HOWARD'S GALA HONORS WOMEN; Three Singers Signify Theater's Great History

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), April 19, 2013 | Go to article overview

HOWARD'S GALA HONORS WOMEN; Three Singers Signify Theater's Great History


Byline: Matthew Dicker, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

Just three years ago, only the longest-tenured Washingtonians could recall that the dilapidated and unmarked building at Wiltberger and T streets Northwest was once the cultural epicenter of what was then the nation's largest urban black population. Now, $29 million and countless man hours later, the Howard Theatre once again stands as the premier entertainment destination in the Shaw neighborhood.

The Howard Theatre will host its second annual Gala and Benefit Concert on Friday to raise funds for the theater's nonprofit arm. The gala's theme will be a celebration of the women of the Howard Theatre, and the Howard will present its Trailblazer Award to Dionne Warwick, Chaka Khan, and Valerie Simpson. Performers including BeBe Winans, Yolanda Adams, Marsha Ambrosius, and Sheila E. will perform tributes to the trio of award winners, and also will celebrate the legacies of the International Sweethearts of Rhythm and the late Etta James.

These women signify some of the great history of the Howard Theatre, said Roy Chip Ellis, developer of the Howard Theatre and trustee of the Howard Theatre Restoration.

Each of the three honorees has a relationship with the theater, but few performers as long as Dionne Warwick. She performed her first record, Don't Make Me Over, at the Howard Theatre in the early 1960s, and last appeared at the Howard in February to pay tribute to Stevie Wonder after he received the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation's Distinguished Individual Award. (The Washington Times requested an interview with the singer but declined an offer to submit written questions in advance for her via her publicist, to which responses from, or on behalf of, Miss Warwick would be emailed.)

Valerie Simpson is receiving the award as a tribute to her place in Motown's storied relationship with the Howard.

Valerie Simpson wrote many of the songs that Motown singers sang at the Howard, and the Motown Revue was a major show at the Howard Theatre, Mr. Ellis said. As Berry Gordy stated last year as we honored him, the Motown Revue came to the Howard Theatre probably more so than any other theater in the country, and was a great springboard to many of the artists.

Chaka Khan performed at the Howard last May, shortly after its reopening, and the Howard Theatre Restoration was so impressed that they wanted to bring her back.

We thought she was very worthy of being recognized and celebrated for her career, as well as the current music that she is developing, during her celebration of her 40th anniversary in the music business, Mr. Ellis said.

Fresh off of his exit from ABC's Dancing With the Stars on Tuesday, D.L. Hughley will host the gala along with fellow comedian Kym Whitley.

If he wants to do a little jig for us on stage, we'll definitely applaud him, Mr. Ellis said. Maybe he'll stay for the after-party and give us some notes on how to dance.

The Howard Theatre opened its doors in 1910, and was one of the first theaters in the country to cater to a primarily black audience. More than two decades before the famed Apollo Theater opened in its current incarnation in New York, the Howard created the concept of amateur night, and gave young talents such as Ella Fitzgerald and Billy Eckstine their big breaks. …

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