Built in 1910, the Howard Theatre is one of the oldest theaters in the country that not only served Black audiences but provided a space for Black performers. For more than five decades of the twentieth century, the Howard Theatre stood at the forefront of Black entertainment, providing talent and opportunities on a local and national level. Since segregation created barriers that made it difficult for Black artists to develop, the Howard Theatre played a crucial role in the development and promotion of Black talent.
Along with three other theaters—the Apollo in New York City, the Pearl in Philadelphia, and the Uptown in Baltimore—the Howard Theatre provided the stage on which many of the most prominent entertainers of the twentieth century made their debuts. From the sounds of Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, and the big bands of the 1930s to rock and roll and the Motown sound, this theatre hosted some of the biggest names in entertainment history.
Although it has long been a part of the historical and architectural fabric of DC, the Howard Theatre has seen significant changes over its history. In 1929, following the stock market crash, the theater was briefly converted into a church, until it reopened as a theater in 1931. After many decades of success, difficulties in the area closed the theater in 1970, but reopened in 1975 for five years before closing again. Most recently, the Howard Theatre reopened in 2012, and hosts live performances.
DC Inventory: August 28, 1973; amended January 31, 2008
National Register: February 15, 1974; amended February 13, 2008