The Howard Theatre
When the Howard Theatre opened in 1910, it was “the largest colored theatre in the world.” In its early days, the Howard showed Vaudeville acts, community programs, roadshows, and musicals, as well as featuring talks by speakers like Booker T. Washington. It wasn’t until 1931, when Duke Ellington first played the Howard, that the theater became a mecca for entertainment-- not only in DC, but in the United States.
In the 1940’s, many famous musicians got their start at the Howard, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billy Eckstine, and Pearl Bailey. Through the 1960s, the theatre was known for rock ‘n roll shows and rhythm and blues.
After the 1968 DC Riots, the Howard struggled along with the rest of the neighborhood. Unable to attract patrons, it closed its doors in 1970. In 1973, the Howard Theatre Foundation was formed to bring the theater back to life; the following year, it earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places; the year after that it reopened, ushering in the age of Go-go. When it closed again in 1985, it was the oldest theater in the country featuring black artists. Among those who graced the Howard stage were the Supremes, Ray Charles, Smokey Robinson, Chuck Berry, Marvin Gaye, Nat King Cole, Dizzy Gilespie, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holiday, James Brown, and Aretha Franklin.
For twenty years the theater lay empty, until Chip and Malik Ellis of the Ellis Development Group decided to do something. In 2006, the Ellis Development Group was awarded a contract to refurbish the Howard Theatre, and Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc. (HTR) was created. HTR, a non profit, sought to “Preserve, Protect, and Proclaim the legacy and genius of the world's most influential form of cultural expression…the African American Entertainment Experience in the form of Gospel, Jazz, R&B, Hip Hop, and Classical music.”
ears of hard work and jumping through bureaucratic hoops paid off; the Howard Theatre reopened (again) in 2012. Today, the 12,000 foot theater is a mixed-used performance and cultural space. Alongside its big-name performances are the amateur nights that all those years ago made the Howard a “Theatre for the People.”
620 T Street, NW
Washington, DC 20001