Historic Howard Theatre Re-opens Today

One Of The Oldest African American Theatres in the Country Reopens as A Gleaming New Performance Venue With A Grand Gala, Stellar Opening Lineup

Apr 09, 2012, 09:00 ET from The Howard Theatre

WASHINGTON, April 9, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- 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 and a 32-year hiatus. The Howard Theatre will re-open the week of April 9 with an opening lineup that includes Wale, Wanda Sykes, The Roots, Robert Randolph, Taj Mahal, Yasiin Bey (aka Mos Def), Meshell Ndegeocello, Bad Brains, Chuck Brown, Chuck Berry, Esperanza Spalding and a weekly Sunday Brunch featuring the Harlem Gospel Choir.  The full schedule is available at www.thehowardtheatre.com.

(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20120409/PH83556-a  )
(Photo: http://photos.prnewswire.com/prnh/20120409/PH83556-b  )

On April 12, Howard Theatre Restoration (HTR), the non-profit formed in 2006 to raise funds for the restoration, will host a Grand Opening Gala Fundraiser featuring performers from The Howard Theatre's past and future including Smokey Robinson, Al Jarreau, Madeleine Peyroux and Savion Glover. The event will honor Motown Records founder and producer Berry Gordy, who will be in attendance, and kicks off the capital campaign for HTR, whose next charge is to build an educational center and museum behind the theatre.

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. 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."

The Most Historic of Theatres: A National Treasure

"The Howard Theatre will provide a true D.C. experience showcasing what Washington was and what it has become," says Chip Ellis, of Ellis Development and a trustee of Howard Theatre Restoration.

The theatre opened in 1910 at the corner of 7th and T Streets NW, in the area known as "Black Broadway." It featured vaudeville, live theatre, talent shows and two performing companies, the Lafayette Players and the Howard University Players.

After briefly closing in 1929, theatre manager Shep Allen re-opened it in 1931 with native Washingtonian Duke Ellington playing the theatre's first night.  Allen introduced the concept of Amateur Night (early winners included Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Eckstine) and brought in 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.

The Howard Theatre provided a place where color barriers blurred and music unified. The Washington Bee dubbed it the "Theatre for The People," as both dignitaries and everyday folks gathered to see both superstars and rising stars. While The Howard Theatre inspired change, it felt the impact of a nation in flux following the 1968 riots. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1974, but 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, paving the way for Howard Theatre 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 financed the remainder. The overhaul of the theatre began in September of 2010.

An Old Theatre Steeped in New Design and Technology

The recreated original 1910 regal windowed facade 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 theatre design, by Martinez + Johnson Architecture with enhanced interiors by Marshall Moya Design, features black walnut walls, oak floors and Brazilian granite bars on each level.  It includes a $2 million state-of-the-art acoustic system, 10' video screens and recording capabilities allowing the theatre to retain the intimate feel of its former 1,200-seat space, while appealing to both traditional and digital-age audiences for live performances, private galas or political fundraisers. Martinez + Johnson developed a deeper stage, basement and additional wing space for enhanced set preparation, and a gourmet kitchen. 100 dedicated parking spaces will be available at the neighboring mixed-use development, Progression Place.   Whiting and Turner provided construction services for the project, and the reconstruction effort was managed by the Ellis Development Group.

"Opening the face of the venue with the windows that once graced the original facade is symbolic of the neighborhood's resurgence. It fulfills the vision of the theatre as a guardian of the past while standing as a vanguard to the present," says Gary Martinez of Martinez + Johnson.

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 appointed the theatre's executive chef, Aaron Flores, and developed the culinary staff-training program.

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."

"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."

The Howard Theatre is located at 620 T Street NW, Washington, DC, www.thehowardtheatre.com.

About Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc.

Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc. (HTR), a 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization, leads a collaborative effort with the District of Columbia and other private entities to bring the life, the music, and the people back to The Howard Theatre.  The mission of Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc. is to restore the theater, preserve the building, preserve the history, and educate the community about the theatre.

About Blue Note Entertainment Group

Blue Note Entertainment Group was founded in 1981 by Danny Bensusan with the opening of the legendary Blue Note jazz club in New York's Greenwich Village. The Blue Note quickly became one of the first venues in the country to present jazz in an intimate, upscale setting, and Mr. Bensusan has been credited with revitalizing jazz in New York City. 

Blue Note currently owns, operates, and books talent at numerous high-profile music venues throughout the United States and abroad. Blue Note Entertainment Group was founded in 1981 with the opening of the famed Blue Note jazz club in New York.  In addition to The Howard Theatre, Blue Note has opened Blue Note clubs in Tokyo and Osaka, Japan as well as in Milan, Italy. In addition to the Blue Note, which celebrated its 30th Anniversary in 2011 with the inaugural Blue Note Jazz Festival, Blue Note Entertainment Group currently owns and operates B.B. King Blues Club in Times Square and the Highline Ballroom in Chelsea and books talent for the Regattabar in Boston, MA, Showcase Live in Foxboro, MA, and the Baltimore Soundstage in Baltimore, MD. Subsidiaries of Blue Note Entertainment Group include the Grammy-nominated record label Half Note Records, as well as Blue Note Management Group. For more information, please visit www.bluenoteentertainmentgroup.com.

About Marcus Samuelsson Group

Marcus Samuelsson Group (MSG) is a New York City-based, hospitality management and food media company. From high-end restaurants to fast-casual cafes, MSG is committed to providing an exceptional and distinct culinary experience at culinary venues and events all over the world. A commitment to excellence, community and diversity is core to the group's beliefs and offerings.  For media information about Marcus Samuelsson, please visit www.baltzcompany.com.

SOURCE The Howard Theatre