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Dolphin's of Hollywood: the story of a landmark record store goes to the stage

Stu James (center, in green jacket) plays John Dolphin in
Stu James (center, in green jacket) plays John Dolphin in "Recorded in Hollywood."
Ed Krieger
Stu James (center, in green jacket) plays John Dolphin in
The storefront of Dolphin's of Hollywood.
Courtesy Dolphin family
Stu James (center, in green jacket) plays John Dolphin in
The packed interior at Dolphin's of Hollywood.
Courtesy Dolphin Family
Stu James (center, in green jacket) plays John Dolphin in
The interior of the Dolphin's of Hollywood record store, which included a recording studio and broadcast booth.
Courtesy Dolphin Family
Stu James (center, in green jacket) plays John Dolphin in
Rahsaan Patterson (left) and Stu James in "Recorded in Hollywood."
Ed Krieger
Stu James (center, in green jacket) plays John Dolphin in
(Rear, L-R) Jenna Gillespie, Godfrey Moye and Sha'Lead Nikole Stubblefield, and (with mic) Eric B. Anthony in "Recorded in Hollywood."
Ed Krieger

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Dolphin's of Hollywood, founded by John Dolphin in 1948, was one of the first African-American-owned record stores in Los Angeles.

Dolphin's was also one of the first record stores to feature listening stations so customers could listen to new records, many of which had been recorded in a studio that Dolphin had built in his store.

The record store and the man behind it are getting more attention recently thanks to a book written by Jamelle Dolphin, John's grandson, that's also the basis of the stage musical "Recorded in Hollywood." It debuted earlier this year to rave reviews and has been re-mounted at the Hudson Theatre in Hollywood.

Jamelle and his uncle, Michael Dolphin, recently came by the Frame to talk about John Dolphin's more innovative practices and how the record store got its name — despite not being in Hollywood.

Interview Highlights:

How did Dolphin's of Hollywood get its name?

Michael: He wanted to open the store in Hollywood — he saw the image that Hollywood put into people's minds. But sometimes people don't often know that Los Angeles was officially segregated, and there were places that you could open business or live and places you couldn't do those things. He ultimately found the opportunity in the Central Avenue area, the Renaissance area of Los Angeles in the '40s and the '50s.

So he ended up in South L.A.?

Michael: And kept the name Dolphin's of Hollywood. One of his friends once told me that someone once asked him about the name since he didn't get to be in Hollywood, and he had two answers — the first was that he hadn't gotten there yet. And because he recognized the value of radio, his other answer was, "What picture do you get when you hear Dolphin's of Hollywood? What's the image in your mind?"

Your father also had these amazing ideas, like keeping the store open 24 hours a day and having DJs from KRKD broadcast from the store when no one else was doing things like that. How long was he able to keep the store open 24/7?

Jamelle: Until he passed. I thought it was incredible that he had it opened on Sundays. Back in the '40s and '50s, a business being open on Sundays was unheard of. He threw a "throw away the key" party as a promotion for when he decided to go with those hours.

Your father was killed by a disgruntled who was unhappy that John Dolphin would cut records with him. Why was it important to tell the Dolphin story?

Michael: My dad was killed when I was 9, and obviously Jamelle wasn't born yet. [Dolphin was killed by a frustrated singer in an argument over payment.] Jamelle has a stack of notes about two feet high from the people that he's talked to, and it's like trying to pull all these things together much later in the process. That's when you finally say, "We need to sit down and tell this story, since we've heard it all our lives."

So much of what we know is what we've learned. We didn't get it from my dad, but he touched so many people and there were so many people involved and who were impacted by what Dolphin's of Hollywood was doing.

For probably 40 years I got to just sit with Buddy Collette, Gerald Wilson and Charles Mingus, and one day Buddy looked at me and said, "You know one thing you should really know about your dad? Were it not for your dad, we would have not been heard." That's probably one of the most impactful things anyone's ever said to me: "We would not have been heard." And he was so grateful for that opportunity.

"Recorded in Hollywood" is at the Hudson Theatre through July 26.

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