The Glory Days of U Street; Bringing Back 'Black Broadway'
Byline: Lisa Rauschart, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES
When Calvin Jones starts to reminisce about the glory days of U Street, he quite naturally swivels around to the piano to illustrate his points.
"Oh, that's a beautiful thing," he says, fingers arching over the keys in a passage from Duke Ellington's "Prelude to a Kiss." "Back in the heyday, you'd hear stuff like this all the way from Florida Avenue to 15th Street."
Those heady days of music, moxie and soul are recalled in the Dance Institute of Washington's new production "Remembering U," playing tomorrow and Saturday at the Lincoln Theatre.
Mr. Jones, who is a professor of music and coordinator of jazz studies at the University of the District of Columbia as well as a nationally recognized performer, will be leading members of the UDC Jazz Ensemble in several of the numbers each evening, with live music replacing the usual canned versions.
"With live music you always have to be ready," says Fabian Barnes, founder and artistic director of DIW. "It's more exciting and spontaneous."
When Mr. Barnes went over to UDC to listen to Mr. Jones put his Jazz Ensemble through its paces, he knew he had found the sound he needed.
"It felt appropriate," he says. "There's a lot of talent right here in the community."
That was certainly the case on U Street from the early 1900s to the 1960s, when the street Pearl Bailey once called the "Black Broadway" had it all, from jazz clubs to movie theaters to thriving black-owned businesses.
"It's one of the communities that best exemplifies how things used to be," says Mr. Barnes. "There was a diversity of people here, from intellectuals and scholars, to doctors and store owners and poor people. Everyone was contained in and around U Street."
This is the fledgling venture of Mr. Barnes' Washington Reflections Dance Project, featuring a corps of professional dancers who he expects will form the beginning of a locally based professional dance company at DIW.
"Remembering U" is a project that depends as much on recollection as on dancing. In fact, Mr. Barnes had to do a bit more than the usual amount of legwork associated with a dance production. He combed through early accounts of the neighborhood, looked through photographs at Howard University, and even interviewed residents to get the feel of the street.
"I wanted a way to pay honor to U Street in its former glory," says Mr. Barnes, who included both photographs and narration in his multimedia event. "It's a little known story, but it should be a widely known story. …