Brooklyn Academy of Music

Montague Street Brooklynundefined

Brooklyn Historical Society
Written By Brooklyn Historical Society

The Brooklyn Historical Society is a museum, library and educational center dedicated to encouraging the exploration and appreciation of Brooklyn's diverse peoples and cultures both past and present.

The Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM) is one of America's oldest cultural institutions. It was first located on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights but reopened in the current location on Lafayette Avenue when the original building burned down in 1903. Since its first performance in 1861, BAM has served the Brooklyn community by bringing together people from all backgrounds and hosting the best and brightest in literature, dance, music, and social activism.

In 1863, social reformer, abolitionist, orator, writer, and statesman Frederick Douglass visited BAM. As the Civil War raged on, a packed audience came to hear his words of wisdom. His fiery speech was entitled, “What shall be done with the Negro?”

In it, Douglass argued that black men had been“regarded only as the means of putting money in the white man’s pocket, like a bale of cotton, but hereafter he must be regarded as a man.” He argued that the only just solution was for African Americans to become full and free American citizens, with all of the rights and privileges enjoyed by whites. Often interrupted by applause, his speech was very well received.

Douglass and other abolitionists, including James W.C. Pennington, believed that African Americans would be central to a Union Army victory, despite the fact that they were initially banned from serving. He concluded his speech by praising the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the first black regiment raised in the North, and hoped to see them march down Manhattan’s Broadway to the music of “Old John Brown.”

Since the days of Frederick Douglass, BAM has hosted a wide variety of other memorable performances. Historical figures who visited here include Booker T. Washington and Mark Twain. Shakespearean actor Edwin Booth, brother of Lincoln assassin John Wilkes Booth, gave his final performance as Hamlet at BAM. Enrico Caruso, Sarah Bernhardt, Isadora Duncan and Arturo Toscanini have all graced the stage here over the years. More recently, Madonna, Philip Glass, and Laurie Anderson have performed here. The band, Alice in Chains, recorded their "Unplugged" album at the historic venue, and Jimmy Kimmel has recorded his "Jimmy Kimmel Live!"show here.

Cover photo credit: @josiegs1 via Instagram

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