Fifth District Arts

The Metropolitan Performing Arts Center
Downtown Kansas City, Missouri

The Metropolitan Performing Arts Center has been a labor of loveMetropolitan Perfeorming Arts Center for Julia Irene Kauffman, a life-long supporter of the arts and one of Kansas City's great philanthropist. Through her efforts, The Kansas City metropolitan area will break ground on a world class performing arts center in the fall of 2006 with completion in 2008.Performing Arts Center

Sited on a dramatic hilltop, Moshe Safdie, internationally acclaimed architect, has oriented the Performing Arts Center to connect the traditional downtown of the city with the great outward spread of its metropolitan population. The forms themselves are musical allusions -- from the symbolic acoustical suggestions and mathematical precision of the domes to the soaring piano and stringed instrument reference of the steel-glass-and-cables lobby enclosure system.

The hall for musical concerts accommodates 1,600 persons in an ope, vineyard-seating format. Since it has none of the complex requirements of a theater, the building's dimensions and design are purely suited to one purpose alone; producing glorious music in a sublime setting of acoustical perfection.

The hall for opera, ballet and theater seats 1,800. Its larger dimensions are necessary to accommodate the staging, machinery, rehearsal spaces, offices, dressing rooms and the other backstage and wing requirements for putting on the most elaborate operas, musicals and ballets plus shows and theatrical presentations of every kind imaginable.

"Celebration Hall" is a smaller multiuse venue that accommodates 400 persons for a variety of purposes from more intimate artistic and entertainment performances of all kinds to banquets, parties, receptions, meetings, educational groups, guest speakers. It's a special place to celebrate all that the arts can be

The vast, virtually transparent lobby will commingle audiences from the different venues in a festive, vital atmosphere of shared communal activity, A radiant glow of sophisticated urbanity will beckon to all outside who are passing by or viewing from afar.
Because an entertainment experience begins when you leave home, parking is an integral part of the design. An ample garage is out of sight but directly linked to the Center above with easy drop-off and valet entrances, lush landscaping and an open ramp that pours light into the underground spaces.

More informaiton about Kansas City's Performing Arts Center can be found on their website at

Special thanks to Metropolitan Kansas City Performing Arts Center, Inc. for contributing to this page.

Jazz Royalty Counts and Dukes

After livestock, it was music that put Kansas City on the map. Count BasieDuring the jazz age, the Coon-Sanders Night Hawks kept radios humming into the wee hours from coast to coast, Bennie Moten's orchestra was a top seller for Victor Records,and Andy Kirk's band headlined the nation's finest ballrooms.

From the Blue Devils to Moten, from the Reno Club to Carnegie Hall, the career of William “Count” Basie parallels the struggles and victories of Kansas City jazz. Possessing topnotch musicians, industry advocates, and an innate sense of swing, his bluesy piano and enterprising leadership helped define an era of American jazz.Count Basie

Count Basie

William “Count” Basie first came to Kansas City with a touring stage show in the ‘20s and decided to stay, first joining the Blue Devils, then Bennie Moten’s orchestra. Following Moten’s death in 1935, Basie formed the Barons of Swing, and broadcasted from the Reno Club over station W9XBY. Within a year, the group became the Count Basie Orchestra, stepped into the national spotlight, and left Kansas City for greener pastures.

Andy Kirk and Mary Lou Williams

Mary Lou WilliamsA respected bandleader, Andy Kirk guided one of the most popular orchestras to call Kansas City home. Though Kirk’s band, the Clouds of Joy, only lasted through the ‘40s, it sold millions of records and was a major draw across the country. A big part of this success was composer, arranger, and pianist Mary Lou Williams. Revered for her meticulous craft and modernist touch, Williams was immortalized in the band’s 1936 recording, The Lady Who Swings the Band.Mary Lou Williams

Mary Lou Williams joined Andy Kirk’s band when she was only 19, and served as pianist, composer, and arranger for more than a decade. She also arranged and composed for Benny Goodman, Duke Ellington, and other top orchestras.

Hootie and the Bird

James Columbus "Jay" McShann was passing through Kansas City in 1936 on the way to visit an uncle in Omaha when he decided to stay. McShann established himself as one of Kansas City’s leading musicians and bandleaders. In 1938, he hired an eager 18-year-old alto player named Charlie Parker (third from left above). Though young in years, Parker was already a veteran of Kansas City’s jazz scene. With his mother working nights and his home at 1517 Olive just blocks from 12th Street, Parker had abandoned his schooling years earlier for a much different education in the city’s clubs.jay McShann

Nicknamed Yardbird for his fondness for chicken, Parker became a Kansas City veteran in just a few years, working with Buster Smith, Laurence Keyes, George E. Lee, Tommy Douglas, Harlan Leonard, and McShann, whom he left in 1942. Three years later he led what is considered the first authentic bebop session, recording five tunes for Savoy on November 26, 1945.

Jazz Royalty that played and were influenced by Kansas City

King Joe Oliver

Nat King Cole

Louis Armstrong

Duke Ellington

The First Lady of Song Ella Fitzgerald

The Prez Lester Young

Lady Day Billie Holiday

Special Thanks to UMKC and the "Paris of the Plains" online exhibition aa part of Kansas City's 150th Anninversary Celebration for contributing to this page.

The Silver Screen
Crawford to Cinderella

Kansas City spawned several stars of the silver screen, such as the Beery brothers and Alice Joyce. One of the most well known and unforgetable of these was Billie Cassin. After her family moved to Kansas City in 1917, Billie attended Scarritt elementary, St. Agnes Academy, and Stephens College in Columbia. But, more interested in the stage, she joined a traveling stage revue where she was eventually discovered. By the time she was 18, Billie had signed with MGM for $75 a week, worked her way up to feature parts, and changed her name to Joan Crawford. Over the next decade she became one of Hollywood’s top-10 stars, and established a career that would include over 80 films and an academy award for her role in Mildred Pierce.Joan Crawford

Kansas City’s own Harlean Carpentier (shown on far right with her mother and grandmother outside Union Station circa 1930) endured a turbulent life marked by failed marriages and her mother's overbearing presence. But, as Jean Harlow, she captured movie audiences with her sheer beauty and unmatched wit, setting the standard for Hollywood divas to follow. Harlow attended Miss Barstow’s School at Westport Road and 40th Street before moving to Los Angeles in 1927 with her first husband. Between 1930-1937, Harlow starred in over twenty films as a leading actress. Her untimely death in 1937 at the age of 26 shocked the nation.

In 1919, Walt Disney moved to Kansas City, working as an illustrator at the Pesman-Rubin Commercial Art Studio. Disney befriended another illustrator who started the same day, Ub Iwerks, and the two soon formed their own company, Iwerks-Disney Commercial Artists. The company filed for bankruptcy the following year, and Walt went to work for Kansas City Film Ad Company making animated commercials, with Ub joining him a few months later.Jean Harlow

Fascinated by animation, and convinced that he could improve on the current state of the art, Walt began producing his own work, making animated short subjects for the local Newman Theater—Newman Laugh-O-grams.

Laugh-O-gram started big, with offices, a staff of artists, the return of friend Ub Iwerks, and an $11,000 contract for a series of cartoons. But just months later, Walt’s client was bankrupt, the staff was gone, and he was forced to live in his office. It was during these desperate days—working and sleeping in the same room, barely scraping up enough money to eat—that Walt adopted and began feeding a small mouse that shared the Laugh-O-gram offices. This mouse, according to Walt, became the inspiration for Mickey Mouse.Steamboat Willie

Isadore Friz Freleng honed his drawing skills in the art studios of Kansas City alongside Walt Disney and U. B. Iwerks. Freleng taught himself to draw, gracing the pages of the The Herald, the yearbook of Westport High, with his illustrations from 1919 until his graduation in 1923. He worked with Walt Disney in Hollywood, and in 1931 began making cartoons for Warner Brothers, establishing a 30-year legacy at the company, helping to create memorable characters such as Bugs Bunny, Daffy Duck, and Porky Pig.

Special Thanks to UMKC and the "Paris of the Plains" online exhibition a part of Kansas City's 150th Anninversary Celebration for contributing to this page.