Malcolm Brown Auditorium History
Before 1976, our community had no cultural or civic facility. We are indebted today to the visionaries of the past who saw to it that that need was fulfilled. Visionaries, such as Malcolm E. Brown, the superintendent, school board members and community leaders at that time made a bold decision that would impact future generations in the pursuit of excellence in the cultural arts. When this idea of an auditorium was born, Malcolm Brown and a committee came together to search for just the right design. Serving on that committee with Mr. Brown was Bill Campbell (school board chairman at that time, who is now deceased) and Ezra Bridges (deceased). Other committee members were Helen Gilliatt, Anita Brown, and Libba Minus. They looked at many facilities and found one in Scottsdale, AZ, that came close to fitting the bill. That auditorium had turntables that rotated seating into the large auditorium or could be closed and used for smaller venues. Imagine that!! The architecture firm of Holland & Associates was given the task of designing the new Shelby building and contracts were signed April 15, 1974, to start construction in June of that year. 2 years later and just over $2 million, it was completed with the dedication on August 21, 1976. The naming of the auditorium came from a ground swell of the faculty and staff and Principal Dan Moore planted that seed for the board to approve.
During World War II, 2nd LT. Malcolm Brown flew B-17 bombers. He brought back his badly damaged B-17 from a mission to Germany where he made a skillful one engine landing in a small English field probably saving the lives of his crewmen. On another mission, after being promoted to Captain, he was a lead Crew Pilot and led the entire 8th Air Force on a mission to Augsburg, Germany. For many soldiers fighting during the war, a sign of hope was seeing the white cliffs of Dover on the English Channel. Mr. Brown said that he knew he was safe and home free when he saw those chalky cliffs. In the midst of the fighting, two American songwriters looked ahead to better days when the bombers would be replaced by bluebirds and created one of the most touching songs to come out of World War II. “The White Cliff of Dover” went on to become Malcolm Brown’s favorite song. One of Malcolm Brown’s favorite musicals was The Sound of Music. It was produced in 1978, directed by Nancy Weems, vocal direction by Helen Krause, orchestra direction by Homer Haworth and choreography by Frances Welch. “The Sound of Music” was a hit with sellout crowds, which proved the need for this size of a facility.
The Shelby City School system felt it was a necessity to have someone in charge of the auditorium so they created an actual position to run it on a daily basis, year round. One of the auditorium directors, who served during Malcolm Brown’s tenure, was Richard Dedmon. He worked tirelessly with the technical crew for 8 years, producing great shows with Nancy Weems. He, along with his wife, Sandy, wrote a very successful children’s musical called “Cramp the Donkey.” Upon his death, a scholarship fund was created in his memory and has been given to a technical theatre student every year since.
The auditorium directors:
From time to time, individuals have assisted with the running of the auditorium when we were between full-time auditorium managers. Two notable individuals who worked in this capacity were:
There always seemed to be someone watching over Brown Auditorium.
The rest is history and a mighty history it is! As the Associate Superintendent, Hale Bryson, said “It was a unique point in time.” This auditorium is more than just a building. It has provided performance space for school, amateur, community, college and professional groups. It is a classroom of enormous size and potential. 40 years of music, drama, comedy, set & costume construction, beautiful artwork in the lobby’s gallery, it has served this school and community well. “Where there is no vision the people perish. Vision without the courage for action is useless.” These people were true visionaries and their gift keeps on giving daily to the arts. They were courageous in their vision and we are the recipients of that legacy.