On August 22nd, 2017 they’ll celebrate their 107th anniversary. Opening their doors in 1910, it was the largest African-American theater in the world. This was even before the famed Apollo Theater (circa 1914) in New York.
From George Washington University:
“For decades, the Howard was more than a theater; it was an institution, a place where black performers could get a foothold in the profession, where Washington’s black community could listen to the sounds of their generations and where white audiences could learn the passion and power of the black musician.”
The list of those gracing the stage of the Howard Theatre over the years is long and exhaustive but just a few of the most impressive include Booker T. Washington, Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, Billie Holliday, Cab Calloway, Nat King Cole, Marvin Gaye, Aretha Franklin, Dizzy Gilespie, The Supremes, Otis Redding, Lena Horne, and James Brown. Some of these artists were only starting out when they got up there, but once they left, everything changed.
In times when much of the nation was divided, the Howard Theatre was a place that took down the barriers and unified people through music, even getting the nickname “Theatre for The People” by the Washington Bee. During WWII, the nation’s president Franklin D. Roosevelt and his wife Eleanor would even be found in the theater to see shows with Abbott and Costello and Cesar Romero, among others.
Later in the ’50s and ’60s, the theater turned into a house for rock n’ roll and rhythm and blues. Unfortunately, after the 1968 riots and finding difficulty in bringing in new patrons, the theater closed in 1970. After several false starts throughout the next ten years, it closed again in 1980 and was shut for the next 22 years, until 2012.
Today, the Howard Theatre is enjoying its rebirth and is entering a new era in its long and prestigious history. While there may not be an official 107th anniversary party, they’ve definitely got more shows for the world to fall in love with coming up.
Check out just a few of the shows around the 107th year:
See you out there!
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