” at the Cab Calloway Legends Park, 2223 Division Street.

The free event will feature music and a presentation of Black Baltimore history. The festivities will kick-off at The Sphinx Club with a performance by the “Baltimore Go Getters Marching Band.” The band will march to the Cab Calloway Park (Gold and Division Streets) for the ceremony. The event is free, open to the public, and is being supported by Druid Heights Community Development Corporation, the Tilghman family and the Baltimore City Department of Planning and the Patterson Ashbury A.M.E. Zion Church.

“As we continue to celebrate the splendor of the historic Druid Heights community, we must recognize the positive impact Mr. Tilghman and the Sphinx Club continue to have on Pennsylvania Avenue,” said Anthony Pressley, executive director of Druid Heights Development Corporation. “The community organization appreciates the support of many great partners including Patterson Ashbury A.M.E. Zion Church for assistance with activating the space designated as the Cab Calloway Legends Park where many icons, including Charles Tilghman will be featured.”

According to the Druid Heights Development Corporation, the celebration will include music from George Johnson and Friends—many who played at the Sphinx Club. Members of Tilghman’s family will also share memories of the Renaissance period on Pennsylvania Avenue.

The mission of the Druid Heights CDC is to cause, encourage, and promote community self-empowerment through the development of economic, educational, employment and affordable housing opportunities. Druid Heights Community Development Corporation was awarded the redevelopment rights to the former Sphinx Club site in the Druid Heights community.

The Sphinx, a private club known for its after-show parties and famous New Year’s Eve and Mardi Gras affairs where jazz greats congregated with local celebrities, closed in 1992. “The Sphinx Club was really a great place to go,” said Shirley Gordon, who patronized the Sphinx Club. “Anybody who was somebody went to the Sphinx Club. Victorine Adams had a dress shop on Pennsylvania Avenue, and women went there to purchase their fabulous clothes to wear to the Sphinx Club.”

Rosa “Rambling Rose” Pryor-Trusty also shared memories of “The Sphinx” and the pioneering Tilghman who died in 1988. “I was interested in booking one of my groups there,” said Pryor-Trusty, who managed several groups. “I went in and introduced myself to Charlie Tilghman. He was very impressed with me. We chatted, he treated me to dinner, and the rest is history.” She added, “I was there all the time. After I got off work, I went home, showered, and changed for the evening because no one walked in the Sphinx Club looking any ole way. Folks were dressed to the nines.”

Pryor who is a well-known entertainment columnist, is the author of “African-American Entertainment in Baltimore” and talks about the Sphinx Club in her book. “People from all walks of life came in that club,” recalled Pryor-Trusty. “I met many famous judges, lawyers, doctors, and politicians right there in The Sphinx.” She added, “Charlie was such a gentle man to so many people. He was a good man and a giving man. He was also very clever and very witty. He was quite the businessman and a true legend.”

For more information about “Celebrating the Legacy of Charles P. Tilghman and the Sphinx Club,” call (410) 523-1350 or register on Eventbrite at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/celebrating -the-legacy-of-charles-p-tilghman-andthe- sphinx-club-tickets-167893837989

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Patrons
Patrons during a Mardi Gras party at The Sphinx Club during the 1950s. Photo Courtesy of Rosa Pryor
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Cecil Coleman, Ophra Lampkin, and Bill Hatcher
Cecil Coleman, Ophra Lampkin, and Bill Hatcher at The Sphinx Club
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