Little Known Black History Fact: The New Howard Theatre

The Howard Theater was called the country’s “Largest Colored Theater in the World.”

Date: Wednesday, April 11, 2012, 5:09 am
By: Erica Taylor, The Tom Joyner Morning Show

The Howard Theater in Washington, DC opened its doors in 1910. Nestled on DC’s “Black Broadway” the Howard Theater was the country’s “Largest Colored Theater in the World.” The Howard Theater was where the Supremes first made their debut in 1962 and where the winner of the featured amateur night was a young singer named Ella Fitzgerald.

Other legends that started their careers at the Howard Theater include: Duke Ellington, Billy Eckstine, Billy Taylor, Roberta Flack and Pearl Bailey. The venue was also an oratory auditorium for Booker T. Washington and many keynote speakers. Comedians Petey Greene, Dick Gregory, Redd Foxx and Moms Mabley entertained the Howard Theater’s vast audience. Howard Theater hosted VIP’s like President Franklin D. and Eleanor Roosevelt, who dropped in to see the superstars of vaudeville and jazz. Truant officers often raided the theater, knowing that students cut class to see the top performers. During the Great Depression, the theater served as a church before returning to Jazz under Duke Ellington’s band.

But in the later part of the 1960’s, the historic Howard Theater took a back seat to the civil rights movement and a downward shift in the neighborhood. The theater was the center of the 1968 race riots after Dr. King was assassinated. The Howard Theater was declared a national landmark in 1974 but remained empty for 30 years.

Recently, investors like the Ellis Development Group took an interest in restoring the theater to its original prestige. After a $29 million renovation, the Howard Theater is once again ready to open its doors to the public.

With 12,000 square feet of entertainment space, the Howard Theater now has room for 1,000 standing customers and up to 750 for supper-club events. It features a new surround-system, sizable TV screens and VIP sections. The Howard Theater’s grand opening this week will feature performances by Smokey Robinson, Savion Glover, Al Jarreau and Martha Reeves.

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