Cecil “Big Jay” McNeely was one of the Big 3 honking tenor sax players out of L.A. – the others were later Long Beach resident Joe Houston (“All Nite Long”) and Chuck Higgins (“Pachuco Hop”). But Big Jay got a head start, first recording with Johnny Otis in 1949 and having a huge national hit, “Deacon’s Hop.” The stage was now set for his historic Municipal Auditorium appearance.
On Oct. 18, 1951, McNeely made his first known Long Beach appearance at Wilson High School and at the Dream Bowl at 2259 Orange Ave., all of which signaled an early R&B act had come to town.
According to accounts at the time, “in May 1952, there was quite a surprise. An unknown, billed as Big Jay McNeely and his band booked the downstairs Exhibit Hall, more or less sponsored by Ray Robinson, local disc jockey. Four thousand teenagers stormed the place. That dance is considered the first rhythm blues dance in Long Beach. McNeely now is one of the big rock-and-rollers in the east.”
After the Muni Aud gig, McNeely played at the Lakewood Theater on Carson near Lakewood.
That same year, 1952, Lawrence Welk turned off the bubble machine at his Aragon Ballroom home in Santa Monica and started on his first road tour drawing 3,500 (less than Big Jay the same year) at the Muni.
Twenty five years later, in 1975, the city fathers tore down the Muni, just like Big Jay had torn up the place in ’52.