The Howard Theatre, the historic arts landmark that launched the careers of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye and The Supremes, announces their grand re-opening after a $29 million renovation with a star-studded opening gala and lineup of top-tier events. The Howard Theatre will re-open the week of April 9th with performances by Wale, The Roots, Robert Randolph, Taj Mahal, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), Meshell Ndegeocello, Bad Brains, Chuck Brown and comedienne Wanda Sykes.
On April 12th, the new venue will host a Grand Opening Gala Fundraiser presenting performers from the Howard Theatre's past and future including Smokey Robinson, Al Jarreau, Madeleine Peyroux, Savion Glover and many more. The event will honor famed Motown Records founder and producer Berry Gordy, who will be in attendance. A full slate of wide-ranging performances in the 12,000 square foot, 650 seat (1,100-standing room) theatre will continue with a lineup that includes Chuck Berry, Chaka Khan, Esperanza Spalding, Jack Bruce, Boyz II Men and a weekly Sunday Brunch featuring the Harlem Gospel Choir. The scheduled lineup is listed at the end of this release.
The Howard Theatre will be operated by Blue Note Entertainment Group, the owners and operators of clubs and theaters around the world which include the Blue Note Jazz Club, B.B. King Blues Club and The Highline Ballroom in New York.
"I'm very excited about the opportunity to be associated with the restoration of the legendary Howard Theatre," says Steven Bensusan, president of Blue Note Entertainment Group. "It’s an honor to be a part of this project and to help preserve the rich tradition of the Howard, while bringing forth a modern concept in both design and programming that we hope will revitalize the music-loving community. We've created a very flexible venue that can host an amazing array of events. Our booking policy will be eclectic, and we plan to feature the top names in all genres of music.”
The Most Historic of Theatres: A National TreasureThe Howard Theatre
“The Howard Theatre will provide a true D.C. experience showcasing what Washington was and what it has become,” says Chip Ellis, CEO of Ellis Development and the leader behind the Howard Theatre Restoration (HRT) project. The Howard Theatre is located near the corner of 7th and T Streets Northwest in the Shaw Neighborhood of Washington, the area was once known as “Black Broadway” due to its burgeoning music scene. The theatre was built by architect J. Edward Storck for the National Amusement Company and opened on August 22, 1910 featuring vaudeville, live theatre, talent shows, and was home to two performing companies, the Lafayette Players and the Howard University Players. Like the nearby university, which is unaffiliated with the theatre, it is named after Union general Oliver Otis Howard.
After the stock market crash of 1929, the building was briefly converted into a church until Shep Allen, a theatre manager from Atlantic City, reopened it for its original purpose in 1931. Allen, who recruited native Washingtonian Duke Ellington to play the theatre’s first night, brought the theatre national attention by introducing Amateur Night Contests (whose early winners included Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Eckstine) and nationally-regarded performers including Pearl Bailey, Dinah Washington, Sammy Davis, Jr., Lena Horne, Lionel Hampton, Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Dizzy Gillespie and The Supremes, who made their first stage appearance at the Howard. Atlantic Records founder Ahmet Ertegun got his musical start by watching jazz from inside the theatre’s storied walls. Speakers to grace the stage included Booker T. Washington and Sydney Poitier, as well as comedians including Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley. The theatre’s balls and galas attracted President and Mrs. Roosevelt, Abbott and Costello, Ceasar Romero and Danny Kaye. As the 1950’s ushered in a new musical era, the theatre became a leading venue for rock and blues artists as well as a home for jazz big bands.
When the nation was deeply divided by segregation, The Howard Theatre provided a place where color barriers blurred and music unified. The Washington Bee dubbed it the "Theatre for The People" for it was the place where dignitaries gathered with everyday folks to see both superstars and rising stars. The theatre was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974. While The Howard Theatre inspired change, it felt the impact of a nation in flux following the 1968 riots. Eventually, the degradation of the neighborhood forced the theatre to close in 1980.
In 2000, the Howard Theatre was designated an American Treasure under the “Save America’s Treasures” program by President Clinton, a designation for historic sites around the nation that are “so important to the history of the United States that they must be preserved and restored.” In 2006, a 501(c)3, Howard Theatre Restoration, was formed to raise funds for the restoration. After raising nearly $2 million through HTR, the city of Washington gave $12 million in grants via tax incremental financing, historic tax credits and new market tax credits, and Eagle Bank stepped in to finance the remainder, all paving the way for an overhaul of the theatre, which began in September of 2010.
An Old Theatre Steeped in New Design and Technology
The Howard Theatre features a regal windowed façade, originally incorporated into the structure in 1941, and combines elements of Beaux Arts, Italian Renaissance and neoclassical design.
The balconied interior is built with flexibility including supper club-style seating for approximately 650, which can be quickly removed through elevated hydraulic platforms to allow standing room for 1,100. The new configuration, with black walnut walls, oak floors and Brazilian granite bars on each level, features a $2 million state-of-the-art acoustic system, 10’ video screens and recording capabilities allowing The Howard to retain the intimate feel of its former 1,200-seat space, while appealing to both traditional and digital-age audiences, be it for a live performance, a private gala or a political fundraiser. A deeper stage, basement and additional wing space provides for enhanced set preparation, gourmet kitchen and administrative office space. A 600-square-foot museum and gift shop will showcase memorabilia, photos and videos of the astounding array of artists and guests who graced The Howard in years past. 100 dedicated parking spaces will be available at the neighboring mixed-use development, Progression Place.
A Dining Destination Created by a Master
In addition to first-rate entertainment, the Howard Theatre will feature a full dining menu designed by consulting chef, Marcus Samuelsson, the youngest chef to ever receive two three-star ratings from The New York Times. In addition to designing the dinner and brunch menus, Marcus and his team from the Marcus Samuelsson Group will assist in the appointment of the Theatre's executive chef and develop the training program for the culinary staff.
Like its other award-winning supper club properties, the theatre will open its doors two hours prior to all seated shows, with first-come, first-serve basis seating. For standing room-only shows, a streamlined menu will be offered. “Bringing in a chef of Marcus’ caliber really separates us from the entertainment pack,” says Bensusan. “An avid supporter of the cultural arts, Chef Samuelsson is a natural fit to create a menu inspired by our Theatre’s cultural heritage, allowing our patrons to have a dining and performance experience that will be truly unparalleled.”
A Full Opening Schedule
The Howard Theatre will begin its opening with the Howard Theatre Community Day on April 9th, featuring live music performances, memorabilia displays and tours of the theatre. A memorabilia drive is currently underway, in which members of the community are donating tickets, posters, and souvenirs from the theatre’s past.
The Grand Opening Gala and Tribute Concert will be held on Thursday, April 12, 2012. A fundraiser for Howard Theatre Restoration, the 501c3 charged with preserving the building and history of the theatre, the event will feature a full line-up of legendary music, comedy and dance performances. “This will be a memorable night of entertainment that will officially raise the curtain of the Howard, celebrating the great history of entertainment at the theatre while looking toward its magnificent future,” says Ellis.
In addition to its opening evening performance lineup, the theatre will also host Sunday Gospel Brunch featuring the Harlem Gospel Choir, a completely seated, weekly gospel concert and brunch for $35 including a full Southern-style buffet brunch. Sunday Gospel Brunches will begin at 12:30 each Sunday starting April 15.
“Washington DC does not have a venue like the Howard which incorporates great food, state-of-the-art sound, lighting and video systems,” says Bensusan. “In addition to presenting great music, we plan to host many private events and corporate functions at the Howard. We are proud to bring the Howard Theatre back to Washington D.C. and look forward to adding a brand new chapter to its illustrious history."
A complete list of scheduled talent and ticket pricing can be found at the end of this release. Tickets for all scheduled events will be available for purchase beginning February 27th at http://www.thehowardtheatre.com/.
630 T Street NW, 620 T Street NW,