Monday, July 20, 2020

Prom Nights

The largest dance venue in The Twin Cities was the Prom Ballroom in Saint Paul.

The Prom Ballroom was a landmark in St. Paul Minnesota for almost 50 years. It was where the BIG BANDS used to play; Ellington, Basie, Dorsey, and all the rest. In the fifties Buddy Holly and other rockers brought a younger crowd that filled its vast floor. In its later years, the bands got smaller but louder, although the occasional “ghost” big band would still come around. When the group* I was working with got a chance to play there it was for private Christmas parties and the crowd was mostly in their late teens and early twenties. We were pumping out R&B and Soul, not Jazz and Swing.

But those old ghosts still haunted the room, however, and we could sense them and rose to the occasion. By the time we hit our peak the crowd was simpatico and the band was on fire.  Love and Happiness stopped the show, with people stomping their feet and refusing to stop cheering and applauding. It was arguably the high point of my career. Later gigs I did at The Prom were OK, but difficult. There is some primitive aspect to the experience of a big dance floor full of writhing, ecstatic people, all of them deeply immersed in the music; abandoning their masks and poses and coming together to a  climax, then hovering in the afterglow and, finally, escaping into the night to attend private parties for two.

The Prom had been built in the late 1930s and was a landmark until its destruction in 1987. Its rated capacity was 6000 but by the late 1970s it was out of fashion and the acts who performed there would seldom draw more than a tenth of that. The arched ceiling made for uninterrupted sight-lines and a big dance floor but had lousy acoustics. The last gig I did there was for a cable-tv video shoot, the act was a smallish big band. They were competent, but had been thrown together with gigging musicians and there were no real “ringers” to steal the show. The building was torn down a few weeks later after this “last dance” and now only memories and a few photographs exist of its past glories:

Except in the fading memories of past revelers, the Prom is gone. But, with the Covid restrictions will there still be dances in ballrooms with live music being played? Can these moments of collective passion and release still exist? This is a primal ritual and is not to be denied.

A partial list of acts that performed there:

Count Basie/ Cab Calloway/ Artie Shaw/ Jimmy Dorsey
Frank Sinatra/ Glenn Miller/ Spike Jones/ Les Elgart
Duke Ellington/ Ray Anthony/ Guy Lombardo/ Harry James
Sammy Kaye/ Stan Kenton/ Gene Krupa/ Les Brown
Rosemary Clooney/ Woody Herman/ Neal Hefti/ Buddy Rich
Bill Haley/ Webb Pierce/ Mickey and Sylvia/ Maynard Ferguson
The Diamonds/ Eddy Cochran/ Gene Vincent/ The Crickets
Buddy Holly/ Ritchie Valens/ Big Bopper/ Dion/ Gary US Bonds
Bobby Darin/ Everly Brothers/ Link Wray/ Jan and Dean
Wanda Jackson/ Johnny Cash/ Jimmy Dean/ The Four Seasons
Bobby Vinton/ Gene Pitney/ Joey Dee/ The Trashmen/ Chubby Checker
Lou Christie/ Dick and DeeDee/ The Beachboys/ Lonnie Mack
The Kingsmen/ Roger Miller/ Del Shannon/ Chad and Jeremy
The Hollies/ The Ventures/ Bobby Goldsboro/ Sir Douglas Quintet
Jules Herman/ The Turtles/ Tommy James/ The Byrds

The acts I worked with:

Don Cavitt/ Rio Nido/ The Bees Knees/ The Explodo Boys*

By Professor Batty


Blogger jono said...

That must have been quite the place! Nice list of acts, including yours. I suspect most cities had such a venue at one time, but they all had a certain local flavor wherever they were.

Blogger Professor Batty said...

There is a wonderful one in New Ulm (George’s) slated for demolition, just too big and too old.

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