While many know the Cowtown Coliseum as the home of the Stockyards Championship Rodeo, this grand building has hosted several luminaries through the years. That may be testimony to the size and convenience of the arena, but in some cases performers cited great acoustics and the intimacy of the space even when the house was full.
If you’re interested in the complete chronology of events and shows hosted in the Coliseum, spend some time with our Timeline. Today, however in this first-of-three series, we want to focus on a small group of big stars, politicians and dignitaries that graced our stage.through the years, namely:
- Roy Acuff
- Jimmy Carter
- Enrico Caruso
- Doris Day
- Bob Hope
- Chief Quanah Parker
- Elvs Presley
- Theodore Roosevelt
- Bob Wills
In 1949, Roy Acuff was touring with his band The Smoky Mountain Boys when he sandwiched a Coliseum date between movie shoots, album recording and a European tour. Known as the “King of Country Music,” Acuff was performing regularly with the Grand Ole Opry and his big sound and high energy on fiddle and vocals was moving the genre from its early string band and “hoedown” format to the star singer-based format that helped make it internationally successful. In 1952 Hank Williams told Ralph Gleason, “He’s the biggest singer this music ever knew. You booked him and you didn’t worry about crowds. For drawing power in the South, it was Roy Acuff, then God.”
Acuff was certainly busy that year, coming off an unsuccessful run for governor of Tennessee, he starred with Lloyd Corrigan and William Frawley in the movie Home in San Antone and was promoting his new album Songs of the Smoky Mountains prior to joining Hank Williams on a European tour. His show was well-received at a time when country music was seeing a shift from Acuff’s Opry style and songs like The Tennessee Waltz to the popular rising of stars like Ernest Tubb (and hisTexas Troubadours who also played the Coliseum in 1949) and their brand of Texas honky tonk music.
Jimmy Carter was preparing for one of his final campaign speeches on the Livestock Exchange Building Porch in November, 1980, when he visited the Cowtown Coliseum. It had been a long day starting in Houston with visits to Brownsville, San Antonio, and Abilene before arriving at Meacham Field late in the afternoon, where his motorcade to The Stockyards waited.
The crowd greeting Jimmy Carter was enthusiastic, and looking for any ray of hope the President could offer as it had been a tough year for the country starting with the hostage crisis in Iran, price pressures from the subsequent oil embargo he had imposed and the rising tide of candidate Ronald Reagan. Following the presentation of a new Stetson hat by Miss Pioneer and a riveting introduction by Rep. Jim Wright, President Carter spoke and appealed for the audience to support four more years of Carter-Mondale. Then, nearly as fast as it has begun it was over as the President was whisked into his motorcade for two more stops in Milwaukee and Chicago before days end.
Enrico Caruso was reportedly troubled as he was ushered into the Cowtown Coliseum on a late October afternoon in 1920. Although he knew the Chicago Opera had performed here a year earlier, the world-famous tenor was none-too-impressed with cowtown, resisting the notion of “performing in a barn.” It had been a busy fall for the singer, having just concluded three days of Victor recording sessions at Trinity Church in Camden, New Jersey (which yielded his famous Petite Messe Solennelle: Crucifixus performance). Caruso was in the midst of a North American tour and preparing for a robust season with the New York Metropolitan Opera. He would not suffer the foolishness of the cowboys despite constant assurances from his entourage imploring him to at least visit the venue.
Legend has it, as Caruso toured the facility his rage began to bubble. Known for his histrionics (and why not, he was the world’s finest?) the tour was going from bad to worse when enough was enough and the tenor finally yelled out “I will not perform here!” Surprisingly, the acoustics of the arena so reverberated with his outburst that he was suddenly smitten with the space. Rage turned to rejoicing in the possibilities of singing in the Coliseum. The evening of October 19, Fort Worth got their Caruso, playing to a capacity house. Fans who saw Caruso that evening were some of the last to see him perform as the singer suffered an injury during Met rehearsals shortly afterwards and took ill during the winter. He passed the following July in his native Italy and was given a state funeral attended by thousands in Naples.
Stay tuned to this series as we reveal stories from many of the other stars to grace the doors of the Cowtown Coliseum in Parts Two & Three!