Linda Richardson, 73, president of the Uptown Entertainment & Development Corp., who for years led efforts to restore the landmark North Philadelphia theater, died Monday, Nov. 2, from a heart attack at Virtua Hospital in Mount Holly, N.J.
A resident of Burlington, N.J., Ms. Richardson was active in Philadelphia and Pennsylvania politics. In that spirit, her family and friends went forward with a “Get Out the Vote” event she had planned for Nov. 3 outside the Uptown Theater on North Broad Street.
“We were outside all day, providing informational materials to those who had not voted and also providing boxed lunches with sandwiches and bottles of water,” said Cynthia Waters-Tynes, Ms. Richardson’s sister.
Linda Richardson was known for advocating the revitalization of the Uptown, the art-deco theater that opened in 1929 as a lavish movie house on North Broad Street near West Dauphin Street.
Over the decades, as the neighborhood changed to predominantly Black, the Uptown became a concert hall featuring mostly African American entertainers.
From the 1950s until it closed in 1978, it was comparable to Harlem’s Apollo Theater. Those who performed at the Uptown included Aretha Franklin, the Supremes, the Jackson Five, and Daryl Hall, later of Hall & Oates, who won a talent contest while a student at Temple University.
After it closed, the theater fell into disrepair. Designed by the architect Louis Magazine, the Uptown was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982.
The Philadelphia Folklore Project, on whose board Ms. Richardson sat, called her a visionary who saw the restoration of the theater as part of a “holistic revitalization” of the neighborhood.
“In addition to preserving the place-based history of the venue, Richardson’s vision included creating a home for independent artists to take control of their careers and housing a community driven FM radio station."
When the marquee lights were turned on last year on the 90th anniversary of the Uptown’s opening, Ms. Richardson spoke of that broader purpose.
“We appreciate the past and celebrate the past, but we also want to make sure that young people have the opportunity to thrive and engage in the 21st-century economy and to be able to be productive citizens in our society,” she said in a report by WHYY.
The Uptown Entertainment and Development Center said she helped raise $5 million for the project since the corporation formed in 1995. In recent years, family members said, Ms. Richardson oversaw stabilizing the structure and repairing its roof.
There is still much more work to be done to fully restore the theater.
Linda Gayle Waters Richardson was born in 1946 to Lester and Bertha Waters, the eldest of seven children initially raised in North Philadelphia, near 17th and West Norris Streets.
Later her family moved to West Philadelphia. She graduated from Overbrook High School in 1964 and married Donald Richardson in 1965. They had two children.
She earned an associate’s degree in 1967 from what is now the University of the Arts School of Dance.
She soon became involved with a North Philadelphia theater group, the Black Butterfly, and was a performer, fund-raiser and wardrobe designer.
But the 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. took Ms. Richardson from the performing arts to working for social justice, Waters-Tynes said.
In interviews, Ms. Richardson said she had been rehearsing with a theater group when the actors heard a loud commotion outside from a crowd outraged about King, she told PhillyVoice.
“That was pivotal for her,” Waters-Tynes said. Ms. Richardson joined civil rights groups and also opposed the Vietnam War.
She began working with the People’s Coalition for Peace and Justice, and later the People’s Fund, a precursor to the Bread and Roses Community Fund.
Her first marriage ended in divorce. In 1982, she married Yahya Abdul Karim. The couple had two biological children and adopted two children.
“Our family is a big-tent family,” Aissia Richardson said of their blended family after her mother married Karim, who is now deceased.
She said her mother never distinguished between her biological and adopted children.
“That taught us how to be accepting of people into our lives and to be helpers," Aissia Richardson said. "That love she extended to her children, was extended to young people in the community. That was part of what led her to create the Uptown Youth Got Talent program, to mentor young people.”
Besides the Philadelphia Folklore Project, Ms. Richardson served on the boards of the African American Museum of Philadelphia and the American Ethical Union. She was also a member of the Philadelphia Ethical Society’s Ending Racism Task Force.
“We’ve gotten condolences from as far as the Philippines and as far as Ghana,” Aissia Richardson said. “Her reach was beyond Philadelphia. It was an international reach.”
In addition to her daughter and sister, Ms. Richardson is survived by five other children: daughters MonifaYoung, Mariama Wood, and Keshia Jones; sons Tarik Richardson and Gerald Covert; 12 grandchildren; four other sisters; one brother and a host of other relatives and friends.
A private family service was held Nov. 8.