Friends of Music Hall was founded in 1987 as The Society for the Preservation of Music Hall (SPMH) to “provide ongoing financial and volunteer support toward maintaining and improving the Music Hall facilities, internally and externally.”
The name change occurred in 2019, following the revitalization of Cincinnati Music Hall - a 145-million dollar "redo" of the structure. The work occurred over 18 months and, while maintaining the historic nature and character, renovated the auditorium, restored Corbett Tower, created new rooms from unused space and opened the front of the structure to the community. Our organization decided to follow suit - keep the mission and vision of preservation so vital to our core while embracing a strategy of engaging more and more individuals to join us and celebrate this historic icon.
In the mid 1980s, city planners, developers and private interests sought to shore up a sagging downtown, one bereft of nightlife. They moved beyond talk and started planning, funding a study on the impact of an entertainment district with what they called a “legitimate, subsidized” performing arts theater. This, they insisted, would give people a reason to live, work and play downtown.
But Cincinnati had legitimate theater venues! The Taft and Emery Auditoriums were downtown, and Music Hall, a few short blocks north of the business district. Was the city writing off historic Music Hall, even though they owned the building?
The emphasis on downtown development that would include a theater concerned Mrs. Corbett. Music Hall had been fully renovated in a multi-year effort nearly 15 years earlier and Ralph & Patricia Corbett funded much of the work. Further, it was evident to her that the wear and tear of hall rentals, symphony patrons and, yes, rock concert attendees was taking a toll on their beloved icon.
If the city built a brand new performing arts theater, who would speak up and care for beautiful, historic Music Hall?
The Need to Support Music Hall
Other individuals who loved Music Hall could also see the needs piling up.
Joyce VanWye, subscription manager for the Cincinnati Opera, was in Music Hall nearly daily. She would take customers’ orders and check out the seats to make sure they’d be happy. Starting in the mid 1980s, she could see some things needed attention and realized Music Hall would need some help.
“I thought the symphony has help, the ballet has help, the opera has help, I think that this building needs some help.”
Jean Reis, executive director of the Corbett Foundation, was often at Music Hall for meetings. During one of those visits, Mrs. VanWye stopped her and presented her idea. “Jean, you and I should get together and talk. I’d like to talk about Music Hall. And, actually, from that day forward, we talked after work every single day.”
Talk Leads to Action
Not long after that, Jean Reis and Joyce VanWye met with Louise Nippert and Norma Petersen to create a group, The Society for the Preservation of Music Hall, that would ensure Music Hall remained a premier cultural center of the region, and as a National Historic Landmark of international significance.
Through private and public donations, the group immediately began work on much needed replacements.
New carpeting was installed on all floors; Springer Auditorium received new draperies to grace the stage; and restrooms and adjoining areas were given a needed update with paint and wall coverings.
One very dark night, while her husband got the car, Louise Nippert worried about his safety and wondered if exterior lighting would help Music Hall. The Nipperts provided the idea and seed money. Joyce VanWye sought and received the remaining funds – including a generous grant from the Mayersons – and lighting was installed.
By September of 1992, the organization was designated the status of a 501(c)(3) federal nonprofit.
Over the years, dedicated individuals and arts supporters have understood the importance of protecting and encouraging the Arts in our Community. Many have come forward in this pursuit to support Music Hall.
While the structure remains the physical icon of Cincinnati’s artistic heritage, the building encompasses much more – a welcoming place for everyone in our city serving myriad of purpose, in meetings, banquets, weddings, dances, and conventions. Maintaining this symbol of arts, community and forum is paramount.
Fulfilling Our Mission
Since its inception, Friends of Music Hall has funded a multitude of projects to meet its mission. While we have always provided tours of Music Hall, the organization has invested in training, resources, and a tour coordinator.
Most recently, our organization underwrote the restoration of the finials on the gables of Music Hall - adornment that expresses the structure's Gothic design. This also included replacing the three spikes on the lyre, which is in front of the middle window of Corbett Tower.
During Music Hall's revitalization in 2016-2017, FMH contributed over 5-million dollars, primarily funding the restoration of Corbett Tower.
Watch a video that illustrates the renovations funded by Friends of Music Hall (formerly SPMH).
Fulfilling Our Mission, continued
Friends of Music Hall also owns the Albee Mighty Wurlitzer Theatre Organ, and, with the help of an anonymous donor, funded the refurbishment and installation organ in the Music Hall Ballroom.
As preservation is key, we coordinated the effort to restore the art-carved panels from the original Hook & Hastings organ. These beautiful panels are on display in the Taft Suite in Music Hall, and can be seen during tours. Board member and historian/preservationist Thea Tjepkema drives many of our preservation efforts in Music Hall. Read Cincinnati Magazine's story about Thea and her work.
These and many other projects were completed—all while preserving Music Hall history to share with our community.
Your gift to Friends of Music Hall helps keep Music Hall in top shape. Review a list showing how Friends of Music Hall has applied your donations in support of Music Hall.
Help preserve Music Hall for generations to come. Make your donation to Friends of Music Hall now!
Statement in Support of Black Lives Matter! from the Friends of Music Hall – June 3, 2020
The Friends of Music Hall (formerly called the Society for the Preservation of Music Hall but renamed a year ago to reflect inclusive outreach and service to the citizens of Greater Cincinnati) is committed to all who today speak out against systemic racism, racial injustice, and hate. We support protests, especially artistic expression as reflected in the efforts of Music Hall’s resident companies to promote understanding, unity, meaningful change and healing. We grieve the loss of Black lives and injustice perpetrated on them. We are proud to represent a venue for all in our community, and we are committed to conversations and actions that will move everyone forward from this troubled moment in time.