History of The Lyric Theatre

Vibrant. Alive. The place to be and be seen. Between 1948 and 1963, the Lyric Theatre was a thriving entertainment centerpiece for Lexington’s African-American families. Originally built as a movie house, the Lyric opened at the corner of Third and Deweese Street (now Elm Tree Lane) in Lexington. And it quickly became a cultural icon.

Everyone has his or her favorite memory – the movies, fashion shows, vaudeville acts, local concerts, pageants – but during the ‘50s it was Jazz, Soul and R&B music that took center stage, with big-name acts like Ray Charles and Count Basie.

Soulful sounds filled the theatre with other notable performers including: B.B. King; Wynonie Harris, who wrote Good Rocking Tonight, recorded by Elvis Presley; Mercer Ellington, the only son of Duke Ellington; and Billy Brown, formerly of the Dominos, who formed The Checkers and began recording for King Records.

Entertainment wasn’t the only draw. Numerous small black-owned business – from clothing stores to ice cream shops – were launched in and around the theatre. Before closing in 1963, the theatre returned to its roots as a movie theatre, featuring horror films and black cowboy movies plus Saturday morning cartoons.

The new Lyric offers much more than a chance to relive history. Come see the beautiful facility and enjoy the modern age Lyric.

A Brief History in Photographs

Few photographs exist of The Lyric Theatre in its original years of operation, but thanks to the generosity of Lexington Herald Leader, we have been able to track down some images that reflect the vibrancy, uniqueness, and grandeur of the Lyric as is was in the 40s, 50s, and 60s.

The Lyric under construction before its original opening date in 1948.

Original Lyric Staff.

A performer on The Lyric stage.

In the dressing rooms

Newspaper clippings referencing the opening of The Lyric.

The Lyric's projection room and operators.

Participants in a Lyric Beauty Pageant.

Christmas carolers in The Lyric's Main Lobby

Cartoon playbill

The completed and open Lyric.

The Lyric at night.

Performers backstage.

Count Basie patrons

The Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center is constantly looking for more historical documentation on past events held at the original Lyric!

If you or anyone you know would like to share stories, photographs or articles,please contact us at (859) 280-2201 or by emailing ActingDirector@LexingtonLyric.com