A History of Classics
Sarasota Concert Association
For the past 75 years, the Sarasota Concert Association has brought celebrated artists from around the world to our region. The organization was launched in 1938 by members of the Women’s Club who wanted to bring affordable, world-class concerts to Sarasota. We’ve stayed true to that mission ever since. By remaining an all-volunteer group, SCA continues to showcase the world’s greatest performers at a relatively low admission price.
The first 50 years
The Sarasota Concert Association was organized in 1938 as a “Community Concert Association,” but was able to present only two seasons, 1938-39 and 1939-40, before concerts were suspended during World War II. It was not until November 1946 that the Chamber of Commerce Civic Affairs Committee urged that Community Concerts be revived. Mrs. Dudley Palmer was elected president and 1,500 memberships were sold, providing funds to present the first post-war series. The concerts were of such interest that meeting dates all over the city were changed rather than interfere with scheduled concerts.
The second post-war season was sold out during its first week of sales, and Helen Jepson was scheduled to perform the first concert. An unexpected problem arose when the Musicians’ Union blacklisted the city-owned auditorium because Sarasota did not have a contract for union members to use city facilities. How odd it must have seemed that the Baltimore Symphony was allowed to play in the auditorium, but Miss Jepson could not appear there. The Ringling Circus generously offered to erect a tent for the performance on a site one block east of the courthouse on Ringling Boulevard, but because of rains and poor drainage these plans had to be canceled. The concert was ultimately held in the American Legion Coliseum, now a Walgreen’s drugstore, and the boxing ring used for regular weekly fights became the stage.
The newspapers took full pictorial advantage of this unique situation and Miss Jepson enjoyed getting into the spirit. There were newspaper photos of her climbing through the ropes and a shot of her in boxing gloves punching a boxer while her accompanist looked on in horrified astonishment.
Since the blacklisting was still not settled at the beginning of the third season, concerts were presented at the Golf Street Auditorium, which held only 900 people. In December the Union’s ban was lifted and concerts were returned to the Exhibition Hall, which was built by [the] WPA in the thirties. This was not ideal, for the acoustics were poor and seating uncomfortable. Patrons tried to arrive early to find the folding chairs which were uncomfortable, rather than the ones that were very uncomfortable, or worse yet, sit in the balcony on benches without backs.
It was necessary for the board of directors in the early years to engage in campaigns to sell season tickets to the community. There were sales teams with captains and sergeants, and door-to-door efforts. If the total budget for artists was under $10,000, it was an advantage, for the artists would give a discount to the Association.
For many years, on concert days, Pappy Saunders could be seen combing the community for appropriate greens and flowers to appropriately decorate the stage. His beautiful arrangements provided a nice touch at no cost to the Association.
In 1970 when the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall was opened, the Association moved its concerts there. This finally gave the Association a worthy home and 500 more available seats.
Problems of any sort sometimes arose. Jussi Björling was booked twice and canceled twice. The Indianapolis Symphony went on strike and canceled. The Symphony was replaced by two fine artists, Jerome Hines who did a scene from Boris Godunov in costume, and the very young violinist Itzhak Perlman. Robert Merrill and Richard Tucker were scheduled for a joint concert, and before this could take place, Mr. Tucker died. Robert Merrill agreed to appear as a soloist. Some of our subscribers who did not get the word about Mr. Tucker’s death were quite irate that we could schedule a Merrill-Tucker concert, and then change it!
A major symphony orchestra is included in each season, and our audiences have enjoyed the finest orchestras for North America and around the world. The Minnesota Orchestra has been one of the most popular with our audiences, and the most frequently presented.
In 1990, the board decided to become independent from [Columbia Artists] Community Concerts and the Sarasota Concert Association, Inc. was formed. Our 1991-92 Season was our first as an independent presenter. Artists from around the world and the United States approach us to appear here; we literally have access to thousands of performers instead of a few dozen.
As we celebrate 75 years, we thank our loyal patrons and subscribers and will continue to offer the finest available artists and ensembles to this region.
Contributors: (1995) Rolo Simonds, Carl Werner, Herman Baar, Margaret Smith, Donald Morrison, Robert Kimbrough and Emily Kimbrough.
The Sarasota Concert Association box office is open M-F, 10 am to 4 pm