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Karaoke, Integration and Other Topics at Knoxville History Project Luncheon 
For a brief moment at Tuesday’s Knoxville History Project luncheon, the topic at hand was Mayor Madeline Rogero’s karaoke skills. 

It was her sometime duet partner and the event’s honoree Bob Booker who broached the subject from the stage where he was being interviewed by KHP executive director Jack Neely. 

Paul James, Mayor Rogero, Bob Booker and Jack Neely

When Neely asked about Booker’s fondness for karaoke, the 83-year-old author and historian grinned mischievously and threw a nod to Mayor Rogero as well as Marie Owen, proprietress of Marie’s Old Time Tavern, where Mayor Rogero and Booker have shared a mic. Booker’s tastes lean toward classic crooners like Frank Sinatra. 

Neely and Booker

The set for Neely’s interview with Booker was provided by Mid-Modern Collective furniture store, seemingly direct from a mid-‘60s Lane Furniture catalog and appropriately timestamped to Booker’s role in local actions during the Civil Rights movement. Booker, fellow Knoxville College students and others held a number of sit-ins and protests of Knoxville’s segregated lunch counters and theaters, particularly the S&W Cafeteria and Tennessee Theatre, both located on Gay Street. 

Booker recalled that the attitude of then-Mayor John Duncan (father of U.S. Congressional Representative John J. Duncan, Jr.) helped Knoxville’s Civil Rights protests proceed in relative peace as compared to those happening in other Southern cities. Booker said Mayor Duncan received some grief about his perceived laxity by a mayor from another city and recounted the gist of the conversation.

“'Are you not a Southern mayor?’ the other Southern mayor asked Duncan. ‘Yes,’ he said, ‘but I don’t want things to go in Knoxville like they’ve gone in your city.’” 

The Tennessee Theatre opened to black customers in 1964. Consider, then, that the Knoxville Civic Coliseum and Auditorium had opened on an integrated basis in 1961. Booker recalled how excited he and his friends were to attend dances at the brand-new Coliseum and have a new destination for concerts besides the old standby, the Jacob Building at Chilhowee Park. 

As fulfilling as the presentation and interview was to those present, the history luncheon provided only a slice of the Knoxville history that has been—and will be—documented by Bob Booker, Jack Neely, and many authors and historians seated in the room.  

Bob Booker and Jack Neely

For more information about KHP and its projects, including the art wraps on downtown utility boxes and the latest publication on Knoxville’s musical history, visit KnoxvilleHistoryProject.org

Posted by ptravis On 19 April, 2018 at 1:30 PM