Cur­tain about to rise at Howard

The Washington Times Daily - - Metro -

Cus­toms of­fi­cials at Washington Dulles In­ter­na­tional Air­port say a Nige­rian woman set an un­for­tu­nate record when she tried to smug­gle nearly 5 pounds of swal­lowed heroin into the coun­try.

Au­thor­i­ties say Bola Ade­bisi, 52, in­gested 180 thumb-sized pel­lets filled with $150,000 worth of heroin. She was charged in fed­eral court in Alexan­dria with drug smug­gling.

Cus­toms and Bor­der Pro­tec­tion of­fi­cers be­came sus­pi­cious when she told of­fi­cers she was com­ing to the U.S. to visit her brother but couldn’t de­scribe him. A rou­tine pat-down found her stom­ach to be ab­nor­mally rigid. An X-ray re­vealed the pel­lets and she was taken to the hospi­tal.

Ask the Dis­trict’s mayor about his mem­o­ries of the Howard Theatre, and his shoul­ders re­lax as the usual full-time at-at­ten­tion stance eases “his honor” into na­tive son Vince Gray.

“Did I go to the Howard?” he asked, toss­ing my query back on me. “Yes!” he ex­claimed.

“I re­mem­ber the last show I at­tended there,” he con­tin­ued with much en­thu­si­asm. “Ju­nior Walker and the All Stars were per­form­ing, and Ju­nior jumped off the stage and be­gan walk­ing through the au­di­ence, all the way up the aisle, around the con­ces­sion stand, with­out miss­ing a beat.”

Ahh. The good ol’ days at the Howard, a turn-of-the-last-cen­tury live-per­for­mance joint that’s been jumpin’ for 18 months. No, not with the glit­terati of the en­ter­tain­ment in­dus­try or the sounds of mu­sic and ap­plause waft­ing from the rect­an­gu­lar brick build­ing. Not just yet any­way. The Howard has been un­der­go­ing an in­tense ren­o­va­tion that, al­ready hav­ing pro­vided a new fa­cade, also is restor­ing its in­nards and will light its mar­quee for a grand gala and ben­e­fit con­cert April 12 fea­tur­ing an eclec­tic mix per­form­ers, in­clud­ing jazz in­ter­preters Al Jar­reau and Joe Sam­ple, R&B vo­cal­ist Raheem Devaughn and so­cial satirist and ac­tivist Dick Gre­gory.

The re­open­ing of the Howard, which catered to blacks and is lo­cated in cen­ter city, has been a hard slog for Wash­ing­to­ni­ans.

Closed a cou­ple years af­ter the 1968 ri­ots tore asun­der much of the U Street cor­ri­dor, save for a few places like Lee’s Flower & Card Shop and Ben’s Chili Bowl, the Howard, where greats in­clud­ing Duke Elling­ton, Ela Fitzger­ald and Billy Eck­s­tine per­formed, ex­pe­ri­enced ren­o­va­tion fits and restarts in the 1970s and 1980s. Although it had long ago been placed on the Na­tional Reg­is­ter of His­toric Places, it wasn’t un­til Septem­ber 2010 that the the­ater was gut­ted and a full restora­tion be­gan.

Wanda Hen­der­son, a D.C. na­tive and small­busi­ness owner who ad­vo­cated on be­half of full restora­tion, ap­pears to be still hold­ing her breath even though gala night is no longer just pen­ciled in her datebook.

Ms. Hen­der­son strolls down mem­ory lane to re­call grow­ing up in Le­droit Park, go­ing to high school just blocks away, at­tend­ing shows at the Howard and open­ing her beauty and bar­ber shop around the corner from the the­ater, on Sev­enth Street.

“Baby, I’ve al­ways stayed close to home, in the neigh­bor­hood,” she said Wed­nes­day af­ter­noon in her sa­lon, which now is on Ge­or­gia Av­enue, across from an­other Howard, the univer­sity.

Back in the day, Ms. Hen­der­son said, she and her girl­friends would walk “through the Bloom­ing­dale neigh­bor­hood” to avoid the hot spots near the Howard, and that’s “how we would walk back home.”

She fondly re­called see­ing shows that fea­tured the now-god­fa­ther of Go-go, Chuck Brown, who back then per­formed with the Soul Searchers, and the Unifics, an­other lo­cal group.

“But Wal­ter Jack­son stirred me,” she said of the po­lio-dis­abled R&B singer. “Baby, he was on stage on those crutches, and when he sang, he was speak­ing my name.

“I was heart­bro­ken when the Howard closed be­cause it was home base for all the mu­si­cal con­cert shows,” she con­tin­ued. “I’m so glad we are con­tin­u­ing a cul­tural icon, so we can re­mem­ber that era. This time, the per­form­ers are more eclec­tic to match changes” in the city’s de­mo­graph­ics. In­deed, times are chang­ing. To en­sure that the Howard be­comes a mon­ey­maker and not a venue that merely soothes the mu­si­cal souls of baby boomers, fu­ture book­ings in­clude Blue Oys­ter Cult and the for-adults-only Hen­son Al­ter­na­tive.

And, be­cause D.C. food­ies’ tastes are as di­verse as their mu­si­cal in­ter­ests, the Howard will have din­ing fa­cil­i­ties. Renowned chef Mar­cus Sa­muels­son has been hired to feed the masses.

A man of slight stature and an easy smile, Mr. Sa­muels­son, who owns the fa­mous Red Rooster Har­lem in Har­lem, N.Y., wel­comes his guests as if they are fam­ily.

With the date of the gala writ­ten in ink, Tony Robin­son, a 1980 grad­u­ate of H.D. Wood­son High School who is spokesman for City Ad­min­is­tra­tor Allen Lew, ad­mit­ted Wed­nes­day, “I missed that Howard pe­riod.” He fa­vored Par­lia­ment Funkedelic and Earth Wind & Fire, which played in much larger venues, he said, but added of the Howard: “My dad and that [World War II] gen­er­a­tion ex­pe­ri­enced it, and they’re dy­ing off. But I’m look­ing for­ward to ex­pe­ri­enc­ing it.”

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