“As one of the country’s oldest live music venues built specifically for African-American performers and audiences, the Howard Theatre helped define the greatest cultural and musical phenomenon of the twentieth century, namely jazz and rhythm & blues. From 1910 until it closed in the early 1980’s, The Howard Theatre was a cultural icon for the African-American community. Long before segregation became illegal, “The Theatre for the People” was a place where music lovers, regardless of race, could gather to see, hear and enjoy the best in entertainment.”
It’s been a long time coming, and this event could perhaps be the climax of the U Street Corridor restoration. Historically known for the vibrant black community that flourished during the time during segregation, U Street has undergone a extensive revitalization over the years.
After several attempts to rebuild the Howard Theatre in the early 70’s and 80s, “Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc. (HTR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, lead a collaborative effort with the District of Columbia and other private entities to bring the life, the music, and the people back to The Howard Theatre.”
The community is invited to celebrate the rebirth of Howard Theatre during the Ribbon Cutting and Community Day on April 9, 2012. A Grand Opening Gala and Benefit Concert will be held on April 12, 2012.
Below is an excerpt from the Howard Theatre website about the history of the theater.
The Story of The Howard Theatre
Before the Apollo, before the Regal, there was The Howard Theatre. At its opening in 1910 it was “the largest colored theatre in the world.” Sadly shuttered and neglected since the early 1980s, the once majestic building with its “trunk of soul” has survived death in order to be reborn in 2012.
For most of the 20th century, The Howard Theatre, located in the heart of Washington, DC, near the corner of 7th and T, held audiences captive with music, dance, drama and comedy. Speakers like Booker T. Washington shared the stage with musicals, road shows, vaudeville acts, theater productions and community programs. Later, Washington’s favorite son Duke Ellington opened a new era of jazz big bands on The Howard’s stage.Photos: William P. Gottlieb Collection
When the nation was deeply divided by segregation, The Howard Theatre provided a place where color barriers blurred and music unified. The Washington Bee dubbed it the “Theatre for The People” for it was the place where dignitaries, like President Franklin D. Roosevelt and the First Lady gathered with everyday folks to see both superstars and rising stars – many of whom debuted at The Howard Theatre. Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, Billy Taylor and Bill Kenny of the Ink Spots made way for talents like The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gilespie, Shirley Horn, and comedians Petey Greene, Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley.
The Howard Theatre inspired change, yet felt the impact of a nation in flux following the 1968 riots. Eventually, the degradation of the neighborhood forced the theater to close. After several false starts in the late ’70s and early ’80s to reinvigorate The Howard, the curtains fell.