Photographs in the Grand Emporium Collection are now available in the UMKC Digital Special Collections.
The collection features many publicity photos and photos of live performances of the many performers who played at this iconic Kansas City venue.
In 1979, Roger Naber started booking bands on the side while maintaining a day job for the postal service in Kansas City. Attracting marquee performers to local venues such as the Lone Star, the Uptown Theater, the National Guard Armory, Harling’s Upstairs and King Henry’s Feast (later known as Parody Hall), he built a rapport with the music world and a reputation as a hardworking promoter. In 1980, he co-founded the Kansas City Blues Society, galvanizing the local music scene during twelve years as the organization’s president. His tenacity made him one of Kansas City’s most respected promoters, but it was his genuine affinity for musicians that brought success to places like the Grand Emporium.
Naber and business partner George Myers bought the Grand Emporium in July 1985, transforming the erstwhile restaurant into a premier destination for live music. From show flyers doubling as wallpaper to a jukebox stocked with old 45s to the makeshift kitchen where “Amazing” Grace Harris served barbecue and soul food, the intimate midtown barroom offered common ground for patron and performer. It was here musicians walked the bar during a guitar solo or took the show outside to Main Street for a song; big name stars were known to drop by for a slice of local flavor after playing bigger, more impersonal area venues; and local legends, such as musician and dancer Speedy Huggins, were fixtures on the scene, cutting up the dance floor and sitting in with bands.
Under the auspices of Naber, Myers (who died in 1998) and Herb Palmer (who joined the business in 1989), the reputed nightclub hosted some 7,400 shows and consistently earned top honors locally and nationally, including “Best Blues Club In America” in 1989 and 1991 from the Blues Foundation in Memphis. In addition, the Foundation has recognized Naber individually on multiple occasions. Though its calling card remained the blues, the Grand Emporium peppered the calendar with everything from local bands to world beats, often boasting live music seven nights a week.
The Grand Emporium was sold in 2004 amid much fanfare, culminating with a Memorial Day blowout. Naber remained active as a promoter, from area concerts to music cruises with exotic ports of call. In 2002, he launched the Legendary Rhythm And Blues Cruise, reviving a concept Myers spearheaded in the 1990s under a similar name – the Ultimate Rhythm And Blues Cruise.
More information on this archival collection can be found on the Grand Emporium Collection page.