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This is a contributing entry for Ralph Ellison and African American History in Oklahoma City and only appears as part of that tour.Learn More.

The Aldridge Theater was co-owned by Zelia Breaux, the gifted music teacher who influenced local jazz greats, including Ralph Ellison. A major venue in the East Second Street entertainment district, the Aldridge hosted the biggest names in regional and national jazz circles as well as screening movies. For a time, too young to enter and too poor to afford a ticket, Ralph would listen from the alley. Later, as a student of Breaux he would meet legends like Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey at the Aldridge.

Aldridge Theater

Building, Window, Black-and-white, Door

Woman Outside Aldridge Theater

Black, Standing, Black-and-white, Tints and shades

One of the only Black theaters in Oklahoma City, the Aldridge was co-owned by Ellison’s well-known mentor, Zelia Breaux. Able to symbolically bridge high and low culture, she had opened it in the center of the “Deep Second” entertainment district as early as 1919 and named it after the nineteenth-century Shakespearean Ira Aldridge. At the Aldridge, ticketholders of all rank and class had access to King Oliver, Ma Rainey, Ida Cox, and Bessie Smith, as well as prestigious Harlem-based theater troupes like the Lafayette Players, one of the first African-American acting groups in America.

Of Zelia Breaux, Ellison would later write “ was here that she made valuable contributions to the popular arts. For while she discouraged students from playing jazz, she also saw to it that our community was provided the best … entertainers. In her Aldridge Theater one could see and hear the great blues singers, dancers, comedians, the famous jazz orchestras and…repertory drama groups…[S]he provided a cultural nexus in which the vernacular art forms could be encountered along with the classical.”

Ellison, Ralph. Going to the Territory. New York: Vintage, 1986.

Jackson, Lawrence. Ralph Ellison: The Emergence of Genius. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.

"The Lafayette Players: An Oral History," Drop Me Off in Harlem: Exploring the Intersections. March 1st 2003. Accessed January 25th 2022.

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