WASHINGTON (AP) - Before there was the Apollo in Harlem, there was the Howard Theatre in the nation’s capital.
The nearly 102-year-old Howard officially lifts its curtain once again Thursday for a reopening gala after a $29 million renovation that began in 2010. Smokey Robinson, Savion Glover and Madeleine Peyroux will perform, along with Chaka Khan, Boyz II Men and others.
From the red carpet, actress and singer Leslie Uggams said she last came to the Howard to perform when she was 10 years old in the 1950s. She said it was part of a circuit of top-ranked black theaters and she remembers saying, “Wow!” as she walked inside.
“You played the Apollo, you played the Royal Theater in Baltimore and you played the Howard Theatre in Washington, D.C.,’” she said. “If you were asked to play there, that meant you had arrived.”
Comedian Dick Gregory said returning to the Howard is a reminder of an era of segregation. But the Howard welcomed black performers well before the Apollo and other places because it was in a majority black neighborhood.
“You had some acts that could work in Vegas, but you couldn’t stay in the hotels,” Gregory said. “Here, you felt like you were with family.”
“I grew up in this theater, so I’ve had some really wonderful times here,” he said. “This was the Apollo of Washington, D.C.”
Bill Cosby joined the celebration, offering a tribute to jazz and making fun of the musicians.
“What happened to your hair, boy?” Cosby asked New Orleans trumpeter Christian Scott, making fun of his hair because it was sticking up and shaved on the sides. “I’m going to tell you one thing, you better play.”
“I’m going to try,” Scott said.
When Washington’s U Street corridor was known as the “Black Broadway” in an era of segregation, the Howard was a crown jewel through the 1960s. It opened in 1910, touted as the “largest colored theater in the world.” It launched careers for Duke Ellington, Marvin Gaye, The Supremes and Ella Fitzgerald, among others. It began to suffer, though, after the 1968 riots following Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination damaged much of the neighborhood, and competitors built newer and larger venues. The Howard closed in 1980.
By comparison, Harlem’s famous Apollo Theater first opened as a burlesque theater in 1914, and African-Americans were not allowed inside. It later reopened as the Apollo in 1934 and focused on the growing black community in Harlem.View Entire Story
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