Welcome! Open up our Mann Music Room: Vault to read about iconic moments in the Mann and Philadelphia's rich music history. Choose a story from our archives below and click to learn more about the events that made us who we are today.
1930: Clara Barnes Abbott and the Founding of Robin Hood Dell
Clara Barnes Abbott, a leading figure in Philadelphia musical circles in the early twentieth century, played a key role in the establishment of the Robin Hood Dell in 1930. While many individuals made significant contributions to the founding of the Dell, Abbott, in her capacity as director of the Philadelphia Municipal Bureau of Music, emerged as a primary spokesperson and coordinator of the effort in early 1930.
May 1930: Music for the Multitudes
On May 18, 1930, Philadelphia Mayor Harry Mackey issued a proclamation designating the week of May 25th as “Music for the Multitudes” week, a seven-day campaign to sell subscriptions to the inaugural season of concerts at the new Robin Hood Dell. As ground was about to be broken for the new venue, dozens of boosters fanned out across the city with the goal of selling 15,000 subscriptions for the upcoming Dell season, scheduled to begin in early July.
July 8, 1930: Inaugural Robin Hood Dell Concert
Held on July 8, 1930, the inaugural concert at the new Robin Hood Dell was the culmination of a city-wide effort to establish a summer home for The Philadelphia Orchestra and to make symphonic music available to the wider public. Some 12,000 attendees heard Orchestra assistant conductor Alexander Smallens lead the ensemble in a program of Wagner, Mendelssohn, Strauss, and Beethoven, the first of eight weeks of nightly concerts that summer.
July 21, 1930: Eugene Ormandy at Robin Hood Dell
On July 21, 1930, two weeks after it opened, the Robin Hood Dell hosted its first guest conductor, a relatively unknown thirty-year-old Hungarian-born musician named Eugene Ormandy. It was Ormandy’s first appearance in Philadelphia. His concerts were well-received and he was invited back several times. In 1936 he was named conductor of The Philadelphia Orchestra, a post he would hold for 44 years.
July 21, 1930: Marian Anderson at Robin Hood Dell
When world-renowned contralto Marian Anderson, a Philadelphia native and hometown favorite, made her first appearance at the Robin Hood Dell on July 18, 1940, she set an attendance record at the venue. She performed at the Dell six more times over the next quarter century. Her final singing appearance on June 28, 1965, part of an international farewell tour prior to retirement, also set a record with over 35,000 in attendance.
July 24, 1931 – August 3, 1934: Hall Johnson Choir at Robin Hood Dell
The Robin Hood Dell hosted a number of African American artists in its early years. Marian Anderson, Paul Robeson, and Duke Ellington were among the noted Black performers featured at the Dell in its first two decades. However, the first African American group to perform at the Dell—and certainly one of the most popular, judging by the frequency of their appearances in the early years—was the Hall Johnson Choir, which performed every year from 1931 to 1934.
August 3, 1933: World Premiere of Samuel Barber's Overture to the School for Scandal
On August 30, 1933 at the Robin Hood Dell, The Philadelphia Orchestra gave the world premiere of a piece by a young local composer who would go on to become one of the greatest American composers of the twentieth century. The composer was twenty-three-year-old Samuel Barber, a native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, and the piece, Overture to the School for Scandal, was Barber’s first composition for orchestra.
July 10, 1941: Benny Goodman at Robin Hood Dell
Jazz clarinetist and bandleader Benny Goodman’s debut at Robin Hood Dell in 1941 was notable for several reasons. One involved a dispute with a famous, temperamental conductor that made national headlines. Another was that the concert featured the world premiere of a new work by noted composer Igor Stravinsky, with Goodman himself leading the piece in his symphonic conducting debut. But perhaps most significantly, the concert was the first time a racially integrated group performed at the Dell, a fact that drew little notice in the mainstream press but represented an important milestone for the venue.
July 10, 1943: Judy Garland First Solo Concert
On July 10, 1943, 21-year-old Judy Garland gave the first concert of her career at Robin Hood Dell in Philadelphia. Already a star and longtime veteran of stage and screen, Garland had never performed as a solo artist in a concert setting until her Robin Hood Dell appearance. The concert was a success and would add another dimension to the career of the talented singer / dancer / actress.
July 6, 1945: Frank Sinatra at Robin Hood Dell
Frank Sinatra never appeared as a regularly scheduled performer at the Robin Hood Dell or Mann Music Center, but he sang a few songs in an impromptu appearance at the Dell in July 1945, when he came to hear a concert by his friend, vocalist Dinah Shore.
June 28, 1949 – July 15, 1976: Leonard Bernstein at the Robin Hood Dell and Mann Music Center
The great American conductor, composer, pianist, and teacher Leonard Bernstein performed at the Robin Hood Dell and its successor venue, the Mann Music Center, six times over the course of thirty years. His first appearance was in 1949; his last in 1979. His role varied in the different engagements: sometimes as conductor, other times as conductor and pianist, and still other times as conductor, pianist, and composer.
July 25, 1949: Duke Ellington First Concert with Symphony Orchestra
Duke Ellington, one of the greatest bandleaders and composers in the history of jazz, was continually at the forefront of musical innovation and experimentation over his fifty-plus-year career. His first pairing of his big band with a symphony orchestra was at the Robin Hood Dell in July 1949, when the Duke Ellington Orchestra joined forces with the Robin Hood Dell Orchestra for a groundbreaking concert.
July 5, 1960: Zubin Mehta American Premiere at Robin Hood Dell
The great Indian-born conductor Zubin Mehta made his American debut at the Robin Hood Dell in 1960. The concert, arranged by Dell President Frederic Mann and legendary conductor Leopold Stokowski, launched the twenty-four-year-old Mehta’s career, setting him on a course to become one of the world’s top conductors.
August 1, 1963 – June 15, 1998: Van Cliburn at Robin Hood Dell & The Mann Center
Pianist Van Cliburn was one of the most popular guest artists at the Robin Hood Dell and The Mann Center over the years, appearing a total of fifteen times at the venues from 1963 to 1998. He rose to enormous fame following his gold medal victory at the International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow in 1958, and his star power was such that his 1965 concert at the Dell broke all attendance records, drawing over 35,000 listeners, as well as thousands of others who came but could not get close enough to hear.
Allen Hortense Dancers at Robin Hood Dell
One of the performing groups that appeared regularly at the Robin Hood Dell in the early 1970s was the Coppertone Review, a Philadelphia-based mostly female African American dance troupe led by the versatile Hortense Allen Jordan, a longtime dancer, choreographer, costume designer, and producer. Jordan and her dance troupes, known for many years as the Hortense Allen Dancers, were a fixture in the world of Black entertainment in Philadelphia and beyond in the mid to late twentieth century.
1975: A Tale of Two Architects
On January 29, 1975, Philadelphians got their first look at the design for the long-awaited Robin Hood Dell West when a scale model of the new venue was unveiled in the Grand Court at John Wanamaker’s department store in Center City. However, the design of the new facility, scheduled to open eighteen months later, was not the work of noted Philadelphia architect Vincent Kling, who had been the original architect on the project, but that of a New York firm that specialized in outdoor concert venues.
June 14, 1976: Opening of the Robin Hood Dell West
The new Robin Hood Dell West opened in June 1976, as Philadelphia and the nation were preparing to celebrate the US Bicentennial. The original Dell, an open-air facility constructed in 1930, was a beloved venue but beset by problems, including frequent rain outs and distracting traffic noise from the nearby Schuylkill Expressway, which opened in 1958. The new venue addressed these issues and provided Philadelphians with a modern, first-class facility in which to enjoy music under the stars.
Summer 1976: First Series of Pop & Rock Concerts at Robin Hood Dell West
In addition to opening the new Robin Hood Dell West in the summer of 1976, the Dell organization embarked on another major new initiative that year: offering a series of pop and rock concerts for the first time. With the exception of a one-time rock concert in 1967, Dell concerts had always been orchestral—either traditional symphonic programs or concerts with popular singers with orchestral accompaniment. Beginning in 1976, pop and rock acts were featured on a regular basis—with their own musical ensembles, not backed by a symphony orchestra. Over the years, pop and rock concerts grew to comprise the majority of the venue’s offerings.
1979: Luciano Pavarotti at the Mann Center
The great Italian tenor Luciano Pavarotti appeared at the Mann Center just twice, both times in 1979. In May of that year he performed with the Metropolitan Opera Company and in August he gave a solo recital in a benefit concert for the Marian Anderson Library and Scholarship Fund. The latter event brought two of the greatest singers of the twentieth century together at the Mann.
Blog Entries by Jack McCarthy, Historian, The Mann Center for the Performing Arts
The Mann Center traces its history to the Robin Hood Dell, which opened in 1930 in East Fairmount Park as a summer home for The Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1976 the organization moved to a new venue in West Fairmount Park. Originally called Robin Hood Dell West, it was later renamed the Mann Music Center in honor of its longtime director and benefactor Frederic Mann, and subsequently renamed the Mann Center for the Performing Arts.