Sheppard (Shep) Allen, 92, the dapper and legendary impresario who managed the Howard Theater in Washington from 1931 to 1970 and turned it into a major showcase for the country's top black entertainers, died of a heart ailment June 11 at Howard University Hospital.
Mr. Allen began his career in show business as an usher in the Mott Theater in his native Chicago. He later became the booking agent at the Royal Cafe Garden in Chicago and among the entertainers he signed up were King Oliver and Louis Armstrong.
Such was his success that the owners of the District Theaters, which included the Howard, hired him to come to Washington. His assignment was to bring the best in music and entertainment to the Howard.
That is what he did. And in so doing, he helped bring Washington something it had not had--a place on the circuit followed by the nation's best talent. Those who played the Howard included Lionel Hampton, Count Basie, the Mills Brothers, Duke Ellington, Billie Holliday, Lena Horne and Dinah Washington. Pearl Bailey sang there regularly. Comic headliners included Moms Mabley, Redd Foxx and Pigmeat Markham.
Mr. Allen auditioned and booked the acts and arranged the shows. In the days of racial segregation, he saw to it that bands and entertainers had suitable accommodations--often as not, with families who appreciated both music and musicians.
He also found time to encourage young talent, including an Armstrong High School student who did Cab Calloway-type songs. After watching him win several amateur-night contests, Mr. Allen lent him his tuxedo, told him he was a professional, and booked him at the Howard. The student was Billy Eckstine.
Mr. Allen, who lived in Washington, had a lively, multifaceted personality. He dressed impeccably and always drove a new Cadillac. He directed some of the city's most impressive March of Dimes campaigns, gaining the thanks and recognition of Eleanor Roosevelt along the way. And he saw to it that all the theaters in the District chain collected funds for needy children at Christmas.
Although his job meant working long hours, associates recalled that he took time off to attend championship prize fights. He seldom missed a bout featuring Joe Louis or Sugar Ray Robinson.
After he retired from the Howard, Mr. Allen spent seven more years as a supervisor of the District Theaters. Then he became a consultant to the chain.
Mr. Allen was three times a widower. He leaves no immediate survivors.