Chuck Berry at the Elms

Chuck Berry’s career was really picking up steam after he returned to Youngstown on September 16, 1955 for a show at the Elms Ballroom. In less than a month after the Copa Club show here, he was thrust on a bill which included the jazz greats the Buddy Johnson Orchestra and his sister Ella, doo-wopers The Nutmegs, Four Fellows, The Spaniels, jazz singer Arthur Prysock, R&B singer Al Savage and “The Queen of the Quiver and Shake” Queenie Owens.

Berry had just come off a seven day, 38-show run at Brooklyn’s Paramount Theater. The shows, promoted by Alan Freed, grossed $154,000 according to Variety. In the book “Brown Eyed Handsome Man” by Bruce Pegg, the shows were said to carry an attendance of about 80 percent white teens and 20-somethings. Right after that successful stint in Brooklyn, Berry was booked on a seven week tour of one-night gigs across the country. The Elms show was one of those.

An ad similar to this one caused the show set for Sept. 15 in Pittsburgh to be rearranged. The superintendent of the building where the concert was initially set to go off reacted in horror over the sexualized appearance of Queenie Owens in the ad. The local promoter switched the show to a much smaller venue (a movie theater) to avoid a total loss.

The Elms, built in 1922, was best known as a top venue during the Big Band era. It was located at 529 Elm St. on what is now the campus of Youngstown State University. The building was razed in 1965.


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