Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Howard Theater Walk of Fame

On this lunchtime bike ride, I stopped riding and walked my bike one the sidewalk starting north on 7th Street beginning at S Street (MAP), and rounding the corner onto T Street before ending at The Howard Theatre in northwest D.C.’s U Street neighborhood.  I did this so that I could see the sidewalk medallions that comprise The Howard Theater Walk of Fame.

The concept for the new walk of fame was in development since 2008 by the Shaw and LeDroit Park communities in their passion to preserve and honor the rich history of the historic Howard Theatre, and was subsequently commissioned by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities in partnership with the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development, and Cultural Tourism D.C., a nonprofit that promotes the arts across the city.

After a call for artists in 2016, D.C.-based design firm Hackreative along with sculptors Jay Coleman and Joanna Blake were selected to design the medallions. Their pieces draw design elements from the architecture of the Howard Theatre itself, including the braided arch and banner on the building’s sign, and the block frame around the marquee.

The walk of fame consists of fifteen medallions memorializing and recognizing different artists and musicians that have performed at the Howard Theater since it first opened in 1910, who were chosed by a panel of representatives from the commissioning groups, plus a few Shaw and LeDroit Park leaders.  The medallions honor Pearl Bailey, Chuck Brown, James Brown, Ruth Brown, Cab Calloway, The Clovers, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Marvin Gaye, Lionel Hampton, Moms Mabley, Abbie Mitchell, Billy Taylor, Sister Rosetta Tharpe and a combination of Howard Theatre managers and owners.  Upright signs that detail the history of the theater and the artists represented bookend the project.

After today’s ride, I later went home and listened to performances by the artists recognized by the walk of fame.  That music was a perfect way to end the day, and a long workweek.

 

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Battle Hymn of the Republic Ride

The “Battle Hymn of the Republic”, frequently known outside of the United States as “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory,”
is a lyric by the American writer Julia Ward Howe using the music from a song entitled “John Brown’s Body.”  Howe’s more famous lyrics were written in November of 1861, and first published in The Atlantic Monthly in February 1862.  And to end the week, on today’s lunchtime bike ride I went by The Willard Hotel (MAP), which is the site where she composed the song.

Julia Ward Howe was married to Samuel Gridley Howe, a nineteenth century American physician, abolitionist, and a famed scholar and advocate for education of the blind.  The couple were active leaders in anti-slavery politics and strong supporters of the Union.  Samuel Howe was a member of the Secret Six, the group who funded John Brown, who advocated for armed insurrection as the only way to overthrow the institution of slavery in the United States.  John Brown later lead a raid on the federal armory at Harpers Ferry, Virginia (today West Virginia) in an attempt to arm slaves and start a slave liberation movement.  However, the raid failed, he was tried for treason against the Commonwealth of Virginia, as well as the murder of five men including three black men, and inciting a slave insurrection.  He was found guilty on all counts and hanged, becoming the first person convicted of treason in the history of the country.  However, this did not deter the Howes’ abolishionist beliefs.

Howe first heard the song “John Brown’s Body” during a public review of Union troops outside D.C., on Upton Hill, Virginia. The Reverend James Freeman Clarke, who was accompanying Howe at the review, suggested to Howe that she write new words for the fighting men’s song.  It was at his suggestion that on the night of November 18, 1861, Howe wrote the verses to the “Battle Hymn of the Republic.”

Of the writing of the lyrics, Howe remembered, “I went to bed that night as usual, and slept, according to my wont, quite soundly. I awoke in the gray of the morning twilight; and as I lay waiting for the dawn, the long lines of the desired poem began to twine themselves in my mind. Having thought out all the stanzas, I said to myself, “I must get up and write these verses down, lest I fall asleep again and forget them.” So, with a sudden effort, I sprang out of bed, and found in the dimness an old stump of a pen which I remembered to have used the day before. I scrawled the verses almost without looking at the paper.”

When she was done, these were the lyrics she wrote:

Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord;
He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored;
He hath loosed the fateful lightning of His terrible swift sword;
His truth is marching on.

[The chorus, which is repeated after each verse:]
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!
His truth is marching on.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps;
They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;
I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps,
His day is marching on.

I have read His fiery gospel writ in rows of burnished steel!
“As ye deal with my condemners, so with you My grace shall deal!
Let the Hero, born of woman, crush the serpent with his heel, ”
Since God is marching on.

He has sounded forth the trumpet that shall never call retreat;
He is sifting out the hearts of men before His judgment seat;
Oh, be swift, my soul, to answer Him; be jubilant, my feet!
Our God is marching on.

In the beauty of the lilies Christ was born across the sea,
With a glory in His bosom that transfigures you and me;
As He died to make men holy, let us die to make men free!
While God is marching on.

A sixth verse also written by Howe, which is less commonly sung, was not initially published at that time. The lyrics are:

He is coming like the glory of the morning on the wave,
He is Wisdom to the mighty, He is Succour to the brave,
So the world shall be His footstool, and the soul of Time His slave,
Our God is marching on.

The song links the judgment of the wicked at the end of the age, as depicted in the 63rd chapter of the book of Isaiah in the Old Testament and the 19th chapter of the book of Revelation in the New Testament, with the American Civil War. And I had heard this extremely popular and well-known patriotic song many times during my life.  I’ve even heard it sung as a hymn in church.  But it wasn’t until today’s lunchtime bike ride that I learned about it, and where it was written.

Emma G

During today’s bike ride, I stopped to watch a street performer playing music outside of the Metro Center transit system station (MAP), located in Downtown D.C.  I had heard her briefly once before, at Christmastime at the Downtown Holiday Market.  But at that time, despite wanting to stay and listen longer, I had to get back to work.  Today, however, I was able to stay for what for me turned out to be an hour-long beginning-of-the-week concert.  The performer’s name is Emma Ghaemmaghamy, but she is more commonly known as Emma G.

Emma G moved to D.C. almost three years ago from New Zealand, where she was the lead singer with the Auckland-based hard rock band Static Era.  After arriving stateside she worked for a few months or so at various jobs in Massachusetts and Connecticut before moving here.  But since arriving in D.C., she’s been focusing all of her time and energy, and her soul into the reason she moved here, to establish a music career in America.  She now works full time as a singer, songwriter, musician, vocal teacher, and actor.  She plays in various local clubs, bars and numerous community events throughout the city.  For example, just recently Emma G was one of the winners of the 2018 Sing Into Spring competition.  And as a result, along with Summer Pearson and Eli Lev, she sang on national television the opening song at this year’s Cherry Blossom Festival Parade, which took place earlier this month here in D.C.  Within the last year she has also played at The Kennedy Center, the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, and Arena Stage.

Her career also takes her far beyond our national capital city.  Since moving here she has also completed two tours of California, as well as a nationwide New Zealand tour entitled “All Roads Lead To Home (not Rome).”

Emma G’s music crosses the confines of individual genres.  She describes her music as “always having had a bit of tug and war between rock and pop”, but more recently also incorporating a whole bunch of funk, hip-hop and rap songs.  Her current sound she describes as “having a hint of aggression and sassiness but with a funky edge – kind of Pink meets Adele meets Tracy Chapman”.

A lot of her music also conveys a social consciousness, and not surprisingly for D.C., a certain political aspect as well.  For example, she has described her recent song “Superhero” as being about “using love as a superpower to win out over hate, bigotry, racism and sexism.”  And her studio single “Sold (Take A Shot)” she has described as her “anthem to women in particular with the messaging of ‘my body my choice’.”

It states on her website that she “is known as the ‘Kiwi girl’ who plays great songs.”  But if you’re not fortunate enough to be able to hear her in person, her music is available on iTunes, AmazonGoogle Play, Spotify, and SoundCloud.  And you can even download a free copy of her recent album entitled “Real Talk – Live in Washington, D.C.”

As I was enjoying her musical performance this morning in front of the metro station, I also watched the commuters as they came off the escalators and passed by her on their way to work.  And I felt sorry for many of them.  They seemed to be so caught up in their rush to get to their destinations that they didn’t pause to enjoy the music.  Many of them didn’t even look up to see her smiling, or hear her intermittently greeting them and wishing them a fantastic day.  They simply zoned out and followed each other like lemmings heading off a cliff or, in this case, to their jobs.

But not all of the passersby were oblivious to her presence.  I saw many of them start smiling once they saw her, or when they first heard the music.  Some waved.  A few even gave her a thumbs up.  And some of them exuded an air of familiarity in their interactions with her, much like regulars in a neighborhood bar.  They are the ones I envision having a good day and being happy throughout the day.

At the beginning of this post I wrote that Emma G is a street performer.  But with all due respect to that genre of entertainer, I would come to find out that she is much more than a street performer.  She emits a personal kind of gravity that draws you in.  Her contagious smile automatically evokes smiles from others.  And her music makes you feel like it’s going to be a good day.  She not only performs, but seems to also possess the power to make other people happy.  Experiencing her perform was a great way to start out my Monday at the beginning of a new work week.  And I think it’s going to be a good week.


The sound quality on these videos is not very good because I took them with my cellphone.  But you can
view and listen to her official videos here!

             
[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Muddy Crows

I didn’t wait until lunchtime for this bike ride because today I rode to Farragut Square Park (MAP) to see The Muddy Crows, one of D.C.’s best local original bands, who were performing as part of the Spring Concert Series sponsored by Fox 5, the local TV affiliate.

It was an unseasonably cold morning with occasional drops of rain drizzling down from a sky that couldn’t seem to make up its mind what it wanted to do.  But even that couldn’t put a damper on the event.  The Americana/Roots-Rock group played a variety of covers, but it was their original songs like Old Fashioned Love and One of Those Days, as well as some of the songs from the group’s recently-released album such as Warm and Fuzzy and Jezebel, that really made the show.

Unfortunately, the concert had to come to an end.  So it’s too late for anyone who wasn’t fortunate enough to be able to be there.  I took a couple of videos of the #Fox5Rocks performance (see below) so you could get a taste of their music, which is available through their website and on iTunes.  But to fully enjoy The Muddy Crows, I recommend seeing them live.  And if the nearly 100 shows they put on last year is any indication, the prolific performers will providing many more opportunities in the near future.  And now that they are back from their recently-completed first European tour, which included 22 shows over 24 days across 17 cities and multiple countries, I’m hoping many of those upcoming shows will be here in the D.C. area.

The Howard Theater

The Howard Theater

The Howard Theatre, which is located at 620 T Street (MAP) in the U Street Corridor of northwest D.C.’s historic Shaw/Uptown neighborhood, is an entertainment venue with a storied history of highs and lows since opening over a century ago. And that is the reason I decided to make it my destination on this lunchtime outing.

The Howard originally had a capacity of more than 1,200, and featured orchestra and balcony seats and eight private boxes, with a lavishly decorated interior. And the theater’s original exterior matched its lavish interior, combining architectural elements of the Beaux-Arts, Italian Renaissance, and neoclassical styles. However, it lost its original ornate facade in 1941 when it was redone in the then-fashionable Streamline style. And it has been reduced in size over the years, currently being able to seat only half of its original capacity.

After its initial opening in 1910, The Howard became known for its variety of acts, including vaudeville performers, plays, and even circuses. However, despite its early success which lasted through the 1920’s, the Howard was forced to close down at the onset of the Great Depression in 1929.

The building became a church for a short time, but was was able to reopen a couple of years later under new management, and this time became a venue devoted to discovering and hiring only the best in black talent. Though The Howard did not discover, Duke Ellington, a native Washingtonian, it was responsible for launching many other careers, such as Ella Fitzgerald’s. The astounding success of The Howard resonated throughout the East Coast as it energized the debuts of other black owned theaters, such as The Apollo in Harlem, The Uptown in Philadelphia, and The Royal in Baltimore, or, what was known at the time as The “Chitlin’ Circuit.”

Over the next couple of decades, many notable Jazz performers headlined at The Howard, including Count Basie, Louis Armstrong, ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway, Ethel Waters, Nat King Cole, “Moms” Mabley, and hometown favorite Duke Ellington, bringing along with them an unparalleled level of fame and prestige to The Howard. Other types of performers were intermittently mixed in with these acts during this time. These acts included performers like Danny Kaye, Abbott and Costello and Cesar Romero, as well as Pearl Bailey, who made her debut at the Howard.

Then in the 1950s and 60s, The Howard became a venue for rock ‘n’ roll and rhythm and blues, including such artists as Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis, Jr., James Brown, Lena Horne, Lionel Hampton, The Supremes, Stevie Wonder, Dionne Warwick, Martha Reeves & The Vandellas, and Marvin Gaye, to name but a few.

After the riots which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1968, coupled with societal changes brought about by desegregation, brought about unrest and disturbances which served to debilitate the area, drive out many locals, and eventually cause degradation of the once vibrant neighborhood. This made it difficult for The Howard to attract patrons, and in 1970 it was forced to close down once again.

Many attempts were made to revive The Howard in the years that followed. One attempt occurred in 1975, and attracted many stars and received significant publicity, both from the audience and performers. Acts such as Redd Foxx and Melba Moore were among those featured at the reopening. Later in the decade, Go-Go bands played the venue, including the Godfather of Go-Go, Chuck Brown, another native Washingtonian, along with The Soul Searchers, also performed at The Howard. Despite this success, this run lasted only five years. The venue failed to regain its former glory or financial viability, and closed down once again in 1980.

Most recently the theater, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was reopened after a 32-year hiatus and a $29 million multi-year renovation project. After being listed by the D.C. Preservation League as one of its Most Endangered Places in the city in 2002, groundbreaking for extensive renovations of the theater was held a couple of years later, and The Howard finally reopened in 2012 with a grand re-opening gala and benefit concert hosted by Bill Cosby and Wanda Sykes.

Today the reopened theater honors the glory of the past while ushering in an exciting future. Through the addition of state-of-the-art acoustics, and video and recording capabilities, The Howard is able to retain the intimate feel of its classic space for traditional audiences, while expanding to include new digital-age audiences as well. It is open six days a week, year-round, with dining amenities

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]