The history of Las Vegas as we know it today really started with the construction of the Hoover Dam, which began in earnest in 1931. That project was the key factor that brought in an almost entirely male market that wanted somewhere to go nearby when the long work day was done. No surprise, nearby bars, casinos and show venues in Vegas became the ticket.
The early show venues were primarily the place many of the Dam’s workers went to see showgirls dancing. Spending day after day in hard work in male worker camps only exacerbated the demand for even a sight of the fairer sex, even if just on a stage signing and dancing.
Twenty years after the Dam project started, Las Vegas had become a prime destination for tourists and visitors going through Nevada. Many of the most famous casinos had just been constructed and were showcasing some of the most famous singers of the day. Names like Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack, Jonah Jones and Norman Brooks were regular headliners drawing big crowds. The location was also a big hang out for many of those same entertainers by choice, so they had no problem singing and appearing at the casinos as well. For many, it was a free vacation from the cold back East.
Singers like Andy Williams, Bing Crosby, and Liberace’s piano playing were also big attractions as well as Dean Martin and Carol Channing. Even President Ronald Reagan did a show at one of the casinos when it was still an actor, but it didn’t draw as big a crowd as the others.
By the turn of the decade into the 1960s Wayne Newton became a regular singer in Vegas at the casinos, and he stayed as a top billing name for at least four decades afterwards. However, the 60s and 70s also brought far more diversity. The South American comedian-singer Charo was a big heat, and the mid-60s saw the Checkmates play Vegas regularly. They were one of the few other interracial signing teams that gained audiences aside from Sammy Davis Jr. with the Rat Pack.
However, the 1970s and three decades following had the Las Vegas name associated with Siegfried and Roy, a duo team of animal trainer entertainers who wowed crowds until a fateful accident with a tiger attack on stage took out the team permanently in 2003.
Today, Las Vegas is dominated by the permanent present of Cirque du Soleil and the amazing signing skills of Celine Dion. However, new entertainer names are lining up for their tenure to begin soon, and the city is changing dramatically as renovation brings in bigger venues and stages for entertainers. After all, this is the city of lights.