Support Us Button Widget

The Altria Theater’s history of classic concerts

Richmond’s iconic theater has seen legendary performers, turned swimming pools into storage, and still hosts memorable events.

a photo the mosque in Richmodn VA

“The Mosque” in 1994, just before becoming the Landmark Theater.

Photo via VCU’s online collection.

Table of Contents

The Altria Theater is one of Richmond’s most iconic venues, and for good reason — numerous superstar performers have graced its stage over its nearly 100-year history.

The Altria — for decades called “the Mosque” for its striking Moorish Revival architecture — has been hosting concerts since it opened on October 28, 1927. Since then, the Altria has attracted touring musicians and performers from all over the world.

Several early rock stars came to the Mosque in the 1950s — Bo Diddley played the venue 11 times throughout the 1950s and 1960s and Chuck Berry took the stage for a total of six performances.

Elvis’ 1956 trip to Richmond was documented by photographer Alfred Wertheimer. The photos, later featured by the Smithsonian, feature a 21-year-old Elvis eating at the Jefferson Hotel before performing to a packed theater. He would go on to play the Mosque five more times over the course of his career.

A decade later, the Mosque was still hosting legendary performers. The Jimi Hendrix Experience played the theater on Aug. 20, 1968. The Who took the stage in July of that year, and Buffalo Springfield opened for Canned Heat on Feb. 23, 1969.

When Ike and Tina Turner came by on Oct. 11, 1970, balcony tickets were $4.50. Their opening act was a young New Jersey band called Steel Mill, fronted by a 21-year-old Bruce Springsteen. The Boss would go on to play the Mosque two more times — once in 1974 and again in 1975.

In 1994, Frank Sinatra collapsed onstage at the Mosque during a performance of “My Way” and spent a night at MCV.

In 1995, it was renamed as the Landmark Theater. World-class performers continued to grace the stage, including B.B. King in May of 2000 — that show is on YouTube.

Renamed once more in 2015 to become the Altria Theater the quality of performers has remained world-class — Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle, and Bob Dylan all played the theater in 2023.

We want to know: What are your favorite memories of the Altria? Share your classic concert stories.

The Mosque's marquee in 1994, a year before becoming the Landmark Theater.

The Mosque’s marquee in July, 1994.

Photo via VCU Library’s online collection

Your concert memories

After we asked our readers for their favorite memories of the Alria, we received a slew of concert stories from the 1950s to the 2020s. Here are just a few of those responses.

“Seeing Patti LaBelle, Gerald Levert, and Gladys Knight just a name a few iconic artist from the R&B genre” – Kenneth M.

“In the spring of 1957 I came down to Richmond with my high school orchestra from Washington-Lee High School in Arlington and we played in the All state orchestra at ‘the Mosque’” – Ben C.

“On my 25th birthday I had front row seats for Stevie Ray Vaughan for the best concert I’ve ever seen in my life.” – JJ M.

“Tori Amos with a full band rocking the house Summer of 1998!” – Brad P.

“Little Feat, Chick Corea and Return to Forever, Joan Baez” – Tim M.

“Pat Benatar in 1982, I think” – Paula H.

“River dance with my daughter and years later with my granddaughter” – Pauline R.

“Prince in the early 2000s” – Gregg K.

“My father worked for the City of Richmond in 1956. His office was in the theater building, and during lunch he would sometimes go into the theater and play the amazing organ that was there. A young performer came in during lunch to set up and rehearse before his concert that evening, and asked my father to show him how to play the organ and work the pedals. We never heard this story while we were growing up. A family friend came to visit my father during his last illness. Conversation turned to the ‘good old days,’ and my father said, ‘I taught Elvis to play the organ on the stage at the Mosque.’ We thought he was imagining things, then we found out that Elvis played there in 1956, so they were both there at the same time. It could have happened. I like to think of a young Elvis being humble and polite to the locals and to his elders — and learning about music in Richmond!” — Becki J.

More from RICtoday
The James A. Buzzard River Education Center will serve thousands of students each year.
Testing has shown significant levels of E. coli in river water
The history of the Gothic building on the bank of the James
The annual Duke’s Mayo event features 330 restaurants across six cities competing for the Golden Tomato Award.
Richmond is navigable by bike even for casual two-wheel warriors
Can you decode what River City locations these are?
The city’s Neighborhood Clean-Up Program takes place across the city in two cycles per year.
Community organizations working on the front lines of climate change can apply for the Neighborhood Climate Resilience Grant Program and receive funds to support their mission.
Thirsty? We’ve rounded up a few local drink deals and imagined how we would sip our way through our perfect local beverage day in Richmond.
The county will host a five-day grand opening celebration for Taylor Farm Park in Sandston