Written by
Bob Stumpel

January 2

Ray Charles NOT Telecast At 5-4 Ballroom (Or Was He?) (1955, 1956)

'55-'56 TV Ballroom NM

The California Eagle, Dec. 21, 1955.

On December 21, 1955, The California Eagle ran a page-wide ‘advertorial’ banner on its entertainment page, announcing: “Ray Charles ‘weeking’ at 5-4”. The stint brought the “Sightless 88’er* Back On B’way” for the weekend (alternatively specified as a “4-Day Stay” and a “three-day stand”, probably coming down to Friday 22, Saturday 23 and Sunday 24 December, 1955).**

Historically, this publication is already interesting because it is the first time (that I know of) that Ray is promoted in a newspaper in a big way. But then, in the last paragraph of the same article, the writer suddently adds (it seems to be a last-minute insertion) without regret that “The one-hour television program, direct from the 5-4 Ballroom, has been rescheduled for Wednesday night instead of Sunday,” implying that Charles would not be part of that “telecast”.
“This makes it easier for more top name guest stars to be available,” the editor went on, adding insult to injury.

In a column (“Soundtrack”) on the same page, written by ‘Chazz’ Crawford, it’s becoming clear that the title of the program was “Swing Street” or “Swing Street on TV”, and that it had been launched just the Sunday before, but also that it had “No sponsors as yet”.

Then, two weeks later, on January 5, 1956, The California Eagle ran a second, similar, promotion, announcing that “Ray Charles returns to 5-4” for a 3-day stay starting on Friday, January 6.
“This is his second request performances in recent weeks”, a small article explained, under the header “Crowd Pleased With Top Work Of Grand Band”.

(Ray’s 8-man small big band or ‘combo’ was just half a year old. In December the single I’ve Got A Woman had been released. The success of this song may have added to the appreciation of the LA audience).

If the TV show from the 5-4, despite the lack of sponsors, survived through the new year, and if it had returned to the Sunday, this could mean that Ray still made it to a telecast…

Reading this source, I think the TV show indeed survived. It was broadcast by KCOP-TV (Channel 13). Confusing is that in fact there was a Sunday evening format titled Swing Street, which was emceed by James Edwards, and (for a while, often, always?) co-hosted by Dinah Washington. But… there was also a format scheduled in the middle of the week, under the adequate title Spotlight Wednesday, “telecast from the bandstand and floor of the 5-4 Ballrooom”, making it “the nation’s first all-Negro produced and starring video program”, which was also emceed by James Edwards.
Does anybody know more about the history of these programs?

The 5-4 Ballroom was named after its address at 54th and Broadway, in Los Angeles, in Watts. With a capacity of well over 1,000 people (contemporary stage photo here), for a few decades (from the ’40s to the ’60s) it was considered to be the LA equivalent of the Apollo Theatre (sketchy story here).
Intriguingly, we also know of a few photos of Ray Charles at the 5-4 Ballroom, from 1954, where he seems to be present as a private guest, just having a good time with his then-girlfriend Madlyn Glover, two of her brothers, and Little Willy John (more photos here). Were these photos shot during an intermission or after one of his shows?

* 88-er, or 88’er = piano player. ** Ray had been booked twice before at the 5-4 Ballroom on March 6 (maybe from 5 to 7 March), 1954 with Joe Liggins and his Honey Drippers, and from August 13 to 15, 1954, opening for Dinah Washington.


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