Memorial Auditorium, Wichita Falls, Texas
Photo courtesy CardCow
The City of Wichita Falls is the county seat of Wichita County and located in the North East corner of the Panhandle/Plains area of North Texas, within two hours of both Dallas-Fort Worth and Oklahoma City. North Texas was the traditional home of several tribes of Plains Indians, notably the Kiowa and Comanche. Wichita County was organized in 1882, and the railroad arrived the same year. Agriculture dominated the economy until early in the 20th century when oil was discovered in the area which led to an oil boom that peaked during World War I. For the next several years, Wichita Falls flourished as a refinery town while continuing to support the agricultural economy that was based largely on cattle and wheat. During World War II,
Sheppard Air Force Base was established in Wichita Falls and
became an important contributor to the economy.1
Memorial Auditorium, called Municipal Auditorium initially, located at 1300 7th Street in Wichita Falls just west of the downtown district, was built in 1927 in hopes of attracting conventions and major
entertainers.1 It is said
by some to be built on the bluff where the last Indian battle had been fought in Wichita
Falls.2 In 1870, the
Battle of the Little Wichita River was part of two-day effort by the 6th U.S. Calvary to subdue an uprising by Chief Kicking Bird and 100 members of the Kiowa Indian tribe dissatisfied with their miserable lives on the reservation.3
Wichita Falls Memorial Auditorium - ca.1930
Photo courtesy Wichita Falls Museum of Art and Images of America
The Auditorium was modeled after the Fair Park Music Hall in
Dallas, replicating the same three portals on the front but with a
slightly different architecture and interior decor. It has 12
dressing rooms and has staged a variety of concerts, shows, and legendary performers such as Will Rogers, Al Jolsen,
Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Ethel Barrymore, Gene Autry and Bob
Hope. The building also houses many of the city's municipal offices.2
The Auditorium, at least from 1954 through 1956, was listed in Billboard
as having 3148 permanent seats and managed by George A. Mobley
Memorial Auditorium in Wichita Falls, TX - ca.1958
Photo courtesy cardcow
On January 19, 1956, Elvis, Scotty, D.J. and Bill made the first of two appearances at the auditorium with two
performances each time. Elvis, Scotty and Bill at least had performed in Wichita Falls twice before in 1955, at the
M-B Corral club on April 25th and at Spudder Park on August 22nd.
Elvis and Bill at Memorial Auditorium - Jan 19, 1956
Photo courtesy Stanley Oberst's Elvis in Texas/Rockin
This date was during a six day tour of Texas with Jamboree Attractions
that included preceding stops in San
Antonio, Galveston, Beaumont and Austin,
and concluded with a stop in Fort Worth. Peter Guralnick wrote that this
tour would be the last dates that Elvis and the boys would be a
supporting act. Elvis received $1800 for the six days.4 They would
not tour again until February but would make their first two national
Television appearances on the Dorsey Brother's
Stageshow in the interim. According to Stanley Oberst, like
the last Wichita Falls appearance at Spudder Park, this show was booked by Bill Mack.5
Bill Mack and Bill Black at Memorial Auditorium in Wichita Falls, TX -
Jan. 19, 1956
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner
Originally from Shamrock, Texas, Bill Mack (born Bill Smith) had been a country disc jockey
since the late 1940s, and also had success as a singer, songwriter, and producer.
While at West Texas State College he worked for radio KEVA and at 19, he was news-director for radio KLYN in Amarillo. He got his first break of his multi-faceted career in Wichita Falls in 1951 as a deejay at
KWFT. In addition he had his own show 'The Big Six Jamboree' in the early 50s and emceed 'The Old Hadocol Western Barn Dance' on
KWFT-TV which led to a contract with Imperial Records.6
Scotty backstage at the Memorial Auditorium in Wichita
Falls, TX - Jan. 19, 1956
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner
Elsie Medlin, Scotty and DJ backstage at the Memorial
Auditorium - Jan 19, 1956
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner
By their return trip and final appearance in Wichita Falls on April 9th,
they had appeared on the Milton Berle show and Elvis had signed a movie
deal with Paramount. This appearance took place on an off night
from a five city tour promoted by A.V. Bamford, with Wanda Jackson and
Faron Young that started in Denver the night before and commenced the
following night in Lubbock followed by stops
in El Paso, Albuquerque and Amarillo.
The two-show appearance in Wichita Falls was likely booked again by Bill
Mack. Lee Cotten wrote that Elvis wore a blue suit and white shoes as he headlined two performances at the
Municipal Auditorium in Wichita Falls, at 7:00 and 9:00 p.m.
The show featured the Hank Locklin unit, with Charline Arthur and Bill Mack. Tickets were $1.25 for the balcony and $1.50 for the main floor with all kids admitted for 50-cents. Tickets purchased in advance saved a quarter.
Backstage Elvis was interviewed by Jay Thompson, (hear
it below) host of the “Hillbilly Hit Parade" on KSTB radio in nearby Breckenridge.7
He mentions in the interview recently signing a seven year contract with
Paramount and expectations of his first picture being The
Rainmaker with Burt Lancaster and Katherine Hepburn.
Charline Arthur RCA Victor publicity photo signed to steel guitarist 'Pete
Photo courtesy FECC/memphisflash
The Colonel had been instrumental in getting Charline Arthur
signed to RCA in 1952. The boys had first shared dates with her though in Lubbock,
Roswell and Abilene in February of 1955 followed by dates in
Texarkana and Dallas at the Big D Jamboree
where she was a regular, and also in Memphis.
This would be their last. RCA dropped her later in 1956, and because of her reputation for
being controversial and difficult, no other major record label took her
Carol Allred, a native to Wichita Falls, attended the
show that evening and took photos. She remembered that at the time it
was called the "Municipal" Auditorium, as indicated in the ads for the
show. She said, from the stage, there was what was called the
orchestra pit,....then we were sitting about 5 rows (that I can remember) back. Great seats. At the time I didn't know who Elvis was, but my friends wanted me to go, so I did....and screamed with the rest of the girls...not knowing who I was screaming for.
Little did I know.
Elvis, D.J. and Bill at Memorial Auditorium in Wichita Falls, TX - Apr.
(click to play Jay Thompson interview, or
here if your browser doesn't work)
Photo courtesy Steve Bonner
Judy L Patterson, another Wichita Falls native, went to see him at least
twice, she said he parked outside the back of the Memorial Auditorium and one of the boys in our neighborhood bragged that he stole the hood ornament off his Cadillac. Don't know if that was true or not. He signed autographs
at the stage door.
After the Bamford tour, Elvis, Scotty, Bill and DJ would
fly to Nashville for a session at McGavock
St. and then return to San Antonio
for three more dates in Texas with Wanda Jackson and Hank Locklin, the last appearances that
make with any that could be considered their peers.
A country disc jockey now for more than a half-century, Bill Mack later worked for KDAV in Lubbock and went to WBAP in Fort Worth in 1969. In 1996
thirteen-year-old LeAnn Rimes launched her career with "Blue," a song written by Bill back in 1959. It hit #1 on the charts and he received a Grammy for it in 1997. Bill retired from WBAP in March of 2001
but today still hosts shows on Satellite radio.9
The auditorium received renovations in the '60s and the '70s would see acts at Memorial Auditorium such as Rush, Nazareth, Styx and Judas Priest.
The Auditorium has since
hosted, the Judds, Reba McEntire, Randy Travis, George Strait, Ricky Van Shelton and Garth Brooks
among others. These current stars' double sellouts were matched by a double sellout of the national tour of the famous Broadway show Cats.
Today, at 2700 seats, the Auditorium is a component of the Multi-Purpose Events Center (MPEC) in Wichita
Falls and still hosts variety of concerts and shows.2
The refineries in Wichita Falls have long since disappeared, but oil production and farming remain. Also important is Midwestern State University with a student body numbering approximately 6,000. Sheppard Air Force Base is still an important contributor to the economy.1