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D.C. pays tribute to black cultural icons with the Howard Theatre Walk of Fame

The new Howard Theatre Walk of Fame, which starts at the corner of Seventh and S streets, commemorates 15 black cultural icons in bronze medallions. (Donovan Gerald) (Donovan Gerald)

The next time you’re strolling near the Howard Theatre, watch where you’re going — you might be stepping on a piece of D.C. history.

The new Howard Theatre Walk of Fame embellishes the sidewalk between the Shaw-Howard Metro Station and the historic venue on T Street NW with bronze medallions commemorating 15 black cultural icons.

The Walk of Fame is a joint project of the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development and the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities. The promenade is like D.C.’s version of the Hollywood Walk of Fame, with hand-sculpted portraits of prominent African American vanguards — including Marvin Gaye, Chuck Brown and Ella Fitzgerald — engraved onto each medallion. The icons were chosen by the city for their connection to the Howard Theatre’s history.

“I hope that people will be fully immersed in the history of the Shaw neighborhood when they see the project,” says local artist Curry Hackett, who led the project. “Especially the black history that was very nuanced and very consequential to musical history.”

Getting the wheels turning on the $400,000 endeavor was a slow process. The idea was first conceived in 2008, but construction didn’t take place until this past December. The project got the seal of approval from the city earlier this spring.

Hackett, who is the principal of local design firm Wayside Studio, and artist Jay Coleman were chosen by the Arts and Humanities Commission in 2016 to spearhead efforts, along with design consultant Harry G. Robinson III and sculpture artist Joanna Blake.

“We looked at the Howard to mine some of its architectural details and distill them into a standard template for each medallion,” says Hackett. “We also chose bronze, since it has a well-documented history in West African art, and it is a noble, strong material.”

Signage explaining more about the honorees adds another layer of context to the Walk of Fame, which starts at the corner of Seventh and S streets.

Coleman, the project’s lead sculptor, says he may not comprehend the gravity of the project for “another 10 years.”

“We’re mostly excited to see how the Walk of Fame can inspire more historical dialogue through art, especially at a time when the importance of history is being marginalized,” he says.