Echoes Thru Time: Icons of the Black American Experience

Echoes Thru Time: Icons of the Black American Experience

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Presented by: HAPCO
Location: Wells’Built Museum – 511 W South St, Orlando, FL 32805
Date: Saturday, March 9, 2024
Time: 3:00 pm – 5:00 pm

Journey back to the Golden Age of Jazz – a century ago, when America’s most unique art form was delighting people all over the world with its bold originality. UCF’s Flying Horse Big Band, directed by Jeff Rupert, will entertain us with music from Black jazz legends who performed at the South Street Casino in Orlando – and found welcoming hospitality at the Wells’Built Hotel. Vocalists Vance Villastrigo and DaVonda Simmons will perform with the band.

The casino and hotel were built by Dr. William Monroe Wells, who dedicated his life to the well-being of both his patients and the Parramore community.

Join us for this free performance at the Wells’built Museum, celebrating Dr. Wells’ vision and advocacy in the Holden-Parramore Historic District – and the power of community.

This event is presented by Senator Geraldine Thompson, Florida State Senate, 15th District and HAPCO Music Foundation.

Echoes Thru Time: Icons of the Black American Experience celebrates the people who have championed initiatives that have nurtured the growth and success of generations of Black musicians and artists. For over a century, these advocates for equality and unity defied convention, building opportunity for others. They helped shape our culture and society, ensuring the Black American creative voice was heard.

Dr. William Monroe Wells & Parramore

One of the city’s first Black doctors, Dr. Wells saw the community’s need beyond healthcare. In the Jim Crow era, Black Americas did not have access to hotels, hospitals, public restrooms, entertainment venues and many other facilities.

Black travelers relied on word-of-mouth referrals for places to stay, often at private homes. From 1936-66, they relied on The Green Book, an annual publication which listed hotels, restaurants, gas stations, and other businesses that served African Americans.

Dr. Wells built the Wells’Built Hotel, which opened in 1929. The 20-room hotel was the only hotel in Orlando that would serve African Americans at the time. It also included spaces for Black businesses to operate. It was the only Orlando area lodging listed in The Green Book.

Looking to improve the Parramore community further and to increase tourism to the area, he built South Street Casino next door to the Wells’ Built Hotel, providing a venue for touring Black entertainers. By day, local residents enjoyed recreational activities including basketball and rollerskating. At night, it turned into a nightclub with entertainment by top musical talents.

Parramore’s Entertainment Hub

For decades, the sounds of jazz and blues music filled the Parramore, Orlando community at the South Street Casino. Near Division Avenue – the then-dividing line between white and Black Orlando – it was an entertainment hot spot for Black locals and tourists.

The casino and hotel were popular stops on the Chitlin’ Circuit, a touring circuit that provided employment for hundreds of Black musicians in the segregation era.

Entertainers over the decades included Ray Charles, Louis Armstong, Bo Diddly, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton, Wynonie Harris, Arnett Cobb, Panama Francis & the Savoy Sultans, Erskine Hawkins,

Dinah Washington, Duke Ellington, Illinois Jacquet, Memphis Slim, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Ella Fitzgerald, B.B. King and Louis Armstrong. Other prominent African Americans including Jackie Robinson and Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall stayed at the Wells’Built Hotel as well.

UCF’s The Flying Horse Big Band has had six recordings on the national jazz charts.  Recordings include Jazz Town, The Blues is Alright, Into the Mystic, Big Man on Campus, The Bat Swings! and Florida Rays. The last two albums climbed to #1 on the national (professional) jazz charts.

Jeff Rupert is the director of jazz studies at University of Central Florida. He is a saxophonist, composer, record producer and recording artist. He hosts Jazz and the American Spirit, a one-hour weekly radio show on WUCF FM 89.9 Jazz & More, examining the great stories of jazz across America and the people who create it. He tells the stories of how jazz is deeply connected to conveying the history of America and demonstrates how jazz can tell the story better than actual words.

Geraldine Thompson
Senator Geraldine Thompson represents the 15th District in the Florida State Senate. She served as Florida House Member, 44th District, from 2018-22.

A champion for public education, she pushed to save the Wells’Built Hotel and convert it into a history museum so new generations could carry the building’s legacy into the future. She fell in love with the hotel’s history while conducting research at Valencia College. Preservation efforts were led by Thompson, Alzo J. Reddick, Former Florida House of Representatives Member (1982-2000), and Will Abberger, director of Trust for Public Land’s conservation finance program.

Thompson is Founder of the Association to Preserve African American Society, History and Tradition (PAST), the nonprofit that runs the Wells’Built Museum. Her daughter, Elizabeth Thompson, is executive director of the Wells’ Built Museum.

Wells’Built Museum

The South Street Casino, later called the Quarterback Club, was destroyed by a fire and was demolished in 1987. Wells’ home now stands where the casino was built, moved from its original location to make way for the Amway Center and to preserve its history.

Today, the Wells’Built Hotel is home to the Wells’Built Museum, showcasing memorabilia of Orlando’s African American community along with African art and artifacts. It celebrates the contributions of Dr. Wells and others who helped shape Orlando’s future. The curated collection, which reflects the Parramore community, includes:

  • displays on the Civil Rights movement
  • photographs, murals, letters and documents spotlighting historic figures including Dr. William Monroe Wells, university founder Mary McLeod Bethune and Bessie Coleman, a forerunner in aviation
  • paintings and historic signage
  • cultural masks, embroidered dolls, home goods and toys
  • a jukebox, vinyl records and photos of famous performers who took to the South Street Casino’s stage
  • a Bible with a family’s handwritten genealogy, documenting their heritage from the days when African Americans were considered property and did not have official records.
  • exposed brick walls imprinted with the names of the masons who formed them
  • a hotel room, featuring 1930s furniture and décor

In 2000, the hotel was added to the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The home and hotel are official Orlando Historic Landmarks.

The Green Book

The Green Book, published from 1936 to 1966, was designed to show businesses that did not discriminate against Black travelers. The book was named after its founder Victor Hugo Green.

It included Black owned businesses and tolerant white owned businesses that did not discriminate against Black customers. Businesses like hotels, motels, restaurants, beauty and barber shops, service stations, garages, nightclubs, resorts, and beaches were among the many types of spaces that the book offered.

For 30 years, the annual publication protected and guided African American travelers across the country. It highlights the entrepreneurial success of Black-owned and women-owned businesses in the Jim Crow era.

The Green Book Further Info: Click Here

The Jim Crow Laws

Jim Crow was the name of the racial caste system which operated primarily, but not exclusively, in southern and border states, between 1877 and the mid-1960s. This system included state and local laws as well as Black Codes of etiquette enforcing racial segregation.

“Jim Crow” was a pejorative term for an African American. Jim Crow was more than a series of rigid anti-Black laws. It was a way of life. Under Jim Crow, African Americans were relegated to the status of second-class citizens. Jim Crow represented the legitimization of anti-black racism.

Further details: Click Here

Learn more about Jim Crow Laws at:

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