The Lyric Theatre: Connecting past + present through art

A building at the corner of two streets with the word Lyric on it.

The Lyric Theatre is located at the corner of East Third + Elm Tree Lane. | Photo by the LEXtoday team

Table of Contents

The Lyric Theatre & Cultural Arts Center is hosting a variety of events in honor of Black History Month, a time that will be spent celebrating the roots + culture surrounding the East End staple. We’re taking a look back at who graced the stage decades ago + sharing the mission moving forward.

An black and white photograph from the outside of a theatre

A photo from a Count Basie show in the early days of The Lyric. | Photo by Lexington Herald-Leader


1948 — At a time when segregation forced people of different races apart, the builders of The Lyric Theatre opened it with the intention of open seating. Meaning people of color didn’t have to use the back door or sit in the balconies — everyone sat together. The venue became a movie house + entertainment centerpiece in the heart of Lexington’s Black community.

1950s — The lively musical home on the corner of Third + Deweese — now Elm Tree — became the spot for jazz, soul, and R&B. Lexington played host to the likes of Ray Charles, B.B. King, and Mercer Ellington.

Fun fact: B.B. King’s daughter Claudette played at The Lyric last October.

1963 — At the peak of the Civil Rights Movement, The Lyric Theatre closed + would remain vacant until 2010 when the city purchased it. “I think that the thing with the arts, it can both challenge and bring together,” said current Executive Director Whit Whitaker.

A big quilt hanging on a wall

The African American History Museum inside The Lyric Theatre | photo by the LEXtoday team

Current Day

The mission of The Lyric Theatre is to promote, present, and celebrate diverse cultures used in cultural arts to entertain and educate. Being a nonprofit, the space relies heavily on event + space rentals, ticket sales, and donations.

The space is also home to an African American History Museum as well as a rotating art gallery. It hosts Woodsong’s Old-Time Radio Hour every Monday and new concerts are added often. Whit said the shows are priced moderately, anywhere from free-$35, for inclusivity + accessibility. Click here to see a piece of Lexington history.

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