The R. Don Cowan Fine and Performing Arts Center at The University of Texas at Tyler is in its 21st season of bringing headline entertainers and national newsmakers to Tyler.
The center opened in 1997 with a concert by pianist Marvin Hamlisch and ended its 20th season this spring with a performance by pop and soul star Patti LaBelle.
“In between those amazing artists, Tyler and the East Texas region have seen incredible dance, musicians from country to classical, Broadway classics, cirques, illusionists, comedians and grand theatrical productions,” Susan Thomae-Morphew, the center’s longtime director, said.
Thomae-Morphew recently shared her thoughts on some of the standout moments of the first 29 years.
PRESIDENT GEORGE H.W. BUSH
President George H.W. Bush spoke in November 2006
“It was a great honor to present the 41st president of the United States of America in the UT Tyler Distinguished Lecture Series’ 25th year,” she said. “UT Tyler hosted an elegant fundraising dinner prior to the lecture to support scholarships. Many personal friends of the president are Tylerites so the evening was exceptional.
“He was the first former U.S. president to speak in the series only to be followed a few years later by his son, President George W. Bush.”
Legendary blues artist B.B. King performed in June 2007
“B.B. King is the only artist who invited a few patrons to visit him on his bus after his performance,” she said. “One lucky young man who was having his 14th birthday celebration got to meet the King of the Blues.
“That same young man just graduated from the Steinhardt School’s Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions at NYU. We love to give opportunities to inspire young people and then see where they go and what they do.”
BLUE MAN GROUP
Blue Man Group performed in February of 2012 and May 2013.
“The high-octane theatrical experience is a phenomenon and has followers who see it again and again and keep the count,” she said. “It sold out three performances the first year so we brought it for three more the next season. Patrons escape the ordinary and surround themselves in an explosion of comedy, music and technology.”
Jeff Foxworthy did stand-up routines in September 2006 and October 2012.
“Patrons were in line for more than four hours on a Saturday to buy tickets (the first time they went on sale), Thomae-Morphew said. “He was great with the audience, wonderful with our Circle (subscriber level) members and left the stage exhausted saying, ‘Your audience is amazing. … I’m going to tell all my friends about Tyler, Texas!’ He loved us, and we loved him. So, we brought him back for more fun 6 years later.”
Ringo Starr and his all-star band of rockers performed in February 2015
“Tyler’s first Beatle appearance took place right here at the UT Tyler Cowan Center!” she said. “Three very generous sponsors made this happen. It (concert) was such a success, we added (contributors) to the Performance Excellence Endowment.”
For a list of performances set for this year, go to cowancenter.org.
MOMENTS TO REMEMBER
Thomae-Morphew lists the following among her other favorite moments during the first 20 years.
… “The musical ‘Hairspray’ sold out in one and a half hours during public sales.”
… “A hurricane canceled a show, a tornado put a show on pause and an ice storm sent a Broadway show on its way, but it came back two weeks later!”
… “B.B. King was hospitalized the week he was to appear here, but he came back later to a sold-out, grateful crowd.”
… “Joshua Bell got stuck in a snow storm on the East Coast and arrived an hour and a half late. Cowan patrons waited and rejoiced!”
… “Gregory Hines performed in November 2002 and died nine months later. Our patrons were lucky to have the opportunity to see him perform - especially the nearly 100 audience member dancers who shared the stage with him!”
… “Larry Hagman (who was accompanied by his ‘Dallas’ co-star Linda Gray) performed his last public appearance at the Cowan Center in November of 2012. He died only 11 days later.”
Among the many stars and Broadway shows that have graced the stage at the Cowan Center are: Gladys Knight, Jay Leno, Lyle Lovett, Bernadette Peters, Itzhak Perlman, Clint Black, Vince Gill, Beach Boys, Harvey Korman and Tim Conway.
Also Dance Theatre of Harlem, Jerry Seinfeld, and Broadway shows “The Color Purple,” “Miss Saigon,” “The Producers,” “Movin’ Out,” “Dirty Rotten Scoundrels” and “Mamma Mia!”