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Hitting the Historical High Notes

By Richard Harrington

Friday, February 18, 2000; Page N37

We know such famous native sons as Duke Ellington and Marvin Gaye--their music still informs our lives, still enriches our culture on a day-to-day basis. We love the siren song of Roberta Flack and Toni Braxton, recognizing the depths of emotion and romantic connection contained therein. We appreciate the courage of Todd Duncan and Marian Anderson, whose magnificent voices chipped away at the historic barriers of racism.

We also need to remember turn-of-the-century pioneers like James Reese Europe, James Bland and Will Marion Cook, each forged in the crucible of African American culture in the nation's capital. They're all part of a time line of achievement that runs back more than 130 years and moves forward as gifted new voices continue a grand tradition of creativity into our new millennium. So let's look back and listen up to the melody of history . . .


Well into the last century, Washington was a strictly segregated city, so it's hardly surprising that the White House, long one of the capital's key cultural showcases, has a checkered history in terms of recognizing and celebrating the musical contributions of black Americans. According to Elise Kirk's "Music at the White House," the first black artist to perform there was coloratura soprano Marie Selika on Nov. 13, 1878.

Four years later, the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University brought their gospel hymnody to the White House, the first in a long line of black choirs and ensembles to perform for President Chester A. Arthur. Calling spirituals "the only native American music," Arthur was moved to tears by the performance, but he was not moved enough to countermand the institutional segregation of the day: the Jubilee Singers were denied admission to every hotel in Washington, finally depending on the kindness of black Washingtonians for accommodations.

In 1892, Sissieretta Jones, better known by her stage name, Black Patti, brought her Troubadors to entertain President William McKinley. Her show mixed vaudeville and opera. Black Americans excluded from the concert hall had to create their own operatic forum. In so doing, Black Patti's Troubadors and similar companies set the stage for a flood of great black operatic talent that came after World War I.

The first professional opera company in Washington was black--the Colored American Opera Company, founded in 1872 by John Esputa of the Marine Band (and John Philip Sousa's violin teacher). That was 10 years before the founding of the Metropolitan Opera of New York and 84 years before the founding of the Opera Society of Washington. One early production was Julius Eichberg's "The Doctor of Alcantara," which featured Washington singer and teacher Henry Fleet Grant, whose son Henry Lee Grant would give teenager Duke Ellington composition lessons in the late 1910s. Though the Colored American Opera Company was short-lived, its reputation was excellent: A Philadelphia Inquirer critic wrote that "their singing is really unsurpassed by the finest choruses in the best companies."

Will Marion Cook (1869-1944), the composer, conductor and violinist, was born in Washington and was accepted at the prestigious Oberlin Conservatory at age 13 and for overseas study in Berlin at 16. At age 20, he became director of a chamber music orchestra. In 1898, Cook wrote "Clorindy, the Origin of the Cakewalk" (with words by poet Paul Lawrence Dunbar), historic as the first all-black cast and first black-written show performed on the aptly nicknamed Great White Way. Cook would later write, "Negroes were at last on Broadway, and there to stay. Gone was the uff-dah of the minstrel! Gone the Massa Linkum stuff. We were artists and we were going a long, long way."

Cook stopped playing the violin after an 1895 Carnegie Hall concert in which a reviewer wrote that he was "the world's greatest Negro violinist." Cook went to the writer's office, said "I am not the world's greatest Negro violinist, I am the greatest violinist in the world," smashed his violin on the desk and never performed again.

Cook remained active as a composer through the early '30s--one of his last major works was the folk opera "St. Louis Woman," written with his son, W. Mercer Cook, though he also wrote popular songs such as "I May Be Crazy but I Ain't No Fool" and "A Little Bit of Heaven Called Home." Cook also published several influential collections of "Negro Songs" and remained active as a conductor, arranger and vocal coach. His wife, soprano Abbie Mitchell (who had been the lead singer with the Memphis Students), introduced "Summertime" in the original production of "Porgy and Bess."

James Bland (1854-1911) was born in Flushing, N.Y., but came to Washington as a child when his father was appointed the first black examiner in the U.S. Patent Office. He attended Howard University, where he developed a reputation for writing and performing sentimental popular songs. A self-taught banjo player, Bland eventually dropped out of Howard to join one of the early all-black minstrel shows, Haverley's Genuine Colored Minstrels, later jumping to the Black Diamond Troupe, which toured Europe in 1881. Bland stayed there, dispensing with the blackface makeup and exaggerated costumes prevalent even in black minstrel shows, performing instead as an elegantly dressed singer-banjoist.

He became a major star in Europe, dubbed "the World's Greatest Minstrel Man, the Idol of the Music Halls." In Germany, he was grouped with Stephen Foster and John Philip Sousa as the most admired American songwriter. Among the best known of Bland's 700 compositions: "Oh Dem Golden Slippers," "Hand Me Down My Walking Cane," "In the Evening by the Moonlight" and "Carry Me Back to Ole Virginny," which Virginia adopted as its state song in 1940 (and which it is now trying to replace).


Edward Kennedy Ellington is not just the dominant figure in Washington music history, but in 20th century American music. His story has been told many times, particularly during last year's centennial celebration, when musicians around the world became Duke's Serenaders. That was the name of the first band Ellington put together, in 1917, which he advertised in the yellow pages as playing "IRRESISTIBLE JASS."

Born in 1899 at 2129 Ward Place N.W., Ellington went through the local school system--Garnett Elementary School, Garrison Junior High School, Armstrong Technical High School (where his only music course grade was a "D for deficient"). By age 12, he'd begun extracurricular studies, sneaking into burlesque shows at the Gayety on Ninth Street (across from where the FBI Building now stands) and attending shows at the Howard Theatre, which opened in 1910. Ellington scholars have suggested that one particular Howard program from 1911--"The Evolution of the Negro in Picture, Song and Story"--deeply influenced latter Ellington works, notably "Symphony in Black" and "Black, Brown and Beige."

Though he wrote his first work at age 14--"Soda Fountain Rag"--Ellington's writing was minimal until 1923, when he took a bunch of his Washington cohorts to New York--for a while, they called themselves the Washingtonians. It was in New York where Ellington began to establish himself as the preeminent American composer, arranger and bandleader.

He would return frequently to Washington for concert performances. On April 29, 1969, he was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom during a 70th birthday concert at the White House (President Nixon gamely played "Happy Birthday" on the piano). Ellington died in 1974; that same year Western High School was renamed in his honor and became Washington's first high school for the arts.

Other significant performers who first made their mark during this era include:

James Reese Europe--if not for his tragic murder at age 39--might well have become the King of Jazz. Europe was born in Mobile, Ala., in 1881, but his family moved to Washington when he was 10 and it's here that he received his formal education on piano and violin. In 1904, Europe moved to New York where he formed a band, the Memphis Students and, in 1905, gave the first concert of syncopated music (later called jazz). The Memphis Students were unusual, and not just because they were neither students nor from Memphis. Not only did the band perform in theaters rather than dance halls, it performed on stage rather than in the orchestra pit; and it emphasized guitar, banjo, mandolin and saxophone over the strings and woodwinds that were dominant in dance bands of that era.

After starting the first black musicians union--the Clef Club--in 1910, Europe put together the 125-strong Clef Club Symphony Orchestra, which became the first "jazz" band to play Carnegie Hall. In 1914, he joined up with the popular ballroom dance team Vernon and Irene Castle and ushered in one of the great dance crazes of the early century, the fox trot. In 1916, Europe enlisted in the Army and formed the 369th Infantry Band (the Hell Fighters), and what was hailed as "the best military band in the world" introduced France to syncopated music, a jazz precursor that a critic described as a mix of Sousa-like brassiness and perky ragtime energy.

That band's success enhanced the prestige of American music overseas, and after the war, Europe kept it together for a worldwide tour. But in 1919, a disgruntled drummer stabbed Europe to death backstage at Boston's Symphony Hall. The New York Times mourned "the untimely death of a man who ranked as one of the greatest ragtime conductors, perhaps the greatest, we ever had."

Composer Clarence Cameron White (1880-1960) was born in Oberlin, Ohio, but came to Washington to attend Howard University. Here he studied violin with Will Marion Cook and Joseph Douglas, giving his first recital (and showcasing his first composition) at age 15. He also attended Oberlin Conservatory and studied composition in London with the black composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. After a 10-year concert career, White taught in the public school system and at the Washington Conservatory of Music between 1903 and 1907, before moving on to West Virginia State College and Hampton Institute.

Throughout his career, White turned to Negro folk music and black history as major sources of inspiration. Among his better-known works: the 1931 opera "Ouanga," based on the life of the liberator of Haiti, Jean-Jacques Dessalines (it won the David Bispham Prize for outstanding American opera); the orchestral work "Kutamba Rhapsody"; the ballet "A Night in San Souci" and his last work, 1959's "Heritage," for soprano, tenor, chorus and orchestra with text by black poet Countee Cullen.

Harriet Gibbs Marshall (1869-1941), the first black woman to receive a musical diploma from Oberlin Conservatory, made a significant contribution to the city's cultural life when she established the Washington Conservatory of Music in 1903 to offer black students the opportunity to obtain training in the conservatory manner. (Marshall had been able to study in Boston, Chicago and Paris, but not in her home town.) The Washington Conservatory also served as a crucial concert venue for visiting black performers in an era when laws prohibited blacks from attending musical events offered in the white community.

Claude Hopkins, born in Alexandria in 1903, was a superb ragtime pianist who moved to Europe in the mid-'20s to serve as musical director for legendary expatriate Josephine Baker. Hopkins returned to lead several pioneering big bands in the swing era and worked mostly in smaller groups after that (he died in 1984).


This decade featured trailblazers and innovators. The first black opera singer to perform at the White House in the Franklin Delano Roosevelt era was Washington-born soprano Lillian Evanti (born Lillian Evans Tibbs, she graduated from Howard in 1917). Evanti performed at the White House in 1934, seven years after becoming the first black American opera singer to perform abroad, singing the title role in Delibes' "Lakme" with the Nice Opera.

In 1935, Washington soprano Dorothy Maynor and baritone Todd Duncan performed together at the White House. Duncan in particular would have a lasting impact on the cultural life of the city, as both a performer and teacher. In 1935, he became the first and, many think, definitive Porgy in the seminal Gershwin opera, "Porgy and Bess" (George Gershwin was particularly taken with Duncan's "rich, booming voice").

Between the musical's first tryout in Boston and its Broadway opening, there was a two-week engagement at the National Theatre, which, like every other "legitimate" venue in Washington, was "whites only." Duncan refused to perform unless the theater was fully integrated. The National offered several options--integrating matinees, halving the orchestra, with one side white, the other black--but Duncan, with support from the Gershwins, held strong; and the National was finally integrated--at least while Duncan was singing.

Duncan also broke the color barrier in American opera companies in 1945, singing the role of Tonio in Leoncavallo's "I Pagliacci" with the New York City Opera Company. After retiring from the concert circuit, Duncan taught for many years at Howard University, and later, privately. He died in 1998.

Marian Anderson gave her first White House performance in February of 1936, just one month after her Carnegie Hall debut. Three years later, Anderson would give a magnificent, and historic, concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution denied her the opportunity to perform at Constitution Hall. At Eleanor Roosevelt's behest, Anderson gave a free concert that attracted 75,000 Washingtonians--black and white.

Anderson's White House performances were not without controversy. In 1938, when Anderson was invited to sing for the King and Queen of England, some protested the invitation. One critic called it "an insult to the King and Queen, who are Caucasian, to present a Negro vocalist for their entertainment. Do you want to engender racial hatred which might lead to serious consequences in the entire South?" Eleanor Roosevelt held fast, insisting she would champion "a picture of all American music."

Ragtime pianist and composer Jelly Roll Morton (1885-1941) was born in New Orleans and later spent long periods in St. Louis and Chicago before settling in Washington in the '30s. Morton played (and managed) the Jungle Inn, a tawdry nightclub on Ninth Street, but his greatest performance may have come at the Library of Congress's staid Coolidge Auditorium in 1939. That's where Alan Lomax recorded Morton's version of the history of jazz--with himself in the role of father--in a fascinating series of songs, piano solos and stories (reissued several years ago on Rounder Records).

The Washington area was a gold mine for R&B vocal groups in the late '40s and early '50s, beginning with harmony pioneers the Orioles. High school pals from Baltimore, the Orioles were an immediate success: Their first single, "It's Too Soon to Know" topped the R&B charts in 1948, also crossing over to No. 13 on the pop charts, the first black act to do so in the era of "race" records. They followed up in 1949 with another No. 1, "Tell Me So." There would be nine Top 10 hits between 1948 and 1953, including their most successful No. 1, the classic "Crying in the Chapel." Now in their 52nd year, the now Washington-based Orioles still perform regularly.

Cleveland-bred Benjamin Clarence "Bull Moose" Jackson first made a name for himself with Lucky Millinder's Orchestra in the mid-'40s, embarking on a solo career that took off in 1947 with the chart-topping "I Love You, Yes I Do," R&B's first-million selling record. Jackson also scored several Top 5 hits and essayed such ribald classics as "Big Ten-Inch (Record)" and "I Want a Bowlegged Woman." Jackson moved to Washington in the '60s, taking a job in the food services department at Howard University, where students probably had no idea that Jackson was a pioneering figure in the establishment of R&B. In 1983, a Pittsburgh band that had been covering Jackson's songs tracked him down and lured him back out on the road, where Jackson performed off and on until his death in 1989.


Along with the Orioles and the Ravens, Washington's Clovers are considered originators of the doo-wop vocal style. Formed at Armstrong High in the late '40s by Harold Lucas and Buddy Bailey, the Clovers would have 21 Top 20 R&B hits between 1951 and 1956, including three No. 1s and four No. 2s.

The Clovers were completed in 1950 with the addition of classically trained guitarist Bill Harris. Harris, born in North Carolina, became the first black student at Washington's Columbia School of Music and after leaving the Clovers, embarked on a career in jazz. In 1956, his "Bill Harris" became the first ever solo jazz guitar album. In the '70s, he operated both the Bill Harris Guitar Studios and the Pigfoot nightclub in Northeast before his death in 1988.

Three other regional doo-wop groups had great success in the early '50s: The Cardinals, out of Baltimore, had three Top 10 hits. The Five Keys, out of Newport News, Va., hit No. 1 with "The Glory of Love." Finally, the Swallows, also from Baltimore, scored two Top 10 hits.


Marvin Pentz Gaye Jr. was born April 2, 1939, at Freedman's Hospital (now Howard University Hospital) the same week that Marian Anderson performed at the Lincoln Memorial. Gaye, whose father was a self-styled minister, grew up in an exceptionally strict household. He started singing hymns at 3, but by the time he got to Cardozo High, Gaye was enthralled with doo-wop--he particularly loved the Orioles--and started his first group, the D.C. Tones, featuring Sandra Lattisaw as lead singer (yes, Stacy's mom) and Reese Palmer (who is still singing with the Orioles).

The D.C. Tones soon transformed into the Marquees, and in 1957, with help from then-Washington resident Bo Diddley, recorded the double-sided single "Hey Little Schoolgirl/Wyatt Earp" (with another young Washington star, Billy Stewart, on piano). It bombed.

Gaye attended Cardozo, but called the Howard Theatre "my real high school. I studied the singers like my life depended on it . . . practicing and memorizing everything I heard [them] do." One of the models for the Marquees was the Moonglows, and during a 1958 stint at Howard, founder Harvey Fuqua fired the old Moonglows en masse and replaced them with the Marquees, in the process spiriting Gaye away from Washington. The latter-day Moonglows had one Top 10 R&B hit, "Ten Commandments of Love," but it would be four years before Gaye began his prolific solo career with "Stubborn Kind of Fellow." He subsequently became one of the great voices of the last half century, a master of both erotic ballads and social commentary. Sixteen years after being shot to death by his own father, Gaye remains one of the most popular and influential artists in American music, with touchstone tracks like "What's Going On," "Let's Get It On" and "Sexual Healing."

Others who achieved fame in the '60s include many artists connected to Howard University.

The University's been an incubator for much musical talent, but the first jazz group to make waves was the JFK Quintet, once described as the most adventurous Washington-based jazz ensemble since Ellington. In 1960, the JFK Quintet released the first of three albums for Riverside, "New Jazz Frontiers From Washington," showcasing the work of saxophonist Andrew White, trumpeter Ray Codrington and pianist Harry Killgo.

Andrew White went on to the most expansive career--his resume includes stints with Weather Report, Eugene Ormandy and Wilson Pickett, and he transcribed and published all of John Coltrane's recorded solos.

Other Washington saxophonists of note: Sonny Stitt, Stanley Turrentine, Leo Parker, Charlie Rouse (Thelonious Monk's favorite), Buck Hill and Ron Holloway, recently named the Washington Area Music Association's Musician of the Year.

Another student group, the Blackbyrds, was formed at Howard in 1973 by trumpeter and jazz studies professor Donald Byrd, who named it after his own No. 19 R&B hit, "Black Byrd." Among its members: Keith Killgo, whose father, Harry, was in the JFK Quintet. The Blackbyrds, who anticipated the R&B-flavored smooth jazz movement by a decade, scored two Top 10 hits, "Walking in Rhythm" in 1975 and "Happy Music" in 1976, though a localized song, "Rock Creek Park," has remained a particular favorite on Washington radio.

Jessye Norman, recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor in 1997, was born in Atlanta in 1945 but came to Howard University in 1945 to study with Carolyn Grant; after graduating in 1967, Norman continued her studies at Baltimore's Peabody Conservatory and the University of Michigan and, in 1968, won the Munich International Music Competition. She made her debut in Berlin in 1969 and in the '70s worked extensively at Rome's La Scala and London's Covent Garden. Over the last 20 years, Norman has performed solo and with the world's major orchestras, acclaimed for her commanding stage presence and dramatic powers.

It took Peaches and Herb's Herb Fame (born Herbert Feemster) a while to find the right Peaches. The first, Francine Barker, was featured on four Top 10 hits between 1966 and 1967. Barker was replaced in live performances by the second Peaches, Marlene Mack, but when that duo stalled, Fame joined the D.C. police department. In 1977, Fame finally teamed up with the right Peaches, Linda Green. They scored with 1978's No. 5 hit, "Shake Your Groove Thing" before topping the charts a year later with "Reunited." That same year, they became the first African American artists to perform in China.

Billy Stewart, a product of Douglas Junior High and Armstrong High, won a Howard Theatre amateur contest in 1956 with a quirky rendition of the Gershwin classic "Summertime." Later that year, he recorded a single for Chess, "Billy's Blues," with a guitar line on the B-side instrumental version that quickly reappeared in Mickey and Sylvia's chart-topping "Love Is Strange" (Stewart unsuccessfully sued to get a credit on the song). Stewart, who wrote most of his own songs, didn't achieve significant success until 1965 when he had two Top 10 R&B songs. In 1966, he recorded "Summertime," which went No. 7 R&B and No. 10 pop. In January 1970, driving back from a concert in North Carolina, Stewart and three band members were killed in a car crash.

Stewart wasn't the only Washington artist to have a guitar lick ripped off. Louisiana-born R&B performer Bobby Parker, who settled here in 1961 after stints with Otis Williams, Paul "Hucklebuck" Williams and Bo Diddley, experienced a double whammy. He wrote and recorded "You Got What It Takes," but when Marv Johnson had a No. 2 hit with it in 1959, Parker's credit had shifted to Berry Gordy Jr. and Billy Davis. In 1961, Parker had a regional hit with "Watch Your Step," a song whose impact was much greater in England. The Spencer Davis Group covered it, and its distinctive guitar riff resurfaced three times: John Lennon admitted he used a variation on "Day Tripper," Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page recycled it as "Moby Dick," as did Robin Trower on "Whiskey Train." Trower also called Parker "the best guitar player he'd ever heard."

Shirley Horn is a double threat, though it took 20 years for the public to catch on to what Miles Davis and Quincy Jones recognized in the mid-'60s--a supremely gifted singer and pianist. Davis and Jones championed Horn's first recordings in the early '60s, a decade after she'd graduated from Howard. But Horn stepped away from music to raise a family here. She began recording again in 1978, though success and acclaim didn't arrive until 1988 when Horn connected with the prestigious Verve label.


Roberta Flack was born in North Carolina but was raised for the most part in Arlington. A precocious musician, she was given a scholarship to Howard at age 15, though for a long time it was thought Flack would make her mark as a teacher in the D.C. public school system. Instead, she supplemented her salary by singing in local restaurants, and it was at Mr. Henry's on Capitol Hill that Flack was discovered in 1969 by jazz pianist Les McCann. Flack had a Top 10 single in 1971 covering Carole King's "You've Got a Friend," but in 1972, Clint Eastwood used her recording of a British folk ballad, "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," in the film, "Play Misty for Me." It climbed to No. 1 pop, No. 4 R&B and won a Song of the Year Grammy. A year later, Flack's "Killing Me Softly With His Song" also won a Grammy as Song of the Year, while topping the pop charts and rising to No. 2 R&B.

Flack has had 11 more Top 20 R&B hits, including "Where Is the Love" and "Back Together Again," duets with her Howard classmate, the late, great Donny Hathaway.

Carmen Balthrop, born in Washington in 1948, studied at the University of Maryland and is now a part of its music department. After winning first place in the Metropolitan Opera auditions, Balthrop made her Met debut in 1977 as Pamina in Mozart's "Die Zauberflote"; it would become one of her signature roles, along with Violetta ("La Traviata"), Cio-Cio-San ("Madama Butterfly") and Poppea ("L'Incoronazione di Poppea"). Balthrop also won wide recocgnition singing and recording the title role in the Houston Opera Company's acclaimed revival of Scott Joplin's "Treemonisha" (which won her an Emmy Award, as well). An active recitalist, Balthrop chairs the Marian Anderson International Vocal Arts Competition and Festival and recently unveiled the title role of "Vanqui" in its world premiere at Opera Columbus.

Van McCoy, a graduate of Dunbar High and Howard University, first made a name for himself writing for and producing such acts as the Drifters, Barbara Lewis, Gladys Knight and the Pips, Jackie Wilson, Brenda and the Tabulations and Peaches and Herb. He succeeded Thom Bell as musical arranger for the Stylistics and subsequently formed his own studio group, the Soul City Symphony. In 1975, McCoy set off a new dance craze with "The Hustle," which reportedly sold 10 million singles. His only other Top 10 hit came that same year with "Change With the Times" (No. 6), but tastes changed quicker than the times and though McCoy continued to make solid records, he was unable to match this success before dying of a heart attack in 1979 at age 35.


No single type of music has been more identified with Washington than go-go has been over the last 25 years. Unfortunately it hasn't had much success beyond the local scene. Although the non-stop celebratory rhythms of this home-grown music are responsible for one of the most loyal audiences in the world, go-go's open-ended form has never lent itself to abbreviation: Labels have never been able to condense it into viable commercial constructs and neither radio nor records have been able to adequately capture the live, communal energy that defines the music.

Chuck Brown, the Godfather of Go-Go, has one of the only two go-go tracks to reach No. 1 on the R&B charts, 1978's "Bustin Loose Part I." The other, E.U.'s "Da Butt," benefited from its exposure in Spike Lee's 1988 film "School Daze." That led to a short run for E.U. in the Top 10 with several follow-ups.

The national charts were less kind to other veteran go-go acts: Trouble Funk charted four times between 1982 and 1985, but never above No. 63. And local classics like "Drop the Bomb" or "Pump Me Up" left no trace at all. Rare Essence never got past the high 60s, while Redds & the Boys made it only to No. 58. Of course, the music--or elements of the music--could be heard in dozens of rap hits, and DJ Kool did manage a Top 5 rap hit in 1996 with the hilarious "Let Me Clear My Throat," one of the few party singles to effectively meld go-go and hip-hop.

In other genres, artists with ties to the area achieved far more national recognition, from the R&B charts to the international opera house stage. Among them:

Like Gaye, Johnny Gill got his start singing gospel, in the family group the Wings of Faith. He began recording in 1983 at age 16 but his biggest early success came with 1984's Top 10 duet with Sousa Junior High School pal Stacy Lattisaw, "Perfect Combination," followed five years later by their chart-topping duet, "Where Do We Go From Here." In 1988, Gill replaced Bobby Brown in New Edition (he was the best singer that group ever had), which in turn gave a boost to his renewed solo career in 1990. Gill's first solo album for Motown produced two No. 1 R&B hits, "Rub You the Right Way" and "My My My." Despite being crowned "the Marvin Gaye of the new-jack soul generation," Gill has yet to produce a consistent body of work to match his peerless vocal abilities.

Stacy Lattisaw, whose mother Sandra was the lead singer of the D.C. Tones, would be the last discovery and production deal for Van McCoy ("The Hustle"), recording her first album in 1979 at age 12. Lattisaw's first single stiffed, but her next three all went Top 10 R&B in 1980, and she hit Top 10 again in the late '80s with "Nail It to the Wall" and "Every Drop of Your Love." And there were also her successful duets with Gill.

You'd probably opt for a sexy new stage name like Ginuwine if you were born Elgin Lumpkin. The Washington-bred singer, who grew up near the National Arboretum, first blossomed with 1996's Timbaland-produced album, "Ginuwine . . . The Bachelor," its double platinum sales fueled by the chart-topping single, "Pony." Last year's "100% Ginuwine," also double platinum, continued the streak.

Toni Braxton, the sultry-voiced vocalist from Severn, might have followed in Flack's footsteps: She was studying at Bowie State to become a teacher when she caught the ear of producers L.A. Reid and Babyface. She first got noticed on the "Boomerang" soundtrack. Her 1993 self-titled debut sold 10 million copies, producing such Top 10 hits as "Another Sad Love Song," "Breathe Again," "Seven Whole Days" and "You Mean the World To Me" and earned her a Grammy as Best New Artist. Her 1996 album, "Secrets," sold 8 million copies and produced more hits ("Unbreak My Heart," "You're Making Me High"); legal battles with her label and bankruptcy proceedings have kept her off the scene for much of the last four years. She's working on her third album, due in late April. Meanwhile, younger sister Tamar Braxton releases her debut in March.

Denyce Graves, the Washington-born mezzo-soprano, attended the Duke Ellington School for the Arts, followed by Oberlin College Conservatory of Music and New England Conservatory. In 1987, a small role with Wolf Trap Opera earned Post critic Joe McLellan's prediction that "in a few years, Graves will be a world-class Carmen." That proved absolutely correct when Graves made her Metropolitan Opera debut as Bizet's "Carmen" in 1995, and it has since become her signature role. Graves, acclaimed for her expressive vocalism and dynamic stage presence, has become a favorite both abroad and at home, where she most recently appeared with Jose Cura and Placido Domingo in Washington Opera's production of "Samson et Delila."

The New Jersey-born Crystal Waters came to Washington to attend Howard, earning a degree in computer science. In 1991, she hooked up with Baltimore production team the Basement Boys and cut the mesmerizing house hit, "Gypsy Woman (She's Homeless)." Its famous "la-da-dee, la-da-da" hook was inspired by a Washington City Paper story about a homeless woman who'd hum that very ditty outside the posh Mayflower Hotel. The song went to No. 1, helped sell more than a million copies of Waters's debut album, "Surprise," and enabled Waters to quit her job at the D.C. Parole Board. Albums in 1994 and 1997 failed to produce any major follow-up hits, though "100% Pure Love" did all right in clubland.

Tanya Blount, the big-voiced singer from Temple Hills, released her one and only album in 1994, producing two minor hits. She was unable to capitalize on the exposure she received in "Sister Act 2," where she and a then-little-known Lauryn Hill gave a rousing rendition of the gospel classic, "His Eye Is on the Sparrow."

Young Mya Harrison of Bowie had already made quite a name for herself, locally and nationally, as a tap dancer when she released her self-titled album in April 1998. It took off slowly, then hit high gear following Mya's catchy guest-vocal on Pras's chart-topping single, "Ghetto Superstar." In the end, "Mya" sold more than 2 million copies. Mya's sophomore album is due in the spring.

In 1996, Washington-born George Walker became the first African American to win the Pulitzer Prize for music. He won for "Lilacs," a work for voice and orchestra using excerpts from the Walt Whitman poem, "When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom'd." Born in 1923, Walker became a music major at Oberlin Conservatory at age 15, earning a bachelor's degree in music at 18, then going on to the Curtis School of Music in Philadelphia, earning a doctorate at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester and studying with the legendary Nadia Boulanger at the American Conservatory in Paris. While teaching at Smith College, the University of Colorado and Rutgers (where he was chairman of the music department until retiring in 1992), Walker composed and published more than 70 works.

Another well-known classical composer is Jeffrey Mumford. Born here in 1955, Mumford recieved an MA in composition from the University of California at San Diego. Among his many compositions: "as the air softens in sunlight," which won the 1994 National Black Arts Festival/Atlanta Symphony Orchestra Composition Competition.

The Annapolis group Starpoint thrice penetrated the Top 10 in the '80s with "Object of My Desire," "What You Been Missin' " and "He Wants My Body." But it wasn't until 1992 that a Washington vocal ensemble nearly topped the charts again. That's when Shai, a quartet that had come together as undergraduate students at Howard, went to No. 2 with the lush vocals of "If I Ever Fall in Love." The group's debut album sold more than 2 million copies. Subsequent albums, notably 1995's excellent "Blackface," failed to match that success.

Hall of Famers

Inducted by the Washington Area Music Association

1985 Duke Ellington, Marvin Gaye

1986 Bo Diddley

1987 Shirley Horn, Jelly Roll Morton

1988 Bill Harris

1991 Chuck Brown, John Jackson

1994 Keter Betts, Quentin "Footz" Davidson

1995 The Clovers, the Orioles, Stanley Turrentine

1996 Roberta Flack, Sweet Honey in the Rock

1997 Ruth Brown, Donald Byrd, Sonny Stitt

1998 Todd Duncan, Trouble Funk

The Grammys


Duke Ellington 1966

Marvin Gaye 1996


Duke Ellington (11)

Toni Braxton (5)

Roberta Flack (4)

Marvin Gaye (2)

Shirley Horn (1)

Van McCoy (1)

Wallace Roney (1)

Elizabeth Cotten (1)

Richard Spencer, songwriter, "Color Him Father" (The Winstons) (1)

Sounds of D.C.

To hear a free Sound Bite of the following, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press the corresponding number. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)

Duke Ellington, "Washington Wabble" -- 8112

Marvin Gaye, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" -- 8113

The Clovers, "Don't You Know I Love You" -- 8114

Roberta Flack, "Feel Like Makin' Love" -- 8115

Chuck Brown and the Soul Searchers, "Bustin Loose" -- 8116

Jelly Roll Morton, "Tiger Rag" -- 8117

We're No. 1s

(on the Billboard R&B charts)


Duke Ellington, "Don't Get Around Much Anymore"

"A Slip of the Lip"

"Sentimental Lady"


Duke Ellington, "Do Nothing Til You Hear From Me"

"Main Stem"


The Orioles, "It's Too Soon to Know"


The Orioles, "Tell Me So"


The Clovers, "Don't You Know I Love You"

"Fool, Fool, Fool"


The Clovers, "Ting-a-ling"


The Orioles, "Crying in the Chapel"


Marvin Gaye, "I'll Be Doggone"

"Ain't That Peculiar"


Marvin Gaye and Tammi Terrell, "Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing"

Marvin Gaye, "I Heard It Through the Grapevine"


Marvin Gaye, "Too Busy Thinking About My Baby"


Marvin Gaye, "What's Going On"

"Mercy Mercy Me (The Ecology Song)"

"Inner City Blues"


Roberta Flack and Donny Hathaway, "Where Is the Love" (Flack also reached No. 1 on the pop list with "The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face," which peaked at No. 2 on the R&B chart. "Killing Me Softly" went No. 1 pop in 1973, peaking at No. 4 R&B.)


Marvin Gaye, "Let's Get It On"


Roberta Flack, "Feel Like Makin' Love"

William DeVaughn, "Be Thankful for What You've Got"


Van McCoy, "The Hustle"


Marvin Gaye, "I Want You"


Marvin Gaye, "Got to Give It Up"


Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack, "The Closer I Get to You"


Chuck Brown, "Bustin Loose Part I"

Peaches & Herb, "Reunited"


Marvin Gaye, "Sexual Healing"


E.U., "Da Butt"


Roberta Flack, "Oasis"


Johnny Gill and Stacy Lattisaw, "Where Do We Go From Here"

Johnny Gill, "Rub You the Right Way"

Johnny Gill, "My My My"


Toni Braxton "Another Sad Love Song"


Ginuwine, "Pony"


Toni Braxton, "You're Makin' Me High"

© Copyright 2000 The Washington Post Company

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