Saturday, June 14, 2008

Remembering the Howard Theater in its Heyday

As I was taking photos of the old Howard Theater for a Road Trip article I wrote for the Washington Post (Raise Your Hands for a Gospel Tour of Washington), I was greeted by three old men sitting in a Cadillac. They regaled me with tales of the theater in its heyday. One said that Della Reese lived across the hall from him in Cleveland. They even told me that at one time the sign was on the corner of the building and not in the center where it is now. The theater is now in disrepair, but grant money is going to be used to restore the theater to its former greatness.

I was telling someone else about it later and they described it exactly as I thought of it—it was like being the barbershop. They were both comrades and rivals and they tripped over each other and helped each other in reminiscing. I was there to act as the audience they needed to take a trip back in time. For once, I stopped to listen rather than sticking to my plan of doing what I needed to do and moving on.

It was fantastic to hear them talk about growing up in DC and listen to a time when people were less cynical and it didn’t take so much to dazzle us. It was a thrill just to see the performers enter the theater. “I used to come up here just to smell how those men smelled,” one of them said to show just how intoxicating the experience was for him as a boy.

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