Washington

Save D.C.’s music history

The global music scene ain’t what it used to be. Indeed, if DJ D-Nice hadn’t taken to online music airwaves from his kitchen in March as the world shut down clubs, bars and concerts because of COVID-19, we all would have been deprived of one of the few things that unite us.

The pandemic also shut down Blues Alley, the iconic music venue that’s been housed in a former horse barn in an alley in Georgetown since 1965.

Dubbed a jazz spot, it featured the likes of Tony Bennett and Gil Scott-Heron, as well as such cool jazz draws as Dr. John and smooth jazz saxophonist Grover Washington Jr. and Mary Wilson, the recently deceased co-founder and original member of The Supremes.

The owner of Blues Alley’s brick building wants to sell the property, and the people who run the music side of the venue are trying to work out arrangements. Good for them, considering another historic music venue is dark, too.

D.C.’s Howard Theater has been in financial trouble for a while.

It originally opened in 1910 and was part of the so-called “chittlin’ circuit” of clubs catering to Blacks; FDR would pop in to see and hear current and up-and-coming performers; and its biggest names included Duke Ellington, the piano man and native Washingtonian whose statue commands center stage out front. The likeness has been there since 2012, when the Howard reopened after several fits and starts saw it shuttered in the 1980s.

Over the past decade, the D.C. music, entertainment and bar scene has undergone so many changes it’s hard to keep up.

Consider, in addition to Blue Alley and the Howard, Bohemian Caverns — the restaurant-bar that opened in 1926 a few blocks from the Howard. Caverns patrons were treated to regulars like pianist Bill Evans and, yes, Ellington. After the riots following the MLK assassination, the Caverns, like much of U Street NW, was shuttered, and the businesses that did reopen, like the Caverns, reopened but weren’t able to sustain themselves.

So here we are: In the nation’s capital with lawmakers and wealthy lobbyists able to find more than a half-billion dollars to fence in the U.S. Capitol, but not enough money to preserve and sustain music history.

How sad.

Deborah Simmons can be contacted at [email protected]

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