William "Chick" Webb, the renowned King of Jazz Drummer, was raised in East Baltimore. As a commitment to the segregated East Baltimore community, Chick Webb wished to provide a youth center for Negro (Black) youth. At 34 years, Chick Webb died on June 16, 1939, before this desire could occur.
Chick Webb's friend and physician, Dr. Ralph Jonathan Young, who treated Chick Webb's spinal deformity, a birth defect, and later a back injury at age 5, recommended drum playing to strengthen Chick's upper body and to loosen his bones. Dr. Young reported that Chick Webb's death bed wish was for a youth center to be built in East Baltimore.
A center that will provide for the deterrence of youth delinquent activities. An early appeal for a center to the City of Baltimore and the YMCA failed to materialize. Both the City of Baltimore and the YMCA declared financial inability. Dr. Young made a citywide call to address the death wish of William"Chick" Webb. The first fundraiser was held at the 5th Regiment Armory in Baltimore, MD on February 12, 1940. More than 7,500 attendees from all walks of life attended.
Chick Webb Memorial Center shall be a nationally known recreational facility that benefits the current residents, institutions, and businesses; and where major contributors of the construction shall be recognized; thus, the center shall be a tourist attraction.
Chick Webb Memorial Recreation Center shall be recognized as an African American achievement where nationally renowned African American entertainers, benevolent groups, and individuals labored to construct a recreational facility to benefit Negro youth of Baltimore from the dream of William Henry "Chick" Webb a Baltimore native known as The Jazz Drummer King.
Renowned Black Entertainers
Many renowned black entertainers helped contribute to the construction of the recreation center. Such people included Joe Louis (World Heavy Weight Boxing Champ), Duke and Mercer Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, The Ink Spots, Jackie "Moms" Mabley, Nicholas Brothers, The Baltimore Elite Giants (Negro Baseball League), and The Afro American Newspaper sponsoring a Fashion Show.
With only one public swimming pool in the City located in the segregated Druid Hill Park, a swimming pool at the Chick Webb Recreation Center was desired that could not only serve the public, but also a use for nearby Paul Laurence Dunbar High School. The Department of Recreation and Parks with the influence of Mayor D'Alesandro allocated assets for the construction of the swimming pool. The pool was constructed in March 1949 and was named Dr. Ralph J Young Pool. The Chick Webb Memorial Center became the largest and most elaborate community center for African Americans in Baltimore. Activities included: Singing and band, photography, drama, sewing cooking, home nursing, and nutrition. Activities accommodated 400-500 attendees per day.