Before The Apollo, There Was D.C.’s Howard Theatre

The U Street corridor became the cultural hub of the black community in segregation-era D.C., so much so that the neighborhood earned the moniker “Black Broadway.” But some of the landmarks of that time period had been left to disrepair. Now one of them — Howard Theatre — will be opening its doors for the first time in decades thanks to an extensive, $29 million restoration project. Howard Theatre was once billed as “the largest theater in the world for African Americans,” reports WAMU 88.5′s Metro Connection.

“Ella Fitzgerald was found here,” [the project's developer Chip] Ellis says, “before she went up to the Apollo and did the amateur show there.”

In fact, not only did Lady Ella, the First Lady of Song, get her start at the Howard, the whole concept of amateur night did, back in 1931, thanks to theater manager, Shep Allen.

“Then it later went up to New York, in 1935 when the Apollo opened up for African Americans in Harlem,” Ellis says. “But before that time, Billy Eckstine, Dr. Billy Taylor, The Clovers, Marvin Gaye, when he was with his doo-wop group, he was first found and won the amateur night here.”

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