Washington D.C. Howard Theatre Re-opening – 4/12/12

Should have been there! Should have been there… to see this magnificent restoration in the heart of the, “hood,” lifting and elevating the whole block and neighborhood to new soaring heights.

Ellington, Basie, Ella, Sarah, Lena, Diana and The Supremes, Smokey, Stevie, Billy Eckstine, Pearl Bailey, Miles, Danny Kaye, Abbott and Costello, Sammy Davis, James Brown! They all played the Howard Theatre. And this is the short list.

Built in 1910 and closed in the early 70’s in disrepair, this landmark was the center of African American life. AND it brought a broad array and cross section of great international artists to the, “hood.” Now it’s restored beyond beautiful, and will bring people from all over the world once again.

There was a 20-piece orchestra featuring my old friend George Duke, Jimmy Heath, Christian McBride, and a group of local musicians who made Ellington and Basie sit straight up. George Duke conducted in tuxedo tails, two-toned black and white shoes, and a black fedora with white band. Snazzy snazzy bo bazzy banana fana fo fazzy fe fi mo mazzi. George did all the arrangements and they sparkled and sizzled in the vernacular. You should have been there.

In a small dressing room I sat across from Bill Cosby and Les McCann. They were cracking me up. Cosby carried on for an hour telling stories, and kidding with George Duke and Les McCann. And then in walks Joe Sample. It was all over. Talk about laughter. Joe talked about being fired from his first two jobs for no good reason as a teenager and decided then and there that he was going to go home and practice his piano and never work for anybody else again.

Then, Dionne Warwick and Leslie Uggams walked in looking like they were sixteen years old. Leslie’s million-dollar smile and gold dress made her look stunning. Dionne was looking great as well. I asked them both how they managed to stay so young. They both turned red. Music for 4 hours. And I had the thrill and distinct pleasure of singing with Dianne Reeves. We did a jazzy arrangement of, “Goin’ Home,” by Ellington. Dianne tore it up with an improvised scat solo. Amazingly, Savion Glover tap-danced what could easily have been a beautiful drum solo with his feet. And within the same song, Afro Blue, a brilliant sextet from Howard University, sang the, “Take Six,” vocalese solo.

How wonderful to see and hear Lalah Hathaway continuing in the great tradition that her father, Donny Hathaway, set forth. She and Frank McComb did a beautiful version of, “The Closer I Get To You.”

I missed getting a chance to say, “hello,” to Smokey Robinson and Berry Gordy. But they were there continuing the tradition too.

You should have been there.

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