Located in Times Square, the Town Hall performance space has long been a treasured building to see concerts, stand-up comedy shows, discussion panels, and lectures. Like many other buildings in New York City, the Town Hall has a storied history to which the average passerby or event-goer might not be privy to.
The Town Hall opened on January 12,1921, after being founded by The League for Political Education, a women’s suffrage group. Designed as a space for discussion, it quickly fulfilled its goal in November of that same year, as birth control activist Margaret Sanger was suddenly arrested on stage in the middle of a public meeting on birth control. Her arrest sparked outrage and publicity, and she later founded the American Birth Control League—or as we call it today, Planned Parenthood.
The Town Hall in 1923, via Cindy Byram
Early performers at The Town Hall include German composer Richard Strauss in 1921, and Paul Robeson, a seasoned stage actor and the son of a former slave, who sang black spiritual songs at the Town Hall in 1927. In 1935, the venue first broadcasted their radio show, America’s Town Meeting of the Air, which became wildly successful. The show ran until 1956, and had many famous guest speakers, including novelist Pearl Buck, poet Langston Hughes (on how “the race question” in America should be handled), and First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (on educating America’s youth).
In 1942, singer Billie Holiday performed at the Town Hall Jazz Concert. The Town Hall quickly became a place of support for jazz music, with Duke Ellington performing there in 1957, followed by Nina Simone in 1959, and more recently, Wayne Shorter in 1999. Other notable performers at the Town Hall include Bob Dylan in his 1963 New York debut, actresses Bette Davis and Joan Crawford in separate 1973 events, Elvis Costello in 2003, and comedian Robin Williams in 2009.
The Town Hall still has amazing events to this day, including a discussion by writer Chimamanda Adiche and The Daily Show‘s host, Trevor Noah back in May 2017, a musical performance by Fleetwood Mac guitarist/vocalist Lindsey Buckingham this past December, and an upcoming concert by Icelandic composer Ólafur Arnalds at the venue this coming November.
The Town Hall Ensemble “City Suite” in October 2017, via Julia Drummond
The Town Hall’sTaylor Mac’s “Holiday Sauce” show in December 2018 and the photographer is Luiz C. Ribeiro
The Town Hall relies on member and visitor donations to stay open, as ticket sales only cover part of their bills. The venue boasts a loyal and actively supportive membership, including within their Young Patrons Circle group. The group gets special discounted early access to Town Hall events, and invitations to special events and galas. Untapped Cities got exclusive access to one of their receptions, where members’ patronage was rewarded through performances by Broadway’s latest Rising Star class.
Next, check out 17 Historical Theaters in Times Square and the Top 10 Secrets of Times Square. To learn more about the Town Hall venue, membership opportunities, and upcoming events, check out their website.