By KYW Community Affairs reporter Cherri Gregg.
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – A new book comes out this week that tells the behind the scenes story of the legendary Uptown Theater.
Titled, “Joy Ride! The Stars and Stories of Philly’s Famous Uptown Theatre,” it takes readers on a journey through the golden age of the historic venue. From the late 50’s to the early 70’s Philadelphia DJ Georgie Woods electrified thousands with sold out R&B shows, featuring legends like James Brown, The Jackson Five and The Supremes.
“It was just a magical place,” says Kimberly C. Roberts, who’s worked at the Philadelphia Tribune since 1997.
She says she spent 15 years writing the book, conducting dozens of interviews that give an insider’s look at the rivalries, romances and many shenanigans taking place behind the velvet curtain.
“It was so competitive,” says Roberts. “They went to war in there.”
She says producer Georgie Woods promoted a competitive atmosphere with what he called the, “Battle of the Groups.”
“The men tried to out dress each other, out-dance each other, even have higher hair,” she says. “And the girls were just as bad. There was an intense rivalry between the Supremes and Patti LaBelle and the BlueBelles.”
But there was also a lot of camaraderie.
“Just imagine walking into a room and you see James Brown sitting there, you see Jackie Wilson sitting there, you see Marvin Gaye sitting there,” she says. “All of these icons you see eating around the same table eating together.”
Hear the entire interview with Kimberly C. Roberts in this CBS Philly podcast:
The Uptown was part of the “chitlin circuit,” a group of theaters and performance venues that catered to an African-American audience at a time when discrimination excluded many Black performers from mainstream stages. The theater became extremely popular and was on par with nationally known theaters like New York’s famed Apollo.
“The Uptown Theater could make or break your career,” says Roberts. “If you bombed there– you were done.”
Roberts is holding a book signing on Thursday, May 30 at 6pm at the Philadelphia Clef Club of Jazz and Performing Arts at 738 South Broad Street. Several local R&B legends are expected to attend.
CLICK HERE to purchase “Joy Ride! The Stars and Stories of Philly’s Famous Uptown Theatre.”