YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s a Saturday night at Powers Auditorium in downtown Youngstown, and the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra dedicated the night to The First Lady of Song, or Ella Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald has a Youngstown connection. She got married in Mahoning County in 1947. She also spent time performing in the area, all the greats did.
Youngstown Jazz History Professor Kent Engelhardt says Youngstown was an easy stop for musicians of the 30s, 40s and 50s to make.
“So maybe they were coming from New York to Pittsburgh, or Philadelphia to Pittsburgh and then on the way to Cleveland there would be a stop here. Sometimes a weekend gig, sometimes a whole week,” Englehardt said.
Rick Shale’s book Idora Park: The Last Ride of Summer, shows a photo of a Cab Calloway ticket from the 1930s, only 99 cents to get in.
Charlie Parker, one of the greatest saxophone players of all time, played in Youngstown in 1955.
Shedrick Hobbs could tell you all about it. Parker picked Hobbs to play drums with him during his stop.
“You’d be a nervous wreck because you think you’re going to mess up,” Hobbs said.
Many people consider Hobbs to be one of the best musicians in at the area during that time, though he’d never admit it.
“I still don’t think I was that great. Everybody else did,” he said.
Hobbs says he would play at local clubs six nights a week in the 50s. Segregation still existed, and for some black musicians, music may have been the only interaction they had with white people.
“Everybody was playing. Clubs was all over the place. Only difference is, the only way a black band could go to a white club is if he was playing there. Other than that, you weren’t allowed in there,” Hobbs said.
Jeff Green was meant to perform, he was born into a family of musicians. He has seen the impact jazz has on people.
His brother and sister-in-law started Jazz in the Park in the 90s, a concert series that began to help curb the city’s murder rate.
“Jazz in the park: the people liked it so much, man they just responded so much that we started doing it four weeks out the month, and I just took it last week to 10 weeks,” Green said.
So whether its Jazz in the Park, stories told through old photos, or a Youngstown Symphony Orchestra performance, the sounds of Post-War America can still be heard today.