Time Machine

When Duke Ellington came to Cedar Rapids

Piece of History

Big band leader Duke Ellington, right, talks to fans at a June 5, 1957, dance at the Elks Club in southwest Cedar Rapids
Big band leader Duke Ellington, right, talks to fans at a June 5, 1957, dance at the Elks Club in southwest Cedar Rapids. Almost 700 people were at the dance, including Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hoegan and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Ford, who are pictured. (The History Center)

This month’s “Piece of History” is a picture taken June 6, 1957, of big band leader Duke Ellington talking to four people — Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Hoegen and Mr. and Mrs. Michael Ford — in Cedar Rapids.

The couples were among the almost 700 people who came to hear and dance to Ellington’s music at the Elks Club, then at Hawthorne Drive and Water Street SW.

The Thursday night performance was so successful that the club invited Ellington to open its dance season the following year. The May 28, 1958, dance had 325 table reservations.

Ellington (1899-1974) regularly played in Linn County throughout his career, including performances at Danceland, the Roosevelt Hotel and the Armar Ballroom, among others.

The Elks Club was founded in 1868 as a social club by a group of actors, entertainers and others associated with the theater in New York City. The club quickly spread over the country, with local lodges providing social quarters for members.

Despite the clubs commonly inviting Black performers to entertain, membership was restricted nationally to white men until 1973.

Tara Templeman is curator at The History Center. Comments: curator@historycenter.org

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