Following the Ilitch family’s extensive 1987-’88 restoration of the famed Fox Theatre to its former glory, a tradition developed: each performer signs the backstage wall. From musical legends to headlining comedians, leading politicians and beyond, the Fox Theatre’s Signature Wall speaks to the rich legacy of the city and celebrated venue.
A masterpiece of theater design by architect C. Howard Crane, Detroit’s Fox Theatre has enthralled and entertained audiences since opening in 1928. At that time, the venue was designed to showcase a variety of entertainment, from Vaudeville to films with sound (“talkies”), chorus lines to Fox Movietone newsreels. Still one of the largest theaters in the world, the venue has shifted to showcase contemporary live concerts to suit the changing tastes of American audiences.
With $12.5 million and more than a year put into the project, the restored Fox was unveiled with a grand reopening on Nov. 19, 1988. A benefit show, “Curtains Up at the Fox,” featured performances by the Count Basie Orchestra (who first played at the venue in the 1930s), Harry Blackstone Jr., Hall & Oates, Smokey Robinson and Dave Coulier.
The theater’s renovation brought renewed interest from audiences and performers alike as big-name acts worldwide flocked to the stage. Artists who played the Fox in the late-1980s included Stevie Wonder, Gregg Allman, the B-52s, Chicago, Willie Nelson, Lou Reed and Cher. B.B. King was a consistent performer at the venue, appearing at least 20 times between the 1980s and 2000s, often with Bobby “Blue” Bland.
The Fox Theatre’s Signature Wall is riddled with signatures of musicians, actors, dancers, businesspeople and other celebrities. Expansive and crowded, it is a rich document of the theater’s remarkable history.
“Taking visitors on tours through the Signature Wall space and watching their surprised and amazed reactions is truly enriching,” says Sandy Richmond, General Manager of the Fox Theatre. “Where else can you view signatures of Jerry Seinfeld, Chris Rock, Stevie Wonder, Gladys Knight, Natalie Cole, Smokey Robinson — all within a few feet? How about Bill Gates, Bill Clinton, Al Gore and the moderators from two national debates? And then in the center, there’s Sammy Davis Jr., Liza Minnelli, and the very first signatory, Frank Sinatra,with Paul Simon using the ‘S’ in Sinatra to sign his name.”
Detroit’s Fox Theatre, consistently ranked among the best in the world, is a crown jewel of the city’s arts and entertainment heritage and will continue to entertain audiences for decades to come.
Step back in time through photos of the Fox Theatre’s Signature Wall below.