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Old Pennsylvania Avenue lives on in a photo book

Rosa Pryor-Trusty remembers the golden years of Pennsylvania Avenue, a proud era when the West Baltimore corridor was renowned for great entertainment, and good times.

"I was practically raised on the Avenue," says Pryor-Trusty, 59, a popular entertainment columnist with the Baltimore Afro-American, where she is known as "Rambling Rose." "In the good days, it was a prosperous, positive place." Eager to preserve the Avenue's rich history, and the African-American community that helped it thrive, she began collecting photographs and memorabilia for a book.

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But the fledging project sat for more than a decade, until fate intervened.

Tonya Taliaferro, a young writer and historian, was also trying to document the city's musical and cultural heritage. Last year, she drafted a book proposal and secured a publisher, but her research kept turning up the same name.

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"Everybody was telling me I needed to talk to Miss Rosa," says Taliaferro, 30. "It was a divine connection, and we joined forces."

The result is the recently released African American Entertainment in Baltimore, which the women co-authored.

It's the latest in the "Black America Series" from Arcadia Publishing, a South Carolina-based producer of local- and regional-interest books.

Similar to a photo diary, brimming with beautiful black-and-white images that fill most of its 128 pages, African American Entertainment chronicles a half-century of performing and social traditions, beginning around 1930. The book celebrates glittering stars and everyday folks: from native son Cab Calloway to the revelers dressed to the nines who packed sizzling Avenue hotspots named the Sphinx Club, Bamboo Lounge, Gamby's and Wonderland.

Readers can once again step inside the famous Royal Theater, which drew Ethel Waters, Nat King Cole, James Brown and the Supremes, just to name a few.

They can revisit venues far and near - from the Famous Ballroom on Charles Street, home of the Left Bank Jazz Society, to Carr's Beach in Annapolis, where Sarah Vaughan was just one of countless legendary performers.

Between the lines, the book captures a society within a society - one often segregated but brimming with joy and pride.

"It was a time when African-Americans headlined the marquees right in their own neighborhoods, and reveled in the love and support of their community," reads the introduction.

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That theme of community underscored the project and helped bring it to fruition.

"So many people helped," notes Pryor-Trusty. "They allowed me to come into their homes and go through their family albums, scrapbooks and boxes. People would stop me on the street and say, 'Rosa, I've got some pictures.' "

Though the process proved tedious at times, Pryor-Trusty approached it with love.

Known for founding a music scholarship program for youth, Pryor-Trusty says she was also well acquainted with most people in the book - from local entrepreneur "Little Willie" Adams to hip DJ Hoppy Adams.

"This is a way for us to remember people, and to give some of them flowers while they can still smell them," she notes.

The book retails for $19.99 and is available at major outlets and is also being sold "grass-roots" style in beauty shops and clubs.

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Sales have been brisk, thanks to word-of-mouth, book-signings and local radio and television appearances by the two first-time authors.

Meantime, there's already talk of a second volume, one that will pick up where the first left off.

"The elders in the community are getting older, and they won't be around forever," says Taliaferro. "We have to preserve this important information for future generations."

The book is available at area Barnes & Noble, Borders, Waldenbooks and Books-A-Million stores, amazon.com and independent outlets. To order, call Arcadia Publishing at 888-313-BOOK, or visit www.ar cadiapublishing.com.


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