+ By Janice Hayes-Williams + Photos courtesy of Maryland State Archives
Tonight! Tonight! Tonight! was heard along the Eastern Shore, Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and as far west as Ohio. The disk jockey on the air was none other than Charles “Hoppy” Adams broadcasting from WANN-AM, Annapolis, MD. WANN was founded by Jewish immigrant Morris Blum in 1946; Bach to bebop was the original music format that changed to an R&B format, Savoy Swing Time. The reception was tepid. It was 1948 when Blum decided to change the format to “Race Music,” as it was called during Jim Crow segregation, targeted for black listeners. At that moment, WANN was intricately involved in creating the proving ground for musicians on the “Chitlin Circuit”… “Carr’s Beach.”
Carr’s Beach was owned and operated by Elizabeth Carr Smith, daughter of former slave Frederick Carr, who, after 50 years of service to the United States Naval Academy, purchased 114 acres of farmland along the end of Edgewood Road. Elizabeth was one of five children, the others named Minnie, Nancy, Florence, and William, all of whom became tenants in common at the death of their parents. By 1940, Minnie, Nancy and William sold their interest to Elizabeth and Florence.
Florence Sparrow developed her portion of the land into Sparrow’s Beach, added ball fields, a Ferris wheel, cabins, beauty and singing contests, musicians, and comedians.
Carr’s Beach served the day tripper, swimmers, and fisherman, and provided accommodations for boarding and home-cooked food. Both beaches were extremely popular for blacks, free from racial prejudice.
Nineteen forties Maryland was known as the “Sin Capital” of the East Coast, ripe with opportunity for all manner of venture capitalism. In 1943, the State of Maryland legalized gambling in Anne Arundel County with other counties soon to follow. While slot machines were exempt from sales tax, the state levied one-half a percent on receipts for an estimated $50 per week, per machine. The leading manufacturer of one-armed bandits was also located in Maryland.
The Numbers King of Baltimore, William L. “Little Willie” Adams, was drawn to the ambience of the Annapolis Neck Peninsula; there was black folk, black music, black food, waterfront property, and an opportunity to invest in the future. By 1944, Adams purchased land formerly owned by Frederick Carr at Chunks Point from the Eintracht Club. Adams built cottages and renamed the property Elktonia Beach.
At the death of Elizabeth Carr in 1948, her son Frederick Carr became the new proprietor of Carr’s Beach. With Elizabeth Carr-Smith out of the way, “Little Willie” Adams seized the moment to become intimately involved with Carr’s Beach and shared his vision for the future of the “Beach” with the new owner, Frederick Carr. Consensus led to the establishment of the Carr’s Beach Amusement Company, formed with $150,000 in venture capital from Maryland’s most notorious gangster, “Willie” Adams.
With this influx of capital, rides and amusements were constructed for children, the midway was lined with one-armed bandits, an open-air pavilion for entertainment was constructed called the Bandstand, and a nightclub named Club Bengazi was erected after a hot spot in Washington, D.C. aimed to draw high rollers and entertainers from D.C. to Carr’s Beach.
The Carr’s Beach Amusement Company hired Baltimore music promoter Rufus Mitchell as Beach Manager, who in turn hired WANN’s Charles “Hoppy” Adams, the stalwart promoter of music and products for blacks, as emcee for Sunday afternoon music revues. On Sunday afternoons, “Bandstand on the Beach” was broadcast live to blacks as far west as Ohio.
The perfect storm was brewing: legalized gambling; waterfront property on the Chesapeake Bay for leisure activities for blacks; the charismatic “Hoppy Adams” on WANN radio in constant contact with the black community; Rufus Mitchell, beach manager and music promoter with ties to the Royal Theater in Baltimore; the Howard Theater in D.C. keeping the entertainment coming; and “Little Willie” Adams, investor and owner of the “Sphinx Club,” the “Charm Center,” numerous Baltimore clubs, and part owner in Parks Sausage, was at the center of this political and economic engine never to be seen again until the opening of Maryland Live!
Entertainers arrived to Carr’s Beach with thousands of black patrons packing the pavilion: Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Cab Calloway, Billy Eckstine, Ray Charles, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, James Brown, Etta James, Jackie Wilson, Dina Washington, Otis Redding, Lionel Hampton, Ike and Tina Turner, Lloyd Price, Stevie Wonder, Aretha Franklin, The Temptations, The Supremes, James Berry, The Shirelles, The Drifters, The Coasters, Chuck Berry, and many more.
While the Carr family, investors, vendors, and record companies lined their pockets, so did the locals. Black teachers worked the beaches while out of school for the summer, teen youth parked cars, juke joints kept a steady flow of business, black bus companies appeared and, George Phelps of the Anne Arundel County Sheriff’s Office hired 225 black men as special deputy sheriffs to keep law and order during the summer season at its height.
Frank Zappa was the last entertainer to perform on the Bandstand during the summer of 1974 with 8,000 in attendance and 1,000 turned away. Forty years ago, Carr’s Beach closed their gates and the memories abound from the white community listening on Back Creek to the locals who loved the local band, the Van Dykes, who opened for numerous entertainers.
The last parcel of the Carr’s family estate was purchased by Adams in the name of his business partner Theo Rogers. The property known to the locals as Bembe Beach or the “Rogers Property” has been annexed to the City of Annapolis and is currently under development.
Carr’s Beach; where my mother, the late Virginia Phelps Hayes won numerous jitter-bug contests, employed by Elizabeth Carr while a college student 1939-40, where her youngest brother, my uncle, George Phelps, Jr. founded the Special Deputy Sheriffs, will forever be our family bedtime story, “Spinning Sand into Gold.”