by contributor Wendy Gordon
In 2002, the DC Preservation League listed the Howard Theatre as one of its most endangered places. In September 2010, groundbreaking for the theatre’s extensive $29 million dollar renovation was the construction CPR that brought the iconic performance venue back to life.
In April, 2011 the doors opened, reviving the hall to its previous grandeur in a contemporary form. Originally opened in 1910, the “Theatre of the People” is again just that.
On Tuesday evening, guests filtered through the entrance to be greeted with champagne and hors d’oeuvres by celebrity chef Marcus Samuelson and a sneak preview of The Howard Theatre. The tone was celebratory; the lighting, colored with blues, lavenders and pinks, the atmosphere a combination of modern club-chic meets echoes of the past.
If that wasn’t enough, guests were treated to historic photos of Howard Theatre’s original days of glory when the stage was filled with the likes of Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin, Buddy Holly, Sarah Vaughn, Dinah Washington, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown and the Flames, Otis Redding, Motown & Stax Recording Stars, Lena Horne and Lionel Hampton….just to name a few, via large screen projections. The sound system blared Motown hits and on the floor, live drummers kept the crowd moving to the rhythm.
Tuesday’s show brought out the performers in the flesh to again populate the original stage. The show featured both the old and new guard, opening with the considerable talents of Trombone Shorty (Troy Andrews), who in his twenty-something years has mastered his instrument to the point that he stands shoulder to shoulder with legends.
From his Tremé neighborhood in New Orleans' 6th Ward, he got his nickname at four years old when he was observed by his older brother James marching in a street parade wielding a trombone twice as long as he was tall. Troy started early, learning how to play drums and what he remembers as "the world's smallest trumpet" at the age of three.
By the time he reached six, this prodigy was playing trumpet and trombone in a jazz band led by his older brother James, himself a trumpet player of local renown. Following Trombone Shorty, headliner George Clinton brought on the funk as only he can. Now in his 70s, the father of funk was dressed conservatively (from his earlier days) in a suit and fedora, bringing his style of music to the delighted audience. Let’s face it, if anyone was standing still during that performance, their vitals need to be checked immediately.
Good to know that after all these years, we don’t have to give up the funk.