Newspaper Advertisements

Our newspaper file of Birmingham jazz advertisements offers unique access to the city's once-thriving music scene.

Of particular interest are advertisements for the bands of Fess Whatley and Sonny Blount (later famous as Sun Ra) as well as for "homecoming" shows by Birmingham's Erskine Hawkins Orchestra.

Hawkins and his bandmates — almost all of them products of Birmingham's segregated Black schools — memorialized their hometown scene with their 1939 hit "Tuxedo Junction" and (as these advertisements illustrate) maintained lifelong connections with the city that shaped them.

For his own part — and despite his later claims to have come from outer space — Sun Ra was influenced profoundly by Birmingham's musical culture. His Birmingham bands of the 1930s and '40s, including his Sonny Blount Orchestra and his Rhythm Four quartet, were popular fixtures of the local scene. Advertisements in our collection include some of the earliest known photos of the bandleader; the text of these ads also demonstrate "Sonny"'s technologicial innovations, including his use of the Solo-Vox, an early electronic keyboard attachment, and they provide details about the elaborate floor shows he headlined at such venues as the local Grand Terrace Cafe. 

Still other advertisements reflect the stream of national acts that visited such Birmingham venues as the Masonic Temple and City Auditorium. Many ads reflect the city's deep-seated culture of segregation, announcing separate concerts for white and Black audiences, or promoting special dances in which white guests were invited to witness a show in otherwise Black spaces, such as Fourth Avenue's Masonic Temple.

Newspaper Advertisements