The Longworth-Anderson Series
The Longworth-Anderson Series, which launched in February by the nonprofit Cincinnati Memorial Hall Society, is enjoying great success. With each of its first four concerts having achieved sold-out audiences, the Series appears to be quickly finding a place in Cincinnati’s crowded entertainment calendar.
Bill Baumann, chairman of the Society, explains this early success in this way, “There is nothing quite like the Series in Cincinnati, especially in such a beautiful and intimate venue as Memorial Hall’s Annie and Elizabeth Anderson Theater.”
Organizers envision the Longworth-Anderson Series as an annual, contemporary music series featuring Grammy Award-winning artists and bands across multiple genres including Americana, bluegrass, blues, country, folk, indie rock, jazz, pop and world music. Starting with six concerts this year, the plan is to grow the series to eight to 10 concerts in future years.
While success has come relatively quickly, the idea for the Series and its planning date to 2013. The Series is the fulfillment of a dream the Society’s Board had shortly after its trustees reopened Memorial Hall in early 2013 and began efforts to revitalize this treasured, 1908 Beaux Arts building next to Music Hall.
According to Baumann, a performance in May 2013 by the punk rocker, writer and visual artist, Patti Smith, as part of an exhibition of her art at the Contemporary Arts Center, was a key inspiration. “The way that Patti’s performance of music and stories connected with her sold-out audience demonstrated how valuable this intimate theater is and the kind of important performances that could be held there.”
While that concert demonstrated Memorial Hall’s potential, the building at that time was outdated, lacking in audience amenities and had limited production capabilities. Plans were already being laid, however, for a much needed $11.2 million renovation which was completed in December 2016, led by Cincinnati Center City Development Corporation (3CDC), the Society and Hamilton County.
The renovation, including modernization of the theater with cushioned and widened seats, an extended stage, banks of new theatrical lighting, state-of-the-art sound system and air conditioning – all for the first-time in the storied hall’s 109-year history – transformed Memorial Hall into a first class venue.
Ken Jones, the Society’s president, summed up the impact. “Combined with the theater’s highly-decorative and historical aspects, the improvements positioned the 555-seat theater as the city’s premier mid-size performance hall.”
The Society’s Program Committee, chaired by Jim Fitzgerald, then set to work to develop the concept for the Longworth-Anderson Series and engaged veteran concert promoter John Madden to help in selecting the artists for the initial season. Country singer-songwriter and multiple Grammy Award-winner Rosanne Cash with John Leventhal kicked off the Series on February 10, setting, according to the Enquirer’s music writer, Bill Thompson, a “high bar” for the Series’ next performers.
Three sold-out performances followed: Pink Martini, combining elements of classical, jazz, world music and timeless pop; Richard Thompson, critically-acclaimed songwriter and one of the Top 20 Guitarists of All Time (Rolling Stone Magazine), with Joan Shelley; and Sarah Jarosz, the 2016 Grammy Award-winner for Best Folk Album and Best Americana Roots Performance.
Another aspect of the Longworth-Anderson Series popular with attendees is that the events provide an entire evening of entertainment, including complimentary pre- and post-concert receptions. Honoring the “Founders of the Longworth-Anderson Series,” a special group of supporters interested in music and the arts helping establish this unique Series, the receptions feature lite-bites, dessert, and beer and wine tastings from popular Cincinnati restaurants, craft beer brewers and wine distributors.
The Annie W. and Elizabeth M. Anderson Foundation provided funding to establish the Series. The Anderson sisters, for whom the Series is named, are great-great granddaughters of Nicholas Longworth and Lt. Colonel Richard Clough Anderson, two important leaders of Cincinnati’s early development.
Other significant funders include: The George and Margaret McClane Foundation; the Carol Ann and Ralph V. Haile, Jr./U.S. Bank Foundation; the H.R., E.W. and F.R. Luther Charitable Foundation, Fifth Third Bank & Narley L. Haley, Co-Trustees; and the Jacob G. Schmidlapp Trusts, Fifth Third Bank, Trustee.