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Historic Howard Theatre back in action after 32-year hiatus

By Tim Cooper, courtesy Destination D.C.

WASHINGTON — The historic Howard Theatre, which helped launch the careers of superstars such as Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye and the Supremes, reopened April 12 with a grand-opening gala after being closed for 32 years.

The $29 million renovation re-created the original 1910 regal windowed facade that combines elements of Beaux Arts, Italian Renaissance and neoclassical design while installing the latest in acoustic sound, video screens and expanded stage and wing space.

The enhanced interior features black walnut walls, oak floors and Brazilian granite bars on each level.

The theater also features a full dining menu designed by consulting chef Marcus Samuelsson.
The theater opened in 1910 at the corner of 7th and T Streets NW, in the area known as Black Broadway. It featured vaudeville, live theater, talent shows and two performing companies, the Lafayette Players and the Howard University Players.

In the 1930s, theater manager Shep Allen introduced the concept of amateur night, with early winners including Fitzgerald and Billy Eckstine. He also brought in nationally regarded performers such as 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.

“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,” said Steven Bensusan, president of Blue Note Entertainment Group, which will operate the theater. “We’ve created a very flexible venue that can host an array of events. Our booking policy will be eclectic, and we plan to feature all genres of music.

“Washington, D.C., does not have a venue like the Howard, which incorporates great food, state-of-the-art sound, lighting and video systems.”