A lot went down at the Howard Theatre. Once a leading venue along Washington's very own Black Broadway, the theater at Seventh and T streets NW preceded the Apollo in New York and lured the biggest of the big names from its opening in 1910.
Duke Ellington was a favored act. Fats Domino and Cab Calloway and Bo Diddley also rocked the Howard stage. In what was then a segregated city, whites sat beside blacks; music, and the Howard, seemed the great unifiers. Today it is a crumbling building that closed for good in the mid-1980s, an unmistakable sign marking what was once there.
Today, performers who once graced the Howard Theatre, as well as locals who filled its seats, will gather at the Carnegie building for an afternoon of stories about the venue, dedicated as a historic landmark in 1974 and being renovated only now, after years of calls for its revival (Hillary Rodham Clinton has been among its champions).
Mercedes Ellington, a dancer and choreographer and granddaughter of the Duke; musicians Bertell Knox and George Botts; and a panel of others will share memories. The Washington Jazz Arts Institute and Shaw Junior High School Concert Band will perform. There will also be an update on the plans for the building and its future programming (a fall 2009 opening is currently slated, with developer Chip Ellis leading the project).
Although long sought, the redevelopment isn't likely to restore the theater's former importance; the only certainty is that the memories you'll hear today will be fond, taking you back to the Washington of another era.
Free. 3 p.m. Mount Vernon Square, 801 K St. NW. Reservations recommended. 202-383-1861.
-- Lavanya Ramanathan