April 02, 2012

Duke Ellington immortalized in stainless steel

New front

The Howard Theatre is nearly complete.  You may have noticed that the sidewalk on the north side of T Street is now open, giving residents a close-up view of the new façade.  More importantly, the plaza at T Street and Florida Avenue is now open and the new sculpture of Duke Ellington stands prominently at the vegetated plaza. The sculpture depicts Ellington seated on a treble clef while playing a piano keyboard.

Duke Duke

The most delightful feature of the sculpture is the energy it portrays.  As Ellington plays, the keys appear to fly off the keyboard and into the sky behind him, signifying a magical quality to his music.


Flying Notes

Duke Ellington grew up in Washington and even lived on Elm Street in LeDroit Park for a year. He played at the Howard Theatre and frequently visited the adjacent Frank Holliday’s pool hall, most recently known as Cafe Mawonaj.

The hall was a popular gathering spot for Howard scholars, jazz musicians, and city laborers alike. Duke Ellington captured the scene at the pool hall:

Guys from all walks of life seemed to converge there: school kids over and under sixteen; college students and graduates, some starting out in law and medicine and science; and lots of Pullman porters and dining-car waiters.

And now Ellington’s statue sits on the same storied block.

Categories: Development Projects, History, Howard Theatre
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4 Replies

  1. I hope that statue grows on me… my first thought was that it looked like it should be in Disneyland… kinda gimmicky for The Duke. Anyway, glad to see the plaza opened, but still that car lot remains as a gravel lot accross the street :(

    dano - April 2, 2012 @ 11:23 am
  2. I’m wondering what kinds of events we might expect to see at the renovated theater. The website http://www.howardtheatre.org/rebirth.html has this information: “As part of its commitment to the neighborhood, Howard Theatre Restoration, Inc. and the City will ensure that the theatre is open six days a week, year-round, with dining amenities and opportunities for a variety of uses.” Do you know anything more specific?

    Kara Capelli - April 3, 2012 @ 6:14 pm
  3. Kara,

    Howardtheatre.org is the site for the non-profit that is responsible for the redevelopment of the building. The theater operations are at thehowardtheatre.com, where you can find the full schedule of shows.

    Eric Fidler - April 3, 2012 @ 9:10 pm
  4. I keep wondering why everyone who portrays Ellington either on canvas or in steel always portrays him as an old man? When Ellington lived in Washington and was at the height of his career he was a very handsome young man. But it seems like the sculpture portrays him as an old, wrinkled man. It doesn’t at all capture his vitality and good looks and frankly, doesn’t look like him at all. The same goes with the mural on U Street. The mural has him as an old man with bags under his eyes, sagging skin and jowls. It’s just sad that both artists thought not to portray him in his prime. Most artists want to capture their subjects at the height of their most handsome days but both of these artists did just the opposite. It seems like they didn’t even take the time to read about him, look at photos of him or really understand his life and the time he spent in Washington, D.C.

    soulshadow55 - April 16, 2012 @ 2:13 pm

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